Pasilla Powder: The Chilaca Chili’s Alter Ego

Pasilla powder consists entirely of ground pasilla chili pepper. Pasilla is the name given to the dried chilaca pepper. There is not much recorded about the chilaca’s history, nor about the pasilla pepper. What is known is that the chilaca is a very mild hot pepper that most likely came from the state of Puebla. Unlike the other chili peppers that traveled to Europe and elsewhere in the Old World in the Columbian exchange, chilaca peppers never went far from home.

Today, you can find it being cultivated in Central Mexican states including Zacatecas and Guanajuato. The chilaca name is from the Nahuatl for old. The name was likely given to it because the peppers are wrinkled and bent. The pasilla in pasilla powder means little raisin and probably refers to the dried pepper’s shriveled appearance. 

While chilacas and pasillas are not the best-known peppers north of the U.S.-Mexico border, they are certainly one of the favorites among Mexicans. Pasillas are considered one of the top three chili peppers in Mexican cuisine. Pasilla chilies are not the same as ancho chilies just as chilaca chilies are not the same as poblanos. It is important to note the difference since some culinary websites claim that they are the same. The two are very similar in appearance though not in heat level. People confuse these peppers because of California’s farming industry, which sometimes labels poblano chili peppers as pasillas

Pasilla powder flavor profile

Pasilla powder offers a tangy and fruity flavor backed up by very mild heat and slight woodsy flavor notes. The woodsy notes sometimes get likened to coffee. Pasilla powder typically does not deliver more than 1,000 Scoville heat units, but some batches can offer as much as 2,500. 

Pasilla powder health benefits

Pasilla powder has a very similar nutritional profile to all other dried chili peppers. It provides multiple essential nutrients, including: 

  • Vitamins: Like all peppers, the pasilla used to make pasilla powder is a good source of vitamin A. It will also provide you with a significant amount of B vitamins like B-6. 
  • Minerals: While you cannot consider pasilla chilies to be one of the primary sources of minerals in your diet, these peppers do have moderate amounts of some important ones. For example, you will get a significant portion of your daily iron and potassium requirement. 

With pasilla powder in your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health problems like: 

  • Cancer: The heat from chili peppers — like the ones used to make pasilla powder — comes from capsaicin, which is believed to kill certain cancer cells. While pasilla powder does not have a high concentration of capsaicin, it does provide some of it and may be able to help prevent prostate and breast cancers. 
  • Inflammation: Multiple studies have found hot peppers to be beneficial for fighting arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. 

Common uses

You can use pasilla powder in any dish where a mild chili powder (100% from chilies, not the seasoning) would come in handy. Traditional uses for pasilla powder include the Oaxacan dish called mole negro and you will also see it in many adobos, but you can use it in any of your favorite Mexican dishes from salsas to burritos.