Take a moment and open up your spice cabinet. Most likely, there’s a bottle of chili powder hanging around in there. Whether or not you are a fan of hot and spicy foods, we must assert that chili powder is a staple in any spice cabinet. But did you know that, in spite of its name, a standard bottle of chili powder is not made from dried, ground chili peppers, but a blend of dried, ground chili peppers, salt, and different spices like oregano, cumin, and occasionally garlic powder? While convenient, chili power might not be the best option if you’re avoiding salt or if you simply prefer to be in control of what ingredients are going into your cooking.
Luckily, outside of standard chili powder, there are plenty of varieties you can find in stores that are just pure, ground chili pepper. The great part about that is that you can use a pinch of your favorite powder to add a new depth of flavor to a certain dish or it can be used to create homemade spice blends. First, let’s talk about a few of the basic chili powders you might come across. Keep in mind, if you find whole, dried versions of these peppers, they can be ground into powder in a blender or mini coffee grinder!
Your Basic Varieties
Cayenne Pepper Powder
Cayenne powder is made from dried, ground cayenne peppers. Before you pick up a bottle, be sure to read the ingredient label to be sure the spice you are buying is made from 100 percent ground peppers, as many varieties of chili powders are a blend of dried peppers, salt, and other spices. In terms of heat, cayenne pepper powder ranks between 30,000-50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), the unit by which most hot peppers are ranked. It’s hot enough to add spice, but not so spicy that it’ll turn away the heat-adverse if added to sauces or marinades.
Cayenne pepper is also reported to have several health benefits, ranging from stimulating the digestive tract, aiding in detoxification, and helping to relieve inflammation. Buy a 2.89-ounce bottle of Simply Organic Cayenne Pepper for $4.21 here.
Chipotle chili powder is made from mature, red jalapeños that are smoked and then ground. It has become one of the most popular chili powders in the U.S. in recent years. In terms of heat, chipotle powder can range between 2,500-8,000 SHUs, but most varieties tend to be on the spicier side. Due to its hot, smoky flavor, chipotle powder is popular in chilis, barbecue sauces and marinades, and in Tex-Mex cuisine.
Try it in these Chipotle Maple Sweet Potato Burgers, these Chipotle Lime Roasted Cauliflower, or try any one of these 15 Earthy and Smoky Recipes Featuring Chipotle. You can purchase a 2.89-ounce bottle of McCormick Chipotle Chili Pepper Powder for $4.94 here.
Ancho Chili Powder
Ancho chili powder is made from dried, ground poblano peppers and with an SHU rank ranging between 1,000-1,500 SHUs, it’s one of the mildest chili pepper powders you can find. As opposed to the heat of cayenne pepper powder, ancho chili powder is less hot and more earthy and smoky in terms of flavor. Because it has such a unique flavor, it is not recommended that you substitute regular chili powder for ancho chili powder. Try it in recipes like Roasted Pumpkin and Mushroom Quesadillas With Ancho Chili Cream, this Spicy Bean Chili, or this Chipotle Chocolate Chili.
You can buy a 2-ounce pouch of Los Chileros Organic Chile Ancho Powder for about $9 here.
Now that you know about three common varieties, let’s talk about international flavors! The love of spicy flavors is practically global and many countries have their own variety of chili powder. Here are some of the more popular varieties.
Goghugaru is a vibrant red spice made from a blend of hot red pepper flakes. Its texture is somewhere between red pepper flakes and chili powder. Taeyangcho, or peppers that have been sun-dried, are considered to be the best ingredient for gochugaru, as opposed to some modern varieties that grind the peppers by machine. If you’re looking to buy gochugaru at the Asian market, keep an eye out for packaging labeled “태양초”, which means that the peppers were sun-dried. Compared to the types of chili powders, gochugaru has a much more complex flavor that has been described as spicy, sweet, and slightly smoky.
There are also a few varieties of gochugaru you might come across. Maewoon gochugaru is the hottest kind you can buy while deolmaewoon gochugaru is milder. It can also be tricky to know that you are buying gochugaru, as many English labels on Korean products can be as misleading. You don’t want to buy anything labeled “red pepper powder,” as this is an entirely different ingredient that is actually used to make gochujang. Gochugaru should have a bright, red color and coarse texture. You can find gochugaru in most Asian grocery stores or you can buy this 7-ounce bottle of Korean Farm Sun-Dried Gochugaru for about $8.
Gochugaru is mostly used to make spicy sauces and kimchi. To learn how to make your own kimchi, click here. For stews, try this Korean Spicy Stew With Silky Tofu and this Korean Spicy Potato and Vegetable Stew,
India: Kashmiri Pepper Powder
Known for their exceptionally vibrant red hue, Kashmiri chili peppers are a staple in Indian cooking, where whole, dried or fresh peppers are often bought at the market or Indian grocery store. Dried peppers can be ground into a fine powder or into flakes. Unlike most other peppers, Kashmiri chili peppers are bred for color and mildness with an SHU range between 1,000-2,000. In terms of flavor, they are said to be very mild with slightly fruity undertones that make it similar to sweet paprika. Generally, Kashmiri chili is used to bring natural red color to dishes, particularly curries and tandoori dishes.
Try Kashmiri chili powder in dishes like this bright red “Butter” Masala, this Chickpea and Red Pepper Curry, or this Tandoori Sweet Potato. Interested in trying Kashmiri chili powder? Keep an eye out in the Indian grocery store or try a 100-gram box of this Everest Kashmiri Lal Ground Spice for about $7.
South African Continent: Peri Peri Powder
Peri peri pepper powder, also known as piri piri pepper powder or the African bird’s eye chili, is a quintessential flavor in many African countries. The pepper itself ranks between 30,000-50,000 SHU, meaning that it’s on the hotter side. Rather than the pepper powders discussed above, peri peri seasoning, like common chili powder, is a blend of many different flavors and is used to make a condiment called peri peri sauce.
Traditionally, the sauce is a blend of ground, dried African bird’s eye chili, citrus peel, onion, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, paprika basil, oregano, and tarragon. It looks similar to Sriracha and shares the same slightly thick, but still drizzle-able texture. But in terms of flavor, peri peri sauce is hot and aromatic, with sweet undertones. If you can’t find African bird’s eye chili in your area, then Thai red chilis can be substituted. Traditionally, peri peri sauce is used meat or seafood dishes. It is especially known for its use in the Portuguese dish frango peri peri, or peri peri peri peri chicken, where chicken is marinated in a blend of peri peri is mixed with traditional poultry herbs and spices, then grilled.
Learn how to to make your own peri peri sauce here and then use it to make dishes like this Peri Peri Tofu or these Oven-Baked Peri Peri Carrot Fries. If you can’t find peri peri seasoning in stores, you this 2-ounce bottle of USimplySeason Peri Peri Spice Blend will cost you about $9.
For tips on what to do with pure, ground chili peppers, read How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and Curry Pastes and How to Add Ethnic Flavors to Dishes.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Roman Debree/Shutterstock