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How to Use Cascabel Chiles in Traditional Mexican Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 1 min read

There’s a reason the cascabel chile is a staple Mexican spice: Cascabels are piquant and smokey, yet subtle enough to blend with other flavors.



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What Are Cascabel Chiles?

Also known as “rattle chiles” or “little bells,” cascabels take their name from the sound they make when shaken (the seeds rattle around inside of the shell). Native to parts of North and South America, cascabel chiles are a cultivar of the species Capsicum annuum, which includes a range of other chiles like bell peppers, jalapeños, New Mexico chiles, cayenne peppers, and poblanos (called ancho chiles when dried). Cascabels are grown throughout the Mexican states, primarily in Coahuila, Guerrero, Jalisco, Durango, and San Luis Potosi.

What Do Cascabel Chiles Taste Like?

These mild chiles are known for their slightly nutty flavor and undertones of earth and smoke. They’re sometimes described as woodsy—not unlike their spicier relatives, chipotle and morita peppers.

Are Cascabel Chiles Spicy?

Cascabels are not spicy; they have a mild heat that adds depth and warmth to a dish. On the Scoville scale, they measure between 1,500 and 2,500 Scoville Heat Units (for context, habaneros score from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU).

3 Ways to Use Cascabel Chiles in Traditional Mexican Cooking

Because of their mild profile, cascabels usually shine best in a supporting role. There are many ways in which they can be prepared, including:

  1. Salsa: Cascabel chiles are perfect for sauces and salsas that are served over dishes like tacos and tamales. Cascabels pair well with tomatillos, adding complexity to the fresh, tangy flavor of the husk tomatoes. Cascabel-tomatillo sauce is particularly delicious over enchiladas.
  2. Tacos al pastor: When paired with ancho, pasilla negro, guajillo, and árbol chiles along with achiote paste, cascabel peppers round out a perfect marinade for tacos al pastor.
  3. Menudo rojo: In concert with garlic and cumin, dried cascabels add a floral heat to the base of this beloved tripe soup, a go-to comfort food and hangover cure.
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