12 Chili Powder Substitute Choices To Flavor Your Dishes

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Odette Published: February 21, 2022 Modified: June 28, 2022
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Chili powder is a spice rack staple that adds heat and flavor to your dishes. A signature ingredient in cuisines such as Mexican and Tex-Mex, it is also a common ingredient for stews, enchiladas, and this mouthwatering chili recipe. Because of its many applications, it’s only a matter of time before you run out of this spice. But don’t worry! Turns out, there are chili powder substitute options you can use in its place instead. Say, other types of ground chili pepper that are already in your pantry, such as cayenne pepper and paprika.

Before you scour your pantry for chili powder substitutes, how about we show you how to use them and what kind of recipes taste superb with each of them? Scroll some more and find out what you can use in its place!

What Is Chili Powder?

Also known as powdered chili, chili powder is actually a spice blend made from dried and pulverized red chili peppers, and sometimes other seasonings and spices. The spices employed in each version vary between brands and homemade chili recipes. But generally, it should contain red chilies like cayenne pepper because they tend to offer more spice and heat compared to green chilies. Some brands also contain garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and cumin.

Because each version of spice blend is different as they carry different ingredients and flavor profiles, they also tend to offer varying degrees of heat. Some brands that contain seasonings would have mild to medium heat. Meanwhile, those without added seasoning are usually hotter. The same can be said of homemade versions.

The Best Chili Powder Substitutes To Use

bowl of chili powder

Don’t let the absence of ground chili peppers stop you from making a Chili’s-inspired nachos recipe. These chili powder substitute options are more than capable of bringing heat to the table. With that, here are 12 fantastic backups and how to use them!

Homemade Chili Powder

The best substitute for powdered chili is homemade chili powder seasoning, which is just a combination of dried peppers and spices that you might already have in your pantry.

The ingredients include:

  • ¼ cup paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

If you don’t have paprika or if you want a spice blend that supplies more heat, you can substitute paprika with ancho chile powder. Then, use 1⁄4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of the initial 1 teaspoon. Once you have the ingredients together, just mix everything in a bowl and keep it in an airtight jar. Stored properly and in a cool dry place, you can keep this blend for up to six months.

Cayenne Pepper

Looking for the next best substitute for chili powder? Cayenne should be among the top of your list. Why? Well, it is one of the basic ingredients that make up chili powder. But when it comes to chili powder vs cayenne pepper, cayenne is easily eight times as hot as powdered chili. So it might not be a good idea to use it on its own as a replacement. Added with other spices and seasonings like garlic and onion powder, the fiery heat of cayenne is easily subdued. We recommend following the toned-down version of cayenne.

Aside from mixing cayenne with other spices, you can also just lessen the amount of cayenne pepper you will use. You can start with ⅛ teaspoon. Then, slowly build the spice depending on your preference.

READ ALSO: 10 Cayenne Pepper Substitutes (and How to Use Them!)

Paprika

Paprika and chili powder have two things in common: both are made from ground chilis and share a smoky flavor. Paprika’s heat level can also range from mild and sweet to very hot. The only difference is that while paprika is made from red peppers, chili powder’s foundation is chili peppers plus spices that oftentimes include paprika. So, it makes sense why one would use the former as a replacement for the latter.

If you want to have an excellent replacement that mimics the smoky flavor of chili powder, you can go for smoked paprika which is dried by smoking. Used on its own, it can be used in a 1:1 ratio. Now, what if you don’t have smoked paprika? You can also use hot paprika. Just remember to cut the amount in half as it offers more heat than the other types. Whichever you use though, both are good replacements as both also have a similar color.

Ancho Chili Powder

Although ancho powder is made from poblano peppers (a type of green chile) that’s been dried and ground, it’s just as capable of providing ample heat to your dishes. Ancho chile has a moderate heat level with fruity notes and a light smoky taste. But since it’s not mixed with other spices, ancho powder is considerably spicier than chili powder.

To use as a substitute, begin with half the recipe calls for and add more as suited. This backup ingredient is also more suited for adobo recipes, chili pastes, and spice rubs. Basically, it’s a suitable replacement for any dish that has a smoky flavor and aroma.

Chipotle Powder

Undoubtedly, paprika is the best substitute for this spicy condiment. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use other types of chili powders such as chipotle chili powder. This swap, that’s made from chipotle and jalapeño peppers, has a mildly spicy flavor with a notable smoky finish. Its smoked flavor especially complements barbecue recipes and Mexican-inspired dishes more, so you might want to employ it for said food. Now, since it also has a mild spicy kick, you can use a direct substitution of 1:1 chipotle to powdered chili ratio.

Crushed Red Pepper

Tell us, where else do you usually spot crushed red peppers? Yes, in pizza parlors in round shakers! It might not seem like it, but crushed red pepper flakes or simply red pepper flakes add adequate heat that you need as it’s made with dried cayenne peppers. But one thing that sets this condiment apart from other ground chili peppers is its seeds. It’s the seeds that make this mixture even spicier. To cover up for its texture, you can simply use a spice grinder before adding them to your dishes. Then, use exactly as the recipe suggests for chili powder.

Hot Sauce

Hot sauces like Tabasco and Frank’s RedHot supply spiciness to your dishes. However, most hot sauces are made of chili peppers and vinegar. Plus they’re fermented to prolong shelf-life and add sour flavors. So while the sauce adds spice and heat, it also lacks the smokiness that you need for spice rubs and barbecue recipes. For that reason, this replacement works better for sauces, soups, and stews with a subtle sour taste to them.

Adding a teaspoon of hot sauce should be enough to replace the spiciness you’re looking for. Still, you might want to take it slow if you’re using this substitute. We recommend adding them in small amounts first as the hot sauce could also alter the flavor profile of the dish.

Chili Sauce

Made from salt, vinegar, and sometimes sugar, chili sauces are cooked until it reaches a sauce-like consistency, almost like a paste but not quite. One perfect example is Sriracha. Yes, it’s not a hot sauce. Hot sauces have a thinner consistency.

Depending on the chili pepper used, chili sauces have varying spice and heat. With that in mind, it’s better if you test it out first before adding it to your dishes. Use this replacement as you would hot sauce: adding in slow progression before building it to your desired taste.

Peri-Peri Seasoning

Some call this spice “piri-piri”, while others call it by its more popular name “peri-peri”. However you want to call it, it will always be a delicious harmony of savory and spicy spices — all in one bottle! Peri-peri seasoning combines paprika and ground piri-piri pepper along with other spices to create a seasoning that’s incredibly complex and versatile. Its signature flavor of savory, spicy, sweet, and a little sour is a prominent feature in Tex Mex dishes like burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. It also adds a nice spicy kick to soups, stews, and sauce. That said, you can apply this ingredient like you would apply chili powder in recipes.

Seasoning Mix

As a last resort, you can use seasoning mixes that are pepper-based such as taco, creole, and Cajun seasoning mix. The key to using this replacement is to know what spices they contain. If you’re making chili con carne, taco seasoning is the best pick as it consists of peppers found in chili powder. Meanwhile, Cajun and creole seasoning mixes are both smoky and garlicky with a slightly spicy kick that’s more suited for barbecue recipes.

Cumin

Cumin is the spice responsible for the delightful aroma found in most Mexican dishes. Therefore, it’s a nice backup for certain Mexican-inspired recipes. To use this as a replacement, use a 2:1 cumin to chili powder ratio. You can also add seasonings with cumin to tone down its flavor. You can start by adding garlic and onion powder. All you have to do is mix equal parts of each ingredient and use exactly as the recipe suggests for chili powder. Now, if you want to control the flavor, you can also add every spice in slow progression until you reach your desired preference.

Kashmiri Chili Powder

Commonly used in Indian cuisine, Kashmiri chili powder is made from dried, ground Kashmiri chilies. Its one of the milder, drier chilies, with it having just around 1000 to 2000  Scoville Heat Unit or SHU. In Indian cooking, this powder is utilized for its deep red color more than the heat it offers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t deny the fact that it adds a mild spicy flavor too. For that reason, you can also use this as a good replacement if only for a pinch even though you have to double the amount used.

READ ALSO: 27 Delicious Indian Dinner Recipes You Have to Try

Poor Chili Powder Substitutes to Avoid

Now, just as it’s important to find the right substitute, it’s also just as important to avoid the poor ones. First up is black pepper and white pepper. In particular, black pepper adds a smoky flavor if you add more to a dish, but that’s all there is to it. You won’t find the heat you’re looking for in this backup.

Another spice to avoid is curry powder. Although some curry powders include cayenne or ground chilies, that doesn’t mean you can just swap one with the other. Curry powders have a unique flavor profile that’s incredibly noticeable in recipes. Adding it in some recipes will just largely alter the dish’s flavor profile.

Flavorful Recipes That Use Chili Powder

chili con carne, delicious chili powder recipe

Now that you know the best substitutes for chili powder, it’s high time you test them out with these delicious recipes that use chili powder!

  • George’s Chili Just Like Culver’s — With your DIY chili powder on hand, cook up this Culver’s chili con carne recipe filled with kidney beans, pinto beans, green bell pepper, and flavorful spices such as cumin and oregano.
  • Prawn Etouffee — This classic Louisiana stew uses a creole seasoning mix for a seafood dish full of umami and spicy flavors.
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup — This Mexican favorite is flavored with diced tomatoes, fresh herbs, and spices such as cumin, coriander, and chili powder for a delicious and hearty tortilla soup.
  • Poblano White Chicken Chili — Aside from chicken stock and poblano peppers, herbs and spices such as chili powder make this white chicken chili irresistibly delightful.

Use These Chili Powder Substitutes To Bring Heat To Your Dishes

Chili powder is a versatile spice used in spice rubs, marinades, chilis, and many more! By now, it’s no longer surprising that you run out of this spice every now and then. Right off the bat, you can’t tell that some of these spices are excellent substitutes for chili powder. If you know how to use them, however, you’ll find out that they’re more than just capable of adding heat and flavor to your dishes.

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Odette

Odette is a content writer and proofreader by day, and living her inner artist as a poet and singer by night. She's also a former member of a publication who she now mentors from time to time. She likes how sharing a tiny bit of her life and her journey can help others in return. And because she is a curl embassador, she finds joy in empowering fellow curlies to embrace their natural curls. She also loves doing random acts of service to people she loves by cooking for them during her free time. This girl loves anything pasta and French cuisine though she just went through her Japanese and Korean cuisine phase.

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