Chili Powder is so Much More Than Chilis

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There’s more to chili powder than just crushed, ground chilis. Let’s learn all about this popular spice and what to do when you don’t have it on hand.

Chili powder in a bowl with chilis around it.

Chili powder is a staple spice in many kitchens, and it packs a lot of flavor. It’s famously added to rubs, soups, stews, chili (of course), and a variety of Latin dishes. For example, you can use it to make enchilada sauce. It’s a versatile spice that works well with meat, whether grilling chicken or slow-cooking pork shoulder. It’s even great in pasta sauces.

But here’s a little secret: It often contains spices that have nothing to do with chilis. In addition to crushed and ground-up peppers, depending on the individual blend, chili powder can also contain spices like cumin, oregano, garlic powder, salt, coriander, and cayenne pepper.

What pepper is used to make chili powder?

The type of chili pepper used can vary, but the ingredients listed on the label may provide some clarity (or try a Google search into the brand your buying). To name a few, ancho chili peppers, cayenne chili peppers, and chipotle chili peppers can be used in chili powder.

Chili powder versus cayenne pepper (or cayenne powder)

These two spices are often used together but are not the same. Cayenne pepper is made only from cayenne peppers, whereas chili powder is a blend of spices and the type of chili can vary. Cayenne pepper is considered spicier that most chili powders. So if you like spicy foods, you’ll like chili powders that use cayenne pepper as the base pepper.

Chili powder versus cayenne pepper.

Can you make chili powder?

Definitely. Many homemade recipes will include paprika and cayenne pepper, in addition to the spices mentioned above like cumin and oregano. You can experiment based on your taste preferences. It’s OK to get creative.

What is a substitute for chili powder?

If you don’t have the spices to make your own blend, you can sub in other spicey stand-alone powders like paprika, cayenne pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. If liquid won’t ruin the recipe, try hot sauce.

Recipes to try with chili powder

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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  1. Joanne Mellquist says

    When a recipe calls for chili powder, which brand do you use as you say each is a different combo of spices?