Where can you turn for smoky heat?
From homemade barbecue sauces and rubs to rustic stews and meals, smoky chipotle powder is a common theme in recipes. But it isn’t always a typical spice you’ll just have in your spice rack. So what should you do if your kitchen concoction calls for this distinctly flavorful powder? What’s the best chipotle powder substitute that you may have in your spice rack, and which will be closest to that unique earthy taste? We provide answers below.
Your best bets for smoke and heat, with a catch: Other chipotle-based products
Yes, it’s simple enough to start – If you have chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chipotle paste, or chipotle hot sauce at hand, you have a decent alternative for many recipes. And let’s stress: many and not all recipes.
These three alternatives contain additional ingredients which can affect the overall flavor profile of your dish. Adobo sauce is tomato-based with additional spices, and most chipotle hot sauces, too, contain tomato as well as vinegar. Plus, they are both liquid-based and not in powder form which may not work in all cases where a powder will.
Still, you’re guaranteed to get that delicious smoky flavor that’s so special with this pepper. To make sure the other flavors don’t overwhelm, it’s best to start with less in the recipe (about 1/2 of the amount of powder required), then spice up to taste.
Your best bet in powdered form: Smoked Paprika
If you’re willing to lose some heat, smoked paprika is an excellent 1:1 alternative for chipotle powder. It will provide you with a similar earthy smoke that’s so important to chipotle powder’s flavor profile. Both are made from smoked chilies, but – depending on the smoked paprika that you buy – the heat level will likely be less with this substitution.
Generic smoked paprika that you buy from supermarkets is typically mild in spiciness, made from pimento peppers. You can find smoked hot paprika, like the Spanish Pimenton de la Vera, but it may not be readily available at your corner grocer and it may even be hotter than chipotle powder, sometimes as hot as cayenne powder.
Only if you must: Chili powder or cayenne powder
It may be very tempting to simply grab that bottle of cayenne or chili powder that’s sitting in the corner of your spice rack, but only do so if you have no other alternative. Chili powder shares very little in common with chipotle powder. It has none of that important smokiness, and it contains many filler spice ingredients – like cumin, onion powder, and salt – that can change the overall flavor of your dish. Opt for one of the solutions above whenever possible, and if you must turn to chili powder, use 1/2 the amount and spice up as needed. To add more “chili” into “chili powder” and less other ingredients, consider cutting it with cayenne powder.
Cayenne powder is a slightly better alternative, but again shares none of the distinct earthy smokiness. Its flavor profile, in fact, is comparatively neutral, providing a pop of heat (a lot more than chipotle) but much less effect on overall taste. If your palate tends towards spicy reach for cayenne, otherwise smoked paprika is your better powdered alternative.