Chilhuacle Negro

This unusual chilli, the chilhuacle negro, deserves a page of its own. It is a favourite of mine for a number of reasons; firstly its strange soft, brown, leathery feel is fairly unique, and secondly it looks quite spectacular when growing because of the shape of the plant.

Chilhuacle Negro Chillies

The fruits are about 4-5 cm cubed and ripen from green to brown, but they never firm up to that glossy, crunchy state that you would normally expect of a chilli. Instead they remain pliant and leathery with dull skin, as though they have been left on the plant too long and have started to dry out.

Chilhuacle Negro Sliced

Chilhuacle Negro Sliced

Linked to these characteristics is the ease with which they can be dried, in fact they already feel like half the job of drying is done before you pick them. They are naturally low in moisture, and with the matt skin, to completely dry them out is much easier compared to many other chillies.

Chilhuacle negro originate from the Oaxaca region of Mexico and are traditionally used dried, in a mole negro. They impart ‘dark flavours’, chocolate, tobacco and tannin and they aren’t that hot, maybe 2-3000 SHU, so you can safely use enough to make the most of these flavours without overdoing the heat.

Chilhuacle Negro Chilli

Chilhuacle Negro Chilli

The plants, which grow to about 45 cm x 45 cm make quite a spectacle, and become laden with fruit, but remain compact. The stems branch frequently, with short inter-nodal length and quite unusually the stems can grow downwards, not bending over, but actually branching with strong stems growing down beneath the top of the pot. This gives the plant the appearance of a mesh globe, which, when combined with lots of brown fruit becomes quite decorative.

Chilhuacle Negro Plant Above Web

Chilhuacle Negro On Plant

If you want to have a go at growing them you can get seeds in the UK from Nicky’s Nursery they are quite hard to come by otherwise. They germinate quite well, as I have often found, with no scientific evidence at all, that many brown chillies are more erratic than their red counterparts (chocolate habs, ancho mulato for example). Once the seeds have germinated the fruit take around 16 weeks to mature to brown and they are always eager to keep producing into the autumn.

One thing I found this year, and I mentioned this in a previous blog, https://growingchilliesbook.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/the-order-of-greenfly/ is that they seem to have attracted greenfly where other plants around them did not. There were a few chilhuacle negro plants scattered randomly around the greenhouse, and yet they all seemed to get infected where the neighbours remained greenfly-free. The early greenfly which noshed into the flower parts before I noticed them, caused a lot of the first fruit to be quite deformed. Maybe this is partly due to the strange dry and leathery nature of the chilhuacle negro fruit, but some of the affected ones not only divided, but the skins split open so you could see the seeds inside. Needless to say I had to pick these and discard them as soon as they started to grow to make way for some healthy un-greenflied fruit.

6 thoughts on “Chilhuacle Negro

  1. I’ve seen this unusual chile only once, in a market in Oaxaca many years ago. Wish I had bought some for seed. What can you tell us about the flavor?

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    • Funny you should ask, I have just this morning taken the last pick of them out of my dryer, so I soaked one up for a quick taste test. On their own the first hit is tannin, like tea without milk, but when you chew the flesh they are actually a bit fruity, like raisins. Overall I’d say they are like some very dark chocolates, fruity but not sweet.

      I must admit I’m not a purist when it comes to using all the Mexican dried ones. Pasilla/Ancho/Mulato etc. etc. I like to use my own so I often compromise when a recipe calls for one type and I only have another. This one is good for me because it grows on manageable plants. Unlike pasilla which grows big and rambly and doesn’t produce as much fruit/volume of plant, chilhuacle negro is very productive. So this is a good one for mild-ish dried/powder, slightly sweet, but not too much. It is always going to turn things brown, unlike ancho, which looks brown but is actually very dark red. Oh, and sorry for using chilli rather than chile, it’s what we do here.

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      • Thank you so much for your very thorough reply. I think that your substitutions are very much in line with what I find in Mexican and New Mexican cooking, where experienced cooks go for the final flavor they want and do not get piddly about counting out so many pasilla, so many ancho, etc. Here in New Mexico we have a different set of chiles from those found in the markets in Mexico, and make a different range of sauces with them, but they are all delicious. I love your comments about improved productivity, since I no longer grow pasillas for exactly that reason. To much space, too few peppers.
        I have just discovered your website and I am quite fascinated by the amount of information that you have. It is going to take me a while to sort through it. Then, no doubt, I will need your book, because there is no end to this subject 😉

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      • This site is a fairly random collection of chilli thoughts and interests. I treat it more as a fun thing and write about what interests me, rather than trying to cater for anyone’s particular need. My growing book, whilst it might be of interest to you, is mainly targeted at people growing in more temperate regions like northern Europe, so there is a lot that won’t help you growing in New Mexico (which I am very jealous of). My green cooking book might well be of interest to you, most of it isn’t traditional recipes, it is more about making the most of the chillies people are likely to grow and interesting things you can do with them. There is quite a few recipes with ‘New Mex green chile’ which is one of my favourites, so I am sure there will be something to your liking.

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  2. hi, nice site, i have chilhuacle negro growing in my greenhouse in north england, doing well but they dont seem to be ripening as they arent going brown,staying dark green, i suspect lack of sunlight and a shorter season here. should i let them be or take off the big ones and dry them green in order to encourage more peppers ?

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    • They do take a while to ripen but I’d say you have done the hard work, keep feeding it and maybe bring it somewhere warm, certainly at night. I think they will have too much moisture if you dry them green whereas when they are brown they are almost as dry as leather

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