All out of ancho powder?
Or, frankly, you didn’t have any sitting around in your kitchen in the first place? That’s ok, you won’t have every spice all the time, but it’s what you do next that counts. If you don’t have – or can’t find – ancho chili powder, then where do you turn? What’s the best ancho chili powder substitute that’ll provide similar taste? What’s the best option at your typical supermarket? Let’s review your choices.
Top choice: New Mexico chili powder
New Mexico chili powder has a comparable mild spiciness to ancho powder, so if your concern is over-spicing a dish, then opt for it. The flavors are the epitome of “close enough” to get away with the exchange. The powder is often made with Anaheim chilies, but other New Mexican and Californian chilies may be used too. It won’t have the same level of earthiness as the ancho, but there’s enough there for the substitution to work.
A step up in heat: Guajillo powder
Yes, it may be even harder to find, but it’s a very good 1:1 match. Guajillo chilies have a similar smokiness to the ancho, but there’s a bit more sweetness here too and a tea-like finish. It’s a slight heat uptick, more of a medium heat (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units – mild jalapeño level heat) over the milder 1,000 – 1,500 SHU of the ancho powder. Many people prefer the taste of guajillo chili powder over ancho powder as it is, so it’s worthy of exploring on its own.
Your best supermarket alternative (but a bigger jump in heat): Chipotle powder
Another common chili power in a well-stocked spice rack, this is an excellent go to when all else fails. Chipotle are smoked dried jalapeños, so there’s a bit more earthiness to this powder than even the ancho provides. And expect four to five times the heat since the chipotle SHU range runs from 2,500 to 8,000. Still, it’s often right at your fingertips, so it’s a good choice. Just use less of it than a recipe calls for if you’re concerned about the heat or the increase in smoky flavor.
If you must (but not recommended): Generic chili powder
Sure, it’s likely the easiest thing to grab off the spice rack that sounds like a decent alternative, but generic chili powder is often cut with a mix of spices. The flavor differences between it and ancho chili powder are many, and the generic alternative is likely a lot hotter too. If you’re one to care a whole heck of a lot about the subtle flavors of your dishes, look elsewhere. But if you’re in a pinch, it can do.