Chili Powder Breakdown

Have you ever had delicious smoky, spicy chili and wondered how it got so good? Or maybe a killer black bean soup or dip? If you are like many people out there you have a basic spice rack (no judgement) and it might be missing one key spice; a smoky chili powder. Not all chili powders are created equal and many of us only own one type. Chances are it is a basic blend that we use for most spicy or Mexican inspired dishes.

There is a problem with basic chili powder blends, depending on what brand you buy your chili powder could be made with any variety of peppers. It could also be cut with different spices like garlic powder, cumin or even herbs like oregano. It’s really important to read the label when you are purchasing a new type so you know what to expect. The good news about this “problem” is that it allows for huge variety. You can get mild, medium or hot varieties; herbaceous and smoky ones. Once you have found a variety that you like it has tons of uses and is a great all in one spice.

My favorite variety of chili powder doesn’t fall into this category, it is called ancho chili powder. This variety is only made with one thing, ancho chilies.  For those of you who haven’t tried it, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Anchos are poblano peppers that have been roasted and dried. They aren’t an overly spicy pepper, only sitting at around 1,000 to about 1,500 Scoville heat units. To put this in perspective that falls between a bell pepper and a jalapeño.  This means that the powder made out of anchos is on the mild side and has a great smokiness from the roasting. It gives the dishes that it is used in a greater depth of flavor. The issue here is that you need to have other spices on hand if you want to build out the flavor profile.

If ancho chili powder sounds great, but everyone in your house likes heat don’t fret. Chipotle chili powder can be substituted for ancho in most recipes. Chipotles are roasted and dried jalapeño peppers, they sit at about 2,500 Scoville unites. If you are searching for a chili powder that has the smokiness of ancho, but you want to kick the heat up then this is one to stock in your spice rack.

Some days you want heat but don’t want additional flavors, in this case reach for dried chili flakes. Depending on where you live these also might be known as crushed red pepper flakes. These are good when you want to add heat to a dish without any additional flavor like the smokiness in ancho chilies or the vinegar taste from some hot sauces. Be cautious when adding these flakes to your dishes, depending on their age they can go for mild to extremely spicy.

If you live in a home like mine where spicy food is on the menu each week it can be beneficial to have a few of these on hand. I tend to cook on the milder side when I have guests and then stick a bottle (or three) of hot sauce on the table. This way I only have to make one dish and everyone can alter it to their liking. When I am only cooking for us, I’ll kick things up a notch with a variety of chilies, curry powders and pastes. Spices can be a bit on the expensive side when you are first building your collection, but luckily a little goes a long way. Having a good selection on hand can really increase the flavor of your dishes and can take cheaper ingredients to the next level.