Chili powder is a spice rack staple that adds heat and flavor to your dishes. A signature ingredient in both Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, it is also a common ingredient for stews, enchiladas, and this mouthwatering chili recipe.
But because of its many uses, you might suddenly run out of this spice. 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, such as cayenne pepper and paprika.
But before you scour your pantry for chili powder substitutes, check out this article to learn how to use them and what kind of recipes they’re good for.
What Is Chili Powder?
Also known as powdered chili, chili powder is actually a spice blend made from dried or pulverized red chili peppers that are sometimes mixed with 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 chili powder blend is unique with different flavor profiles and ingredients used, they also tend to offer varying spice levels. Some seasoned chili powders range from mild to medium heat. Meanwhile, those without additional seasonings are typically hotter. Homemade versions, on the other hand, will depend on the recipe.
The Best Chili Powder Substitutes To Use
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 alternative ingredients to chili powder 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. Best of all, there’s no need to estimate ratios with this chili powder substitute as it can be used as a direct swap.
How to make chili powder is quite simple, you only need the following ingredients:
- ⅛ cup sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon 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 ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper instead of the initial ½ teaspoon.
Making this condiment at home lets you adjust its taste according to your preference. If you prefer a mild chili powder, you can lessen the amount of cayenne in the mix.
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.
Can I use cayenne instead of chili powder? Well, since it is one of the basic ingredients that make up chili powder, then yes! Although, it might not be the best option if you seek the classic flavors of chili powder.
This is because when it comes to chili powder vs cayenne pepper, cayenne is easily eight times hotter than powdered chili. Using it on its own will only provide heat and pepperiness to your dish.
So, we recommend mixing it with other seasonings and spices such as garlic and onion powder to help subdue the fiery heat. A toned-down version of cayenne is a much closer substitute for chili powder.
Now if it’s just the heat you’re after, you can start with ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Then, slowly build the spice depending on your preference. If you’re using a muted cayenne mixture, it’s also best to add it gradually.
READ ALSO: 10 Cayenne Pepper Substitutes (and How to Use Them!)
Does paprika taste like chili powder? In a way, yes. Both are made from ground chilis and share a smoky flavor. Paprika’s heat level also ranges from mild and sweet to very hot. So it only makes sense why you can use it as a replacement. However, since paprika isn’t a blend of spices like chili powder, its flavor profile won’t be exactly the same.
If you’re wondering how can you substitute paprika for chili powder, then that depends on the type of paprika you have. If you aim to mimic the smoky flavor of chili powder, you can go for smoked paprika by using a 1:1 ratio.
But if you’re using hot paprika, remember to cut the amount in half as it offers more heat than the other types. Whichever you use though, both paprika types will work well as a chili powder substitute since it also lends the red color of chili powder.
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 of the recipe calls for and add more as suited. This backup ingredient is best to use for adobo recipes, chili pastes, and spice rubs. Basically, it’s a suitable replacement for any dish that has a smoky flavor and aroma.
READ ALSO: Ancho Chile: What Is It, Uses, and Recipes You Can Try
Using other types of chili powders such as chipotle chili pepper is a great way to add a dose of heat to your cooking. Chipotle peppers, in particular, are made from ripe red jalapeño peppers that are then smoked and dried. This process is what gives this condiment its notable smoky finish. Due to its deep flavor and mild heat, this chili powder substitute especially complements Mexican-inspired dishes and barbecue recipes.
Using a 1:1 ratio of chipotle powder to chili powder will do the trick, even in a homemade bbq sauce that needs the same red hue and spicy kick.
Crushed Red Pepper
Those crushed red pepper flakes that you spot in pizza parlors in shakers? They add adequate heat to dishes since they’re made with dried cayenne peppers. But one thing that sets this condiment apart from other ground chili peppers is its seeds. Seeds make it even spicier and add texture that might not suit some recipes.
If you’re wondering if you can substitute ground pepper for chili powder, then you’re on the right track. We recommend pulsing this ingredient with a spice grinder to give it a finer texture that resembles chili powder. And since it’s spicier, adding half the amount of the needed condiment is a good ratio to start with. You can always add more to taste!
Hot sauces like Tabasco and Frank’s RedHot supply spiciness to your dishes. However, most hot sauces are made of chili peppers and vinegar. Not to mention, they’re usually fermented to prolong their shelf life and this process adds more sourness to the condiment.
Though these sauces add spice and heat, they may lack the smokiness you need for spice rubs and barbecue recipes. For that reason, this replacement works best for sauces, soups, and stews with a subtle sour taste to them like in a chili verde soup or spinach and lime soup.
Adding a few dashes of hot sauce to your recipe should be enough to produce the spiciness you’re looking for. We recommend adding this substitute in small amounts first as it could also alter the flavor profile of the dish.
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 the classic 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 levels. Some may taste sweeter depending on the blend. With that in mind, it’s better to test it out first before adding it to your dishes. Do remember that most chili sauces like sriracha have added salt to them so you might need to reduce the salt of your dish.
Use this replacement as you would hot sauce: adding in slow progression before building it to your desired taste.
READ ALSO: 15 Best Sriracha Substitutes You Must Try
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 slight tangy is a prominent feature in Tex-Mex dishes like burritos, quesadillas, and shrimp tacos. It also adds a nice spicy kick to soups, stews, and sauce. That said, you can use equal amounts of this spice mix to the required chili powder in recipes.
If you have a packet or bottle of pepper-based spice blends such as taco, creole, and Cajun seasoning in your kitchen, you’re in luck! You can use seasoning mixes as a direct substitute for chili powder. 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 closely resembles the peppers found in chili powder. Meanwhile, the smoky, garlicky and slightly spicy kick of both Cajun and creole seasoning mixes are more suited for barbecue recipes.
Can you substitute cumin for chili powder? Well, given that this spice is responsible for the delightful aroma found in most Mexican dishes, then certainly! You can use a 2:1 cumin to chili powder ratio for this swap as this condiment isn’t really spicy, unlike other substitutes on this list.
However, to better resemble chili powder, we recommend combining it with other flavorings such as garlic and onion powder. All you have to do is mix equal parts of each ingredient and use exactly as the recipe suggests. You can also add paprika to the mix if you’re missing that distinct red hue of powdered chili.
Kashmiri Chili Powder
Commonly used in Indian cuisine, Kashmiri chili powder is made from dried, ground Kashmiri chilies. It’s one of the milder, drier chilies, that scales around 1000 to 2000 Scoville Heat Units 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 when in a pinch by doubling the amount of the needed chili powder in your recipe.
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 important to note the ones to avoid.
First up is black pepper or white pepper. In particular, black pepper adds a sharp smoky flavor the more you add it to a dish, but that’s all there is to it. You won’t find the heat you’re looking for in this ingredient.
Another spice you’d want to avoid is curry powder. Just because some curry powders do have cayenne or ground chilies, it doesn’t mean you can just swap one with the other. Curry powders have a unique flavor profile that’s incredibly distinct and noticeable in recipes. Adding it to certain dishes will most likely alter the dish’s flavor profile.
Flavorful Recipes That Use Chili Powder
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 warm spices such as cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Cooking up a pot of this guarantees a delicious and hearty meal that will keep you warm.
- Poblano White Chicken Chili – Aside from chicken stock and poblano peppers, herbs and spices such as chili powder and cumin 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! If you’re a lover of spicy food, it wouldn’t be surprising if you run out of this spice now and then. Hence, learning which substitutes you can use in its place and how to best use them in your cooking will certainly come in handy.