The Main Difference Between Red And Green Enchilada Sauce

Enchiladas are a tried and true favorite, both to order out at restaurants and to make at home. Comprised of soft tortillas wrapped around delicious fillings and baked in sauce, they're a simple yet comforting dish. From tomatoey enchiladas rancheras to rich enmoladas (enchiladas in mole sauce), there are a number of different ways to prepare this classic Mexican dish. Two of the more popular sauces are red enchilada sauce and green enchilada sauce, but what are the differences between these two dishes besides their color?

The main difference between the two is also what gives each sauce its distinctive color: the chiles. While green enchilada sauce is made with green tomatillos and green chiles, red enchilada sauce comes from a medley of dried, ground red peppers such as ancho or guajillo chiles. However, that's just the start of what goes into making these delicious sauces. Luckily, it's fairly easy to familiarize yourself with the major distinctions between these enchilada styles.

Ingredients make all the difference

Green or verde enchilada sauce is made with green tomatillos and green chiles like jalapeños, mixed together with a collection of other ingredients, including onions, garlic, and other spices. Tomatillos are green fruits popular in various Mexican dishes, including salsa verde. The tomatillos are used raw and provide an incredible punch of acidity and sourness, offsetting the spiciness of the green peppers. These foods are typically blended to a smooth consistency to create a fresh sauce with plenty of balance.

Red or roja enchilada sauce is made with tomatoes and ground chiles. Some truly from-scratch recipes will have you grind your own chile powder from scratch, but others will recommend store-bought powders. The powder you choose makes all the difference, so be sure to pick one with plenty of flavor! Flour thickens this sauce into a smooth, velvety coating full of savory tomato and spice flavors, comforting and warm.

Should you use red or green sauce?

So which sauce should you slather on your next trayful of enchiladas: red or green? If you're working directly from a recipe, you should use that as a guide; if the recipe doesn't say, or if you're working from scratch, there are a few guidelines you can follow to ensure the flavors meld well together. 

Green enchilada sauce, tart with tomatillos, will serve as a fresh foil to whatever's inside your tortillas; typically, enchiladas verdes are prepared with chicken inside, but beef will go just as well, depending on your preferences. Red enchilada sauce leans into the smoky spiciness of the peppers, making it a good pairing for heavier meat such as beef. You could swap those fillings and still have a delicious meal, or even sub in different options such as chorizo, shrimp, or beans. It all boils down to what you prefer. Either way, you're sure to be satisfied as enchiladas are on the heartier side regardless of how they're prepared.