This popular pepper originates from the state of Puebla, Mexico. This makes sense because in its fresh form it’s known as the poblano pepper, one of Mexico’s most popular pepper. This multi-stemmed Capsicum annuum is approximately 25 inches in height. The pepper pods grow to 3-6 inches wide and about 3 inches wide.
Ancho chiles are a bit of a chameleon. They’re used in many dishes in their fresh, green form as poblanos. As they ripen they turn a dark red almost black and are flat, wrinkled and heart-shaped. At this point you can use the whole dried chile to season dishes like rice or grind it up into the powder form we know as the ancho chile powder. When ground up ancho chile powder ranks high on the aesthetics. It provides a rich red hue reminescent of a dramatic red earth. Upon closer inspection you’ll see flecks of various reds and dark, burnt orange colors.
As a poblano, the capsicum annuum has a mild sweet reputation. But like any living thing you have to watch out for rogue individuals. The occasional poblano pepper will deliver a punch of considerable heat inconsistent with the other peppers even on the same plant. In its powdered for ancho chile is reliably sweet with mild heat. Don’t confuse mild with bland. Ancho chile powder provides a foundation of taste you can use to then layer other flavors, sweet and savory, on top. It’s popular with Mexican cooking and pairs well with cinnamon, cumin, coriandor, chocolate and fresh cilantro (think mole sauce).
A Poblano is the name of a person who lives in Puebla, Mexico. But peppers themselves were “discovered” by Columbus in the Caribbean. In this New World he related what he could back to Europe. The chiles’ heat reminded him of the black peppercorn’s sharp bite so he appropriated the name “pepper.” Europeans and Americans have used the name ever since. There is absolutely no relation between pepper (of the peppercorns) and capsicums (chile peppers).
If you love peppers for their heat, you’ll be interested in this. All chile peppers (including ancho) contain a substance called capsaicin. The more capsaicin the hotter the chili. This substance has very real health benefits. It’s an inhibitor of something called Substance P, which is triggers the inflammatory process. The simple explanation works something like this: capsaicin inhibits Substance P from causing inflammation…at least it slows it down. That means people who suffer from inflammation pain (like arthritis) will find relief with capsaicin.
Eating pepper or chile powder may also have cardiovascular benefits by protecting the fats in your blood from free-radicals. Chile peppers also give your immunity system a boost with their concentrated levels of beta-carotene and Vitamin A.
But watch out! The very substances that give chile peppers their health benefits can cause a lot of discomfort on your skin. Wash your hands after handling all chile peppers and chile pepper powder. And definitely don’t touch your face or eyes while handling this spice. It hurts!
Click here for the recipe to 5 Minute Spanish Everything Sauce featuring ancho chile powder. It literally takes five minutes to put together and enhances fish, vegetables, red and white meats. Great for barbecue, saute and roasting. And like all spices it will fill your kitchen with that aroma that seems to stitch together a sense-of-home, good food, family, good friends and good times.