Chipotle Powder Vs. Chili Powder: PepperScale Showdown

They may look alike, but are they similar?

One’s a staple and the other is an up-and-comer in terms of spice rack popularity. They share, too, a similar look and fine powder grind. But how similar are chipotle powder and chili powder beyond these simple traits? Is one spicier? Should you expect comparable flavor, or will you be surprised by the taste differences? Can one substitute in for the other? There’s a whole lot to this story, and you’ll find it below in another PepperScale Showdown.

How similar are the ingredients in chipotle powder and chili powder?

You may expect these powders to be two side to the same coin in terms of ingredients, but that’s not the case. Chili powder is a seasoning blend – it has a base of chili powder that’s then mixed with spices like garlic powder, oregano, and cumin powder. The chili pepper used can vary from brand to brand (and it may be a mix of chilies, from ancho to cayenne) which affects the spiciness, though generic chili powders mainly have a subdued kick due to the dilution among other spices and the normalizing of the basic recipe across makers.

Chipotle powder, conversely, is only one ingredient: dried, smoked jalapeño peppers that are then crushed into powder form. It’s simple, so it reflects the overall essence of the chili it came from.

So which is hotter? Chili powder or chipotle powder?

While chili powder may contain the spicier pepper (cayenne), it’s not typically hotter. In fact, in the world of chilies it’s overall a mild spiciness. The blending among other spices lowers the overall heat. Plus, generic chili powder is typically processed for the masses, so the heat is tempered to work with as many taste buds as possible.

Chipotle powder takes the heat crown between these two easily. It shares the same heat profile as the fresh jalapeño: 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units. That places it an the lower-end of medium heat chilies.

So the taste? How different are the flavors of these powders?

Very different actually. Chili powder tastes like a spice blend that happens to feature a heavy dose of chili powder. It’s earthy, mildly spicy, and pungent. Chipotle powder is earthy, too, but there’s a deep smokiness to this spice that’s created during the drying and smoking process. In a blind taste test, you’d be hard-pressed to not guess which is which.

Can you substitute chili powder for chipotle powder? Would you?

Sure you can substitute one for the other, but it’s not a substitution we’d typically choose. Chipotle powder’s smokiness is very much the key differentiator here and it can really impact a recipe. That door swings both ways – subbing in chipotle powder in a recipe may overwhelm a dish and using chili powder instead of chipotle could leave you underwhelmed. A better alternative for a chili powder substitution is cayenne pepper powder. It’s spicier, but the flavor differences aren’t as pronounced. Use less than the recipe calls for to temper the heat.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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