What’s The Best Ancho Chili Powder Substitute?

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All out of ancho powder? Or, more likely, you didn’t have any sitting around in your kitchen in the first place?  That’s ok, you won’t have every spice every time, but it’s what you do next that counts. If you don’t have  – or can’t find – ancho chili powder, then where do you turn? What’s the best ancho chili powder substitute that’ll provide similar taste? What’s a decent option at your typical supermarket? Let’s review your choices.

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Ancho Powder (from our Spicery)
Ground ancho (dried poblano) is not as common as some other chilies on the spice rack, but once you taste it, you'll find many reasons to keep it around. Mild, earthy, and sweet. It's perfect for mole, BBQ, or even as an everyday seasoning for eggs, sandwiches, and more.
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Table of Contents

Best choice: New Mexico chili powder

New Mexico chili powder has a comparable mild spiciness to ancho powder, so if your concern is over-spicing a dish, then opt for it. The flavors are the epitome of “close enough” to get away with the exchange.

The powder is often made with Anaheim chilies, but other New Mexican and Californian chilies may be used too. It won’t have the same level of earthiness as the ancho, but there’s enough there for the substitution to work.

A step up in heat: Guajillo powder

Yes, it may be even harder to find, but it’s a very good 1:1 match. Guajillo chilies have a similar smokiness to the ancho, but there’s a bit more sweetness here too and a tea-like finish.

It’s a slight heat uptick, more of a medium heat (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units – mild jalapeño level heat) over the milder 1,000 – 1,500 SHU of the ancho powder. Many people prefer the taste of guajillo chili powder over ancho powder as it is, so it’s worthy of exploring on its own.

Your best supermarket alternative (but a bigger jump in heat): Chipotle powder

A common chili power in a well-stocked spice rack, chipotle powder is an excellent go to when all else fails. Chipotle are smoked dried jalapeños, so there’s a bit more earthiness to this powder than even the ancho provides. And expect four to five times the heat since the chipotle ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units.

Still, it’s often right at your fingertips, so it’s a good choice. Just use less of it than a recipe calls for if you’re concerned about the heat or the increase in smoky flavor. One third of the amount is a good place to start, and add additional based on taste and heat preference.

–> Learn More: Ancho Vs. Chipotle – How Do They Compare?

If you just want easy-to-find heat: Cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper

Cayenne, like ancho powder, is made from a single chili. But there are some big differences between ancho and cayenne. Ancho has more of an earthy, sweet flavor while cayenne has a more neutral peppery taste. And there’s a big spread between ancho spiciness (1,000 to 1,500 SHU) and cayenne spiciness (30,000 to 50,000 SHU). One is mild and the other sits at the upper end of medium heat.

Still, if you’re only looking for a way to provide heat to a dish, cayenne works well. Just make sure to cut back on the amount used by quite a bit. A few dashes of cayenne can provide as much spiciness as a teaspoon of ancho, so plan accordingly.

Crushed red pepper typically has cayenne as a base, but it’s cut with other (typically milder) chilies. So it’s less of a heat jump. But the bigger issue is flakes versus a powder. Flakes tend to sit atop food, while powders permeate a dish. Crushed red pepper can provide heat, just be aware of how it will react differently in your recipe.

Only in a pinch: Generic chili powder and cayenne pepper

Sure, it’s likely the easiest thing to grab off the spice rack that sounds like a decent alternative, but generic chili powder seasoning is cut with a mix of spices. The flavor differences between it and ancho chili powder are many. If you’re one to care about the subtle flavors of your dishes, look elsewhere. But if you’re in a pinch, consider it carefully before using, but it can do if needed.

  • The Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 different chilies. Our dynamic list lets you search these chilie by heat, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Are Dried Chilies Hotter Than Fresh? The ancho is a dried poblano, so which of the two would be hotter and why?
  • Easy Mole Sauce: One of the best uses for this powder is making mole! Here’s a simply recipe to get you started.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 27, 2022 to include new content.
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