What’s in an extra word?
Say you have a recipe calling for ancho chili powder. Is it safe to substitute the regular chili powder, the one so prevalent in most spice racks? Are they the same thing, or at least very similar? Will the taste be different in the dish itself?
There are, in fact, some pretty distinct differences between these two chili powders which make them not optimal substitutes for each other. Let’s break things down through an ancho chili powder vs. chili powder PepperScale showdown.
Are the powders the same?
Not at all. Really not even close, other than there are hot peppers in each. Anchos are dried and roasted poblano peppers. These peppers are very mild, well down the Scoville scale at around 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units. They are smack dab between a bell pepper (zero heat) and the mildest jalapeño possible (2,500 SHU). When ripened poblanos are dried and roasted into ancho peppers, they gain an earthy and smoky sweetness.
An ancho chili powder is 100% ancho peppers, just like a chipotle chili powder would be 100% chipotle peppers (dried and roasted jalapeños). The chili powder (or chili seasoning) typically found in a spice rack is often cut with other spices like cumin, garlic, and oregano. And the hot pepper in generic chili powder could be anything from a jalapeño to a cayenne pepper depending on the heat level it’s sold as.
Is there a heat difference?
This is tough to gauge as “chili powder”, as mentioned, can be one of many different (or a mix of) hot peppers. The spice can range from poblano pepper level up to cayenne (30,000 Scoville heat units). It’s typically safe to save that a generic chili powder will be spicier than ancho chili powder since poblanos are so mild.
Can you substitute generic chili powder for ancho chili powder?
It’s not recommended, and it’s not just the heat difference. Because spice rack chili powders and seasonings are typically cut with other ingredients, substituting it for pure ancho powder can totally change the taste of a recipe. Check the label of your chili powder before making any substitution. You may also need to cut back on other spices in the recipe to make sure the dish stays balanced in terms of taste.
You could also substitute a 100% chipotle chili powder (common in most supermarkets), it has a similar smokiness, but less sweet and there’s a significant bump in heat. If heat is an issue, use less of it than you would an ancho powder. Half of what’s expected in the recipe should balance the overall spiciness.