Poblano, Pasilla, Anaheim or Ancho? Which is which?

It's the beginning of August, and fresh peppers are now in peak season. Take advantage!

Peppers are often thought of as flavorings -- a way to spice up a meal. In fact, they're healthy super-foods. One small pepper, for example, can provide 100% of the daily requirement of vitamin C. And they have many other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Be careful: Stores often mislabel fresh poblano peppers as "passilla" and "ancho." Sometimes poblanos are even mistaken with Anaheim peppers. The farmer I bought my poblano peppers from had a sign saying "ancho" peppers, which they are not.

Poblanos are fresh, dark green chili peppers with a distinct flavor and aroma. They're not spicy, but darker ones tend to be spicier. These peppers have a medium length and taper from top to bottom. They are not as wide as bell peppers or as skinny as Anaheim peppers. Poblano peppers originate in Puebla, Mexico, which is where they get their name. They make the best Mexican-style stuffed peppers. Don't fry them! Just bake for better taste and maximum health.

Ancho peppers are dried poblano chili peppers. They neither look nor taste like fresh poblano peppers. Ancho peppers, when mature, turn dark red and, when dried, take on a dark, reddish brown color.

Pasilla peppers are dried chilaca chili peppers, which in their fresh form are dark green, but when dried turn dark brown or blackish. Both fresh and dried forms are spicy hot.

I did some research online and, to my dismay, found some web sites with the wrong information about the their names, what they are and how they're used. It's perplexing as to why peppers are so misunderstood and why people who should know better mislabel them so carelessly.

I know people who are great cooks and who are not afraid to use exotic or unusual ingredients. But I've found myself correcting them when they call poblano peppers pasilla peppers or vise versa.

It's a problem because recipes often call for different kinds of peppers -- including poblano, pasilla and ancho or even Anaheim peppers -- which serve entirely different roles in cooking. When stores or farmers mislabel the peppers, people end up buying the wrong ones. And it's no small error. There is a vast difference between poblano and ancho or between poblano and pasilla. Ninety percent of the time these peppers cannot be used interchangeably in the same way that green bell peppers cannot be used interchangeably with habanero peppers.

Though poblano and ancho are the same pepper, one is fresh and the other dried. One can be stuffed and the other cannot. And their flavors and textures are completely different. Using the right peppers is important.

August is the perfect time of year to explore all the flavors and variety organic peppers have to offer -- and only for a fraction of what they cost other times of the year when they're imported, expensive and not so flavorful.

Amira Elgan

Amira Elgan

Amira is a Board Certified Holistic Health Counselor and Healthy Lifestyle Author, accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrion.
Read more about Amira.

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