How to Cook with Dried Chiles

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Savory Spice Shop

I was born to love chiles. In the Central Valley of California, where I grew up, chile fields stretch as far as the eye can see. A substantial amount of the country’s chiles are grown in this area because the dry-heat of the valley is the perfect environment for hot peppers. For four generations, my family tilled soil and grew gardens in the Central Valley and I have many pleasant memories of harvesting several varieties of chile peppers with my father.

Now I love incorporating chiles into my cooking for a taste of home. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your cooking, dried chiles and chile powders are one of the simplest ways to experiment with this ingredient. There’s a whole world of chiles to explore, but first...

 

A Brief History

Chiles are a fruit that originated in Central America and were cultivated as far back as 5000 BC–spicy food has a long history in this part of the world. It wasn’t until the 1500s that chiles began being traded and selectively bred around the globe.

A Dash of Heat

The spice of a chile pepper is judged by Scoville heat units—the higher the Scoville units, the spicier the pepper. Bell peppers, for example, contain between 0-100 SHU, whereas a Scorpion Trinidad Chile has over 1 million.

Unlike salt or sugar, spicy heat is not recognized by taste buds. The “flavor” of spiciness is actually a chemical reaction that stimulates nerves and indicates pain. In chiles, this reaction is caused by capsaicin, a component concentrated in the pith (the white rib) and seeds of peppers. That’s why deseeding and removing the pith can make for a far less spicy result when cooking with chiles.

 

Types of Chiles & How to Cook with Them

We carry more than 20 types of dried chiles and chile powders, and each offers a unique flavor experience. Whether you like a lot of heat or just a touch, chiles can accentuate almost any savory meal. Know your heat tolerance and what kind of flavor profile you are trying to achieve when shopping for chiles, then have fun experimenting with different varieties and combinations.

There are a few ways to use whole dried chiles:

  • Add to sauces, soups, and stews.
  • Rehydrate by soaking in warm water for about 20 minutes (but not longer or they can become bitter), then chop as desired.
  • Toast the chiles in a dry pan for added depth of flavor before grinding.

 

From mild to one of the spiciest peppers in the world, here are some of my favorite varieties to cook with:

 

Whole Ancho Chiles

Ancho Chiles

 

Low Heat (1 on a scale of 1 to 10)

Anchos are the dried version of ripe poblano peppers and they are the most widely used chiles in Mexico. They have a deep red color and the mild heat is accompanied by prune-like notes and a faint smokiness. When ground, they are a common ingredient in chili powders and red chile sauces. Ancho chiles are also essential to many molés. If you’re not a fan of too much heat, but want to boost the flavor of enchiladas, salsa, soups, and more, this is the chile for you.

Try in: Asian BBQ Sriracha & Mexican Mole Beef Chile

 

Crushed Urfa

Crushed Urfa Chiles

 

Medium low heat (3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10)

A more exotic variety, this chile comes from the Turkish town of Urfa. These purplish black flakes have an earthy flavor, fruity notes, and a smoky aroma. They can be used in a similar way to Crushed Red Pepper, but offer a more complex heat and added depth of flavor. Try sprinkling Urfa on buttered popcorn or pizza, or mix it into cooked grains like rice, farro, or quinoa.

Try in: Mediterranean Buddha Bowl

 

 

 

Chile de Arbol

Chile De Arbol

 

Medium high heat (6-7 on a scale of 1 to 10)

These bright red peppers, which are closely related to Cayenne Peppers and Pequin Chiles, have a higher heat level, so opt for this if you’re looking for that spicy kick. They work great in pickling and brining blends, as well as salsas—just soak for 20 minutes to rehydrate, then puree. I like to soak and clean several varieties of dried chiles (such as Arbol, Ancho, Pasilla Negro, and Guajillo) then combine with roasted onion, garlic, Ground Cumin, and salt. This combination of ingredients works great as a simple marinade or sauce, and can easily be adjusted for personal taste.

Try in: Sweet & Spicy Brining Spices

 

 

Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia)

Ghost Pepper

 

Intense heat (off the charts!)

Also known as Bhut Jolokia, these were the hottest chiles in the world back in 2007 and although they’ve since been eclipsed by hotter chiles, the power of the Ghost Chile should not be underestimated. With over 1 million Scoville heat units, they are more than 400 times hotter than your average jalapeno! These peppers are so hot, they are used as the base in some military-grade pepper sprays.

Precautions should be taken when working with these peppers:contact with them will cause an intense burning sensation. We recommend wearing latex gloves, a basic breathing mask, and safety goggles. Be sure to wash all utensils and work spaces thoroughly with soap and water when finished.

Whether you’re using Ground Ghost Chile or the whole peppers, it’s best to start with a very small amount to dishes like soups, curries, chilis, and salsas, then work your way up, tasting as you go. Remember that heat from chiles will intensify in dishes as they mature, so a dish that had perfect spice yesterday may be a bit too much tomorrow. It is best to err on the side of caution so that you can enjoy your culinary masterpieces. For a more accessible way to experiment with these extra-spicy peppers, try our Ghost Pepper Salt or Ghost Pepper Curry Powder.

Try in: Ghost Pepper Salted Double Chocolate Cookies

 

 

 

Pro Tip: If you need to soothe the burn, skip the water and reach for milk, yogurt, or ice cream instead.

Do you have a favorite type of chile to cook with, or any more questions about cooking with chiles? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 


Comments on this Article


(guest), on March 25, 2018

Thank You for Your Info on Peppers and Chiles?? Being Raised The Nearest Thing We Had To "Heat" was When Mom Left The Green Peppers in the Frying Pan Too Long? Later Life Has Allowed Me To Travel and Learn to Enjoy the Foods and Spices of Others?? Thank You for this Info?? Dan Johnston, Fargo ND

(guest), on March 25, 2018

Thank you so much for this advice. I discarded a package of dries chilis a few years ago because I did not know how to use them. I am also delighted to have a reference guide for choosing these little pots of hot.

(guest), on March 25, 2018

Another way to soothe the burn is hot coffee. Body isn’t working against itself, hot vs. cold.

(guest), on March 25, 2018

Would like to make pepper jelly what would be the best pepper to use for that purpose? Not really spicy maybe about three or four.

(guest), on March 25, 2018

I love to add Ancho & Guijillo chilies to my soups, veggie casseroles, salsa, guacamole & White Bean Chicken Chili. They add smoky complexity without too much heat.

(guest), on March 25, 2018

Another way to combat the hot burn of chilies in your mouth, is dry sugar. Your tastebuds are so confused after the spicy chili that when you put dry sugar in your mouth, they just stop working and the burn goes away. Make sure to swish the sugar all around your mouth.

(guest), on March 26, 2018

I love Serrano peppers. One of my favorite chutney is a Serrano pepper membrane and seeds removed with about 3/4 cup of cilantro, yogurt and a bit of fresh mint, about a couple of teaspoon, and a bit of salt. Put through a magic bullet or blender. If it gets to watery just add more yogurt without the blender. Use as many peppers as you like to give more of a kick

Dan Baker (registered user) on March 26, 2018

These are all great comments. Thanks for taking the time to leave a message. To the guest with the question about pepper Jelly, I would recommend following "Jalapeno Jelly 3 Ways" recipe that can be found on our website. Here is the link https://www.savoryspiceshop.com/recipes/jalape-o-jelly-3-ways.html I have never tried the hot coffee or sugar methods to soothe the burn, I will try it in the near future. The chutney recipe sounds approachable and delicious. Please feel free to submit your favorite original chile use recipes to our website so that we can try them in the test kitchen and possibly publish them to the Savory Spice website. https://www.savoryspiceshop.com/recipes/submit-recipe

(guest), on March 26, 2018

Dan- I grew up in Colorado and chilis of all kinds have been in the foods of my home from childhood. One thing that is not discussed enough is that the heat factor (Scoville Units) of a chili can vary even among the same variety depending upon where it is grown, when it is harvested, and how it is treated. Chilis are a natural product, and just as some tangerines are sweeter than others, each batch of jalapeño is likely to vary from another, as is true for all other chilis, whether fresh or dried. While it is true that all habaneros are hotter than all fresnos, some fresnos are much hotter than others. The only way to know is to taste before you commit to a certain quantity in your recipe.

Dan Baker (registered user) on March 26, 2018

You make a very good point. It is true that the heat of many peppers varies from fruit to fruit. There are a lot of factors that contribute to heat within including weather, age, water and, nutrients in the soil. I agree with your statement that you should taste a chile before adding it to your dishes so that you have an idea of the heat you are introducing. It can also be noted that when you are using a ground chile product such as ground ancho, the heat level is more predictable since it is a blend of many of the same chiles. Thanks for the comment.

(guest), on March 26, 2018

Thank you for carrying the smoked serranos--I adore them! I always use them in my pinto beans--so delicious! Keep the heat coming!

(guest), on March 31, 2018

I use chilis to great effect in making high grade beef jerky.

andersaw17 (registered user) on April 16, 2018

Question: How much ground dried chili equals 1 dried chili?

Dan Baker (registered user) on April 16, 2018

The amount of ground chile would vary depending on the type of whole pepper that is being used.

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