Chipotle chili flakes are a convenient way to use chipotle chilies without the hassle of grinding them yourself. The big problem is that you might have a hard time finding this spice outside of a Mexican grocery store. If that’s the case, give one of the chipotle chili flakes substitutes below a try.
Your best bet (1): Standard crushed red pepper
Most spice racks contain crushed red pepper (a.k.a. red pepper flakes) and it’s a quick and easy alternative to chipotle chili flakes. The key differences are the heat (crushed red pepper is typically hotter as cayenne pepper is its base) and the smokiness (you get none with standard red pepper flakes). Really it’s a neutral flavor whereas chipotle pepper flakes have a but more depth.
You could opt for a dash or two of liquid smoke to add in additional smokiness, though it’s very dependent on the recipe at hand.
Your best bet (2): Chipotle powder
While not as popular as cayenne pepper powder or paprika, chipotle powder is coming into its own as a popular spice rack seasoning. It makes for an excellent substitution for chipotle chili flakes for most every use case (particularly dry recipes like dry rubs).
Care should be taken on the amount used. It’s not a 1:1 ratio to chili pepper flakes as there will be more powder in a teaspoon than the coarser flakes. Keep in mind, too, that powder tends to permeate a dish more than flakes, simply due to the nature of powder. It mixes seamlessly into soups and salsas, and you’ll often find them spicier when you use chipotle powder over chipotle flakes due to this.
Another option, though hard to source: Whole chipotle pepper or pasilla de Oaxaca
You could ground chipotle chili flakes yourself by purchasing dried chipotle peppers and processing them into flakes yourself. To get the same coarse consistency as chipotle chili flakes, grind them in a spice grinder or food processor taking care to stop before they get to the powdery stage.
Like chipotle chili peppers, pasilla de Oaxaca peppers are smoked; they provide a mild heat accompanied by a smoky flavor. They are similar enough that you can use the pasilla de Oaxaca peppers in recipes that call for chipotle chili flakes. With up to 10,000 SHU, pasilla de Oaxaca offers a little more heat than chipotle peppers since chipotles tend to peak at 8,000 SHU.
Also important is the fact that pasilla de Oaxaca peppers are smokier than chipotles. You will need to use less of the ground pasillas than the amount that your recipe specifies for chipotle flakes. How much less depends on how hot the batch of pasillas is as well as your personal tolerance for heat.
In a pinch (1): Chipotle in adobo sauce
In one sense, chipotle in adobo sauce may seem like one of the best substitutes for chipotle flakes since they are another form of exactly the same pepper. Chipotles in adobo sauce also have the benefit of being very easy to find.
There are some key differences, though, and they make this a hard substitution. The chipotle in adobo sauce have been rehydrated, so they are moist rather than flaky and are, of course, coated with earthy adobo sauce. To get something approaching the flavor of chipotle chili flakes, you will need to rinse the adobo sauce from the peppers and puree them. Even then, you will still be adding moisture to your dish.
In a pinch (2): Chipotle paste
Chipotle paste consists of dried chipotle chilies that are reconstituted before being pureed. You get exactly the same flavor profile that you get from the flakes but with that added moisture.
While the moisture should not make much of a difference in most dishes, it might in a few. Chipotle paste should work well as a chipotle flake substitute in soups and sauces but will not be as effective in a dry rub or other application where moisture is a drawback. You may have a hard time finding chipotle paste since it is not the most common spice outside of stores that specialize in Mexican ingredients.
Smoked paprika contains finely ground smoked peppers. The fineness of the grind means that it will not have the same consistency as chipotle chili flakes; however, the smokiness of spice provides a similar flavor. If you take this route, you may need to add heat from another source since most smoked paprika is pretty mild.
Chili powder typically contains ground ancho pepper. Ancho peppers have a natural smokiness, but they are not smoked. Aside from the pepper, the next ingredient in most blends is cumin. The earthy, savory quality of cumin can stand in for the smokiness of chipotle chili flakes.