Chipotle Powder Vs. Chili Powder – How Do They Compare?

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One’s a staple and the other is an up-and-comer in terms of spice rack popularity. They share a similar look and a 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 for the other? Let’s compare these two fiery spices.

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

You may expect these powders to be two sides 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 ground single-ingredient 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.

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 because it’s a spice blend. The blending of other spices lowers the overall heat. Plus, generic supermarket-sold chili powder is typically processed for the masses, so the number of dried chilies (and their overall spiciness) added to the seasoning blend is chosen 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 at the lower end of medium-heat chilies.

How do chili powder and ground chipotle differ in flavor?

They are very different actually. Chili powder tastes like a spice blend that happens to feature a heavy dose of ground chili pepper. It’s earthy, mildly spicy, and pungent.

Chipotle powder is earthy, too, but there’s a deep earthy 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.

Better alternatives for a chili powder substitution are paprika or cayenne powder, both common on the spice rack. Both are more neutral and peppery in flavor. Paprika tends to be milder (unless you have a hot paprika) and cayenne is much hotter than the typical chili powder spice blend. Use much less of it if you are subbing.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on December 10, 2022 to include new content.
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