If you enjoy experimenting with different spices in your recipes, you may be familiar with both ancho chili powder and chili powder. Have you ever wondered if these spices are actually the same? While both ancho chili powder and regular chili powder seem similar in name and usage, they have distinct differences that make them unique.

Understanding the differences between ancho chili powder and regular chili powder can help you choose the right spice for your recipes. In this article, we'll explore the differences between these two types of chili powders, how to substitute one for the other, and how to draw on other spices in your spice rack when you're in need of backup.

Ancho Chili Powder vs. Chili Powder: What Is the Difference?

The main difference between ancho chili powder and regular chili powder is their ingredients. Ancho chili powder is made solely from ground poblano peppers, while chili powder is a spice blend. Chili powder is from a combination of dried and ground chili peppers, along with other seasonings.

Ancho chili powder generally has a mild heat level whereas chili powder can be anywhere from mild to very hot depending on the spice blend used. In addition, ancho child powder has a sweet and slightly smoky flavor whereas chili powders can have more variable flavors.

Here is an in-depth look at each powder specifically.

What Is Ancho Chili Powder?

delicious dried chili peppers great for mexican food and fusion cuisine. these chili pods will leave a hot spicy and flavorful sensation to your favorite meals.
Ancho chili powder is made from dried poblano peppers.

©Mix Tape/Shutterstock.com

Ancho chili powder is a spice from dried and ground poblano peppers. Poblano peppers are chili peppers common in Mexican cuisine. The peppers are typically harvested when they're ripe and red, then dried and ground into a fine powder.


As mentioned, what sets ancho chili powder apart is that it only consists of one ingredient: ripened poblano peppers. Poblano peppers are green in the store when you buy them, but turn red when allowed to ripen. The red peppers are dried and ground up to create a powder seasoning that can offer several nutritional benefits.


Ancho chili powder has a sweet and slightly smoky flavor with a mild to medium heat level. The flavor and heat level can change depending on the specific batch and how you use it in a recipe. It's often part of Mexican dishes like enchiladas, mole sauces, and chili con carne. You can also use it in other cuisines to add a touch of spice and flavor.

Signature Color

One of the unique characteristics of ancho chili powder is its deep, rich color. The dried poblano peppers used to make ancho chili powder have a dark, reddish-brown color that gives the spice its distinct hue. This color also makes ancho chili powder a popular ingredient for adding depth and richness to dishes like stews, soups, and sauces.

How to Make Ancho Chili Powder at Home

Because ancho chili powder consists of one simple ingredient – dried poblanos – it's a simple powder you can make from scratch.

Purchase 2 to 4 dried ancho chilis from your local grocery store and remove the seeds and stem.

Tear up the peppers into chunks and place them in your food processor or spice grinder if you have one. Pulse blend the dried chilis until the powder reaches your desired consistency.

Ancho chili powder can then be stored in a cool, dark place for up to six months.

What Is Chili Powder?

aromatic spicy chili powder on a white background
Chili powder is made from a spice blend.

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Whereas ancho chili powder is made from a single ingredient, regular chili powder is a spice blend made from a combination of dried and ground chili peppers, along with other seasonings. The exact blend of ingredients may vary depending on the manufacturer or recipe. Typically, regular chili powder contains a mix of mild to hot chili peppers along with other spices to give it a distinct flavor.


The primary ingredient in regular chili powder is chili peppers, though the specific types of chili peppers used can vary. In addition to chili peppers, regular chili powder often contains other spices such as cumin, garlic, oregano, and paprika. These spices help to balance out the heat of the chili peppers.


The flavor of chili powder is often described as earthy, smoky, and slightly sweet. It also has a moderate to hot level of spiciness. It's a popular ingredient in many types of chili recipes, as well as other dishes such as stews, soups, and marinades.

Can You Substitute Ancho Chili Powder for Chili Powder?

If you're in a pinch, you can substitute one powder for the other. Keep in mind, however, that because these spices are different in flavor and heat level, interchanging one for the other may alter the taste of your dish.

If you are substituting chili powder for ancho chili powder in a recipe, you may want to reduce the amount you use. You may also want to adjust the other seasonings to ensure that the dish has a similar flavor profile to the original recipe.

Similarly, if you are substituting ancho chili powder for regular chili powder, you may need to use slightly more ancho chili powder to achieve the desired level of spiciness and flavor.

Additionally, you can alter your recipe and combine spices to get your desired flavor. For instance, if your recipe calls for a teaspoon of ancho chili powder, combine the following:

  • 1 teaspoon regular chili powder
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Adding the red pepper flakes will increase the heat level your recipe.

Ultimately, the decision to substitute ancho chili powder with regular chili powder or vice versa will depend on the specific recipe and your personal preference. It's always a good idea to taste the dish as you go and adjust the seasonings as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.

What Are Other Substitutes for Ancho Chili Powder and Chili Powder?

Various fragrant spices and herbs. On a wooden background.
If you're in a pinch and don't have chili powders on hand, there are a few other spices you can use.


While you can use ancho chili powder and regular chili powder almost interchangeably, you may want to experiment with other seasonings. Or, you may find yourself in a pinch without any chili powders at home. Here are a few popular substitutions for chili powder.


Paprika is a mild spice made from dried and ground sweet red peppers. It's a great substitute for chili powder as it has a similar sweet and slightly smoky flavor.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a hot spice made from dried and ground red chili peppers. It's a good substitute for ancho chili powder as it has a similar heat level and spiciness.

Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder comprises smoked and dried jalapeno peppers, which give it a smoky and spicy flavor. You can use it as a substitute for ancho chili powder, especially if you're looking for a smoky flavor in your recipe.

Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes are dried and crushed red chili peppers that can be used as a substitute for both chili powder and ancho chili powder. However, they're much spicier than ancho chili powder, so keep that in mind when using them.


Cumin is a warm, earthy spice and is a common ingredient in chili powder. You can use it as a substitute for chili powder if you want to add a similar flavor to your dish.

Final Thoughts

Now that we've covered the differences between ancho chili powder and regular chili powder, it's time to get cooking.

Whether you're a fan of mild and sweet flavors or love a little extra heat, both ancho chili powder and regular chili powder can add a delicious depth of flavor to your favorite dishes. From classic chili con carne to BBQ rubs and marinades, these versatile spices are a must-have in any kitchen.

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