If you like Mexican food maybe you have heard of the ancho pepper.
But do you know what it is and how it is produced?
We’re going to take a look at this popular Southwestern chili and ask what is an ancho pepper and how does it taste?
What Is An Ancho Pepper?
An ancho pepper is a dried version of the poblano chili pepper.
It’s most often used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.
The name ancho comes from the Spanish for ‘wide’ due to its shape.
The pepper can be used whole or ground down into powder.
It is most often used in soups, sauces, or marinades to enhance flavor.
Ancho peppers can be added to dishes chopped, pureed or powdered.
This chili comes from Puebla, Mexico and when the poblano pepper is almost ripe it is picked and dried, creating the ancho pepper.
A poblano pepper is green as it is picked before it reaches the ripened state.
As the pepper turns red it begins to develop a sweetness which further reduces the already mild heat.
Then it is picked and dried. This is why an ancho pepper is a reddish brown color while a poblano pepper is green.
Where Are Ancho Peppers Grown?
As the ancho pepper derives from the poblano pepper the more correct question would be, where are poblano peppers grown.
The answer is in the warmest parts of the western hemisphere.
More specifically, South and Central America, Mexico and the West Indies.
More recently pepper growers in California and other Southwestern states have begun to grow them.
Poblano peppers like warm, rich soil and enjoy full sunlight. Thus their growing season is spring and summer.
Harvesting usually takes place in August and September.
By this stage the pepper will be 4-6 inches in length and will have a dark green color.
However, to create the ancho pepper the poblano is left on the vine to ripen to a red color.
The poblano pepper is then removed from the vine and laid out in the sun to dry for several weeks. The result is the ancho pepper.
Varieties Of Ancho Pepper
While there is only one type of ancho pepper, the poblano pepper that it is derived from actually produces two distinct types of chili pepper.
In its various ripened forms the poblano can become an ancho or a mulato chili.
The difference between them is that the mulato comes from the fully ripened poblano pepper.
When it is a brown color the poblano is harvested and dried, creating the mulato chili.
Unlike the ancho pepper which comes from the almost ripened poblano pepper when it is red.
Apart from the time of harvesting and the color of the poblano pepper at the time, the difference between these two chilies is the flavor.
The mulato is used as much as the ancho pepper in Mexican cuisine.
But it has a more chocolatey flavor but can also be bought as whole chilies or ground into powder.
What Does It Taste Like?
So, what does an ancho pepper taste like? Well it has quite a mild flavor, and is more sweet than hot.
But its stand out feature is its smoky, chocolatey flavor.
This is what adds something different to many Mexican dishes.
In terms of heat, the ancho is mild and scores between 1,000 and 1,500 on the Scoville Scale.
But although it’s mild it’s still a pepper and has the same chemical compound as other chilies, namely capsaicin.
This is what gives chili peppers their heat.
While it’s not going to leave you gasping for water, the ancho has a subtlety and depth of flavor that other peppers may lack.
It infuses dishes with rich, earthy tones and a pleasing chocolatey sweetness.
The ancho’s mild spicy taste is complemented by fruity notes that are reminiscent of raisins or prunes.
It is less spicy than its close relative, the mulato chili.
How To Cook With Ancho Pepper
As one of the most popular chili peppers used in Mexican cooking there are plenty of ways that you can cook with ancho peppers.
One of the best known dishes made with ancho peppers is mole sauce.
This has around 20 different ingredients with one of them being ancho peppers.
In fact, anchos are the star of the show with their smoky, chocolatey flavor and deep, earthy richness.
A mole poblano includes dried ancho peppers, mulato and pasilla chilies among a host of other ingredients including Mexican chocolate.
This delicious sauce goes beautifully with chicken, or vegetables and a serving of rice.
To release more of the ancho pepper’s flavor it’s recommended that the seeds and stem are removed, then the pepper can be toasted in the oven or a dry pan.
Rehydrating the peppers by soaking them in hot water also allows them to be easily pureed.
They can be added to marinades or to soups and stews to add depth of flavor.
Nutritional Information About Ancho Peppers
As well as being packed with flavor, ancho peppers are also abundant in vitamins and antioxidants.
Free radicals, when ingested, cause havoc in our cells but the capsaicin, Vitamin C, and carotenoids found in ancho peppers can help fight against cell deterioration.
They can also be effective in fighting against illness.
The immune system and cardiovascular health can also benefit from the antioxidants in peppers.
There is evidence that they have anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting substances that may cause inflammation.
The capsaicin in the ancho peppers, which give all peppers their heat, reacts with receptors in the body.
This can desensitize them to the point where they provide pain relief from muscle aches and joint pain.
Substitutes For Ancho Peppers
When you can’t find ancho peppers in your grocery store what can you use instead?
This will depend on whether your recipe calls for whole dried chilies or ground chili powder and the heat that you want in your dish.
If you need to substitute ground ancho pepper then regular or sweet paprika is a good choice.
It has a sweet, but mildly spicy flavor.
For dishes that require whole peppers try guajillo peppers but be aware that it has double the heat of ancho peppers.
You can also use mulato chilies in place of ancho peppers.
They have an even sweeter and earthier taste, with a slight licorice flavor.
Be advised though, the mulato ranks about 2,500-3,000 on the Scoville Scale, so they are hotter.
For a real kick up the spice scale you could use chipotle powder.
These dried jalapeno chilies are not only much hotter than ancho peppers, but also smokier.
However, if you think your dish can handle it then it’s a flavorful and spicy substitute.
If you are keen to try using ancho peppers in your cooking you will be able to find them in most large grocery stores in the spice aisle.
Failing that, there are plenty of online stores where you can source them.
We hope this guide to an ancho pepper and how it tastes has been helpful and given you some cooking inspiration.