What Is a Good Substitute For Ancho Chili Powder?


Ancho chili powder may not seem like an ingredient you’ll always use but wait until you see the many recipes that call for it!

  • It’s the go-to chili powder in authentic Mexican dishes, which has a moderate heat substance made from whole ancho chilies.
  • Ancho chili powder is one of the most used ingredients in Mexican cuisine, a burgundy-colored and mildly-flavored seasoning with a slight raisin flavor. (*)
  • This ingredient pairs well with meats like pork and beef, traditionally used in soups, stews, and sauces. But now, you can find this versatile seasoning in everything, from savory to sweet recipes like cakes and chocolate!

If you don’t have any ancho chili powder in your kitchen pantry, that’s totally fine, too.

You can purchase it in grocery stores but if you have no time, you can opt for an ancho chili powder substitute. So, what is a good substitute for ancho chili powder?

Read on for a comprehensive list!

Fun fact: Ancho chili is the name for the dried poblano pepper. These chilies rate 1,250 SHU on the Scoville Heat Index, which is the mildest on the scale. No worries about being spiced out!

What Is a Good Substitute For Ancho Chili Powder?

Ancho chili powder is a popular spice you can usually find in spice rubs or mole sauce. It has a more earthy and smoky flavor than cayenne pepper powder but with less spice.

Fun fact: Grinding chilies dates back to the Aztecs. They used dried fresh peppers for preservation to use as flavoring in dishes and drinks (like chocolate).

One of the more popular Ancho chili powder brands comes from McCormick, which is commonly available in grocery stores or online shops. If you can’t find any or have no time to go out as you cook your recipe, you can use an Ancho chili powder substitute, like:

1. Guajillo Chile Powder

This is the best Ancho chili powder substitute, in our opinion! It’s a bit hotter but not too spicy, as it has about 3,750 SHUs. It’s made of the second most popular chili in Mexico (right after ancho chilies).

Expect it to have a pleasantly sharp and tangy flavor with hints of pine and berry.

You can add guajillo chili powder to any dish calling for chili. However, this powder is traditionally used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, particularly in braises, stews, and mole sauces. Even if it has mild heat, it’s got a distinct flavor, so a little goes a long way! (*)

Fun fact: Guajillo got its Spanish name because of its shape, resembling a small gourd.

Learn more: Guajillo Chili Powder Substitute

2. Paprika

Paprika is one of the more popular seasonings you most likely have in your pantry, so it’s a suitable Ancho chili powder substitute.

It comes from Capsicum annum, a genus including chili peppers, red peppers, and bell peppers. There are different blends of paprika to choose from, having various grades based on the heat and flavor profile.

For instance, there is sweet paprika, which tastes more subtle than spicy, while smoked paprika gives your dish a few charred flavors.

Fun fact: Paprika is Hungary’s national spice! In the 16th century, Spanish explorers who visited central Mexico brought paprika back to their country, where its popularity spread all over the world.

3. Pasilla Chile Powder

Pasilla chili powder consists of dried Chilaca peppers, having earthy undertones working amazingly in mole sauces.

It shares common traits with Ancho chile powder, making it a great replacement.

Ground pasilla chili powder comes in various colors, ranging from black to deep purple.

It has a rich, dark, and even almost chocolatey flavor with hints of dried fruits, like raisins and fruits.

The spice is more of a star ingredient, so don’t add too much if you only want a subtle chili flavor in your dishes.

Pro-tip: Ancho chili powder is sometimes mistaken for Pasilla chili powder, so don’t confuse both! You can tell the difference in their ingredient list and appearance.

We recommend adding pasilla powder as an Ancho chili powder in any savory recipe asking for Ancho chili powder, particularly bean-centric dishes, mole sauces, or even compound butter.

4. Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is a popular seasoning readily available in major supermarkets, making it one of the most accessible Ancho chile powder substitutes. It’s made of dried, smoked jalapenos, being a bit hotter than Ancho chilies. (*)

Fun fact: The name chipotle comes from chilpoctli, a Nahuatl word meaning “smoked chili.”

Once charred and crushed, powdered jalapenos will give a dish an earthy funkiness to traditional Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, as well as Tex-Mex dishes.

We recommend using this for savory recipes like meat and seafood or enhancing flavors in fillings of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and the like.

You can use a 1:1 ratio but if you have a lower spice tolerance, you can first start with half the amount required.

5. Mulato Pepper Powder

Mulato peppers have a darker flavor with a more full-bodied flavor and higher heat index. If you’re looking for more intense flavors and spice, then this is the perfect Ancho chili substitute for you!

It goes through a longer maturation process, which contributes to its intense qualities.

Fun fact: The longer you leave chili on the vine, the further capsaicin develops, the more potent it turns.

Ancho and Mulato peppers are dried poblanos, which you can find in Mexican dishes. But Mulato pepper powder has more chocolate and licorice notes, so they are best made for sweeter dishes or desserts for a spicy twist!

It works great in ice cream or baked goods.

6. Chili Powder

If you’re in a pinch and only have red chili powder in your kitchen, then this will work. However, there are notable differences between Ancho chili powder and red chili powder.

Ancho chili powder is made from ground dried chili without any additives. On the other hand, red chili powder is made of similar dried, crushed chili, this time alongside other ingredients like salt, paprika, oregano, thyme, and more.

Pro-tip: Instead of using red chili powder straight up, we recommend using a teaspoon of chili powder and ¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper. Cayenne pepper is also a suitable Ancho chili substitute for its availability, but take note of its heat!

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve got frequently asked questions about Ancho chili powder and its substitutes, so keep on reading!

1. What do you use Ancho chili powder for?

Ancho chili powder has a ton of uses! You can add it to soups as a thickener, spice up tamales, or as a seasoning to give your food extra flavor. Here are some recipes that benefit from Ancho chili powder:

  • BBQ ribs
  • Romesco sauce
  • Sweet and spicy potato soup
  • Chili soup
  • Ancho citrus baked salmon

2. What’s the difference between Ancho chili powder and chili pepper?

Ancho chili powder is a powder made of dried poblano chilies. On the other hand, red chili powder is made of various spices like garlic, oregano, thyme, and more!

Pro-tip: Other than the alternatives mentioned above, you can also try using New Mexico chile powder, Chili de Arbok powder, and Gochugaru as an Ancho chili substitute. These have slightly different flavors but add a bit of heat and lots of flavor!

3. Are Ancho chilies and California chilies the same?

No, these chilies are not the same. California chilies are created by pulverizing dried Anaheim chili, while Ancho chilies are created by drying, steaming, and seeding poblano chilies.

Fun fact: The mildest chili is the bell pepper, ranked the lowest on the Scoville scale with 0 SHUs!

Wrapping It Up

We hope our article on the best substitute for Ancho chili powder gave you an idea of what you can use as a replacement whenever needed!

Let us know what you thought of our article and learn more about food substitutions and other fun cooking tidbits here.


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