Top 3 Best Chili Powder Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Chili powder substitutes can come in many forms and are widely sought after for dietary or allergy reasons, or simply to add a different level of spice to a favorite recipe.

Chili powder is the broad term for dried chilies that are ground on their own or blended with other spices. Chili powder is used as a flavoring ingredient and is usually mildly spicy, often with a touch of fruity sweetness. It is used in Asian and Latin American cuisines, among many others. Many varieties of chilies are used, including Aleppo pepper, ancho chili, chipotle, cayenne, capsicum, arbol, and many more.

Chili Powder Substitutes

There are many people who seek out chili powder substitutes because they simply can’t take the heat, or if the dominating flavor is too much in certain recipes. When chilies are dried, some of the subtle flavor differences are reduced, so if you’re looking for a substitute for chili powder, there are plenty of ingredients you can use such as dried ground chili pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes, paprika, hot sauce, and chili sauce. You can also substitute chili powder with peppercorns, old bay seasoning, and a mix of powdered spices.

Crushed cayenne pepper in a wooden spoon with red chillis placed around

Cayenne pepper contains a high amount of capsaicin. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Dried Ground Chili Pepper

There are dozens of chili peppers grown for culinary use all over the world. If you’re on the hunt for subtle flavors and varying spice levels, visit a specialty grocer in your area. A Korean, Chinese, Indian or any Asian grocer will likely have a different variety of chilies than Mexican, Central or South American shops. Chili powders are interchangeable in many recipes, but learning the names of common varieties will help you understand what flavors work best together.

Aleppo and Ancho chilies are mild with a fruity aroma. In fact, ancho chilies are just dried poblano peppers!

Thai chili powder, cayenne powder, and Chinese red pepper flakes are very spicy.

Jalapeño, Serrano, or Chipotle peppers have a medium level of spice and heat. Chipotle peppers are just smoked and dried jalapeños, which are often sold in a sauce form.

Cumin and Paprika

Make a 50/50 blend of these aromatic spices to use in place of chili powder for a mild flavor. Add a little cayenne pepper if you prefer more heat.

Chili Sauce or Hot Sauce

Sauces made with vinegar or oils will definitely give you the heat you’re looking for. Consider mixing thin sauces with a dash of cumin or paprika for an even more robust flavor.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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