I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of ancho chili powder substitutes to find the best one.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured I’ve got you covered.
Smoked paprika mixed with regular chili powder is an easy substitute for ancho chili powder. But if you prefer sticking with classic Mexican ingredients, try guajillo or chipotle powder. When all else fails, chili powder or hot sauce can save the day.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made different batches of enchilada sauce to test various ancho chili powder substitutes.
Ancho chili powder is made from grinding dried, smoked poblano peppers (also called ancho chiles).
It’s a mild chili powder with a heat level of 1000 – 1500 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) and boasts a sweet, fruity flavor with smoky notes.
This can be difficult to find sometimes, so I was looking for a substitute that could bring the same flavor and just the right amount of heat to my dishes.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Smoked paprika||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Guajillo powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Chipotle powder||Replace with 1/3 the amount||10/10|
|Homemade ancho chili powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Chili powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Cayenne powder||Replace with 1/4 the amount||7/10|
|Hot sauce||Replace with a few splashes||7/10|
Common uses for ancho chili powder
Here are some popular ways to use ancho chili powder and the best substitutes for those situations
- For spice rubs: Try using smoked + hot paprika, guajillo powder, chipotle powder, or chili powder. You can also make your own ancho chili powder if you can find whole ancho chiles.
- For marinades and sauces: Try using smoked + hot paprika, guajillo, chipotle, or chili powder. Cayenne powder also works if you want something spicier
- For stews and soups: Try using smoked + hot paprika, guajillo, chipotle, or chili powder. Hot sauce isn’t perfect, but it’s a convenient alternative.
Smoked paprika gives you a smoky flavor that’s close to ancho chili.
But is it has zero spice… which is where the chili powder comes in!
The great thing about this blend is you can personalize it to your taste – start with equal amounts of both powders and build it up until you’ve reached your desired smoky, spicy goodness.
Psst… if you want a mild substitute, skip the chili powder.
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder in a 1:1 ratio with a blend of smoked paprika and hot paprika.
Want to stick with ancho chili powder’s Mexican roots? Try using guajillo powder instead.
It’s made from ground-up guajillo chiles (which are the smoked and dried version of mirasol chiles), so you’re guaranteed to get those delectable smoky notes.
It has a subtle sweetness similar to ancho chili powder, but it’s slightly fruitier and the taste is pretty distinct. I recommend taste-testing it before you go all in on adding this to your dish!
Warning: it’s a tad spicier than ancho chili powder, clocking in at about 2500 – 5000 SHU.
How to substitute: replace ancho chile powder in a 1:1 ratio with guajillo powder.
Chipotle powder is another alternative that shares ancho chili powder’s Mexican roots, and one you might have lying around at home already.
It’s made from smoked and dried jalapenos, giving it a similar smokiness (or even more).
The catch is it’s about 4-5 spicier than ancho chili powder, with a heat level of 2500-8000 SHU.
So don’t add too much if you’re sensitive to spice. I also found the flavor more complex – I can see why some people say they prefer chipotle to ancho chili powder!
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder with 1/3 the amount of chipotle powder.
Homemade ancho chili powder
You can make your own ancho chili powder if you can access whole ancho chiles.
I found a pack at my local Walmart, but you can also check your neighborhood Mexican grocery store.
And once you have your ancho chiles, it’s as simple as removing the seeds and grinding them up.
I used my trusty spice grinder, but a blender or food processor also works.
The resulting chili powder looked and tasted exactly like store-bought ancho chili powder.
You could really taste the smokiness, and it added just the right amount of heat to my enchilada sauce. Yum!
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder in a 1:1 ratio with homemade ancho chili powder.
Chili powder is a super easy accessible swap for ancho chili powder – and one you might already have in your cupboards.
It’s not an exact flavor match, but it’s a decent stand-in.
This powder is usually made with a mix of peppers and other spices like garlic, cumin, and oregano.
The heat level can vary, but it’s generally quite mild so shouldn’t overwhelm your dish.
Pro tip: if you can find New Mexico chili powder, get this! Its flavor is very comparable to ancho chili powder.
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder in a 1:1 ratio with chili powder.
Cayenne powder is the way to go if you want real heat.
It’s MUCH spicier than ancho chili powder, with a heat level of around 30 000 SHU. That’s some serious kick!
But it’s not all about heat – like ancho chili powder, it also has a bit of a fruity flavor that’ll brighten up your dish.
I also added a spritz of lemon juice to temper the heat slightly.
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder with 1/4 the amount of cayenne pepper and add more to taste.
Hot sauce isn’t the most accurate stand-in for ancho chili powder, but it works in a pinch!
It’s an alternative that most of us already have in our kitchen, and it’s perfect for those who crave a spicier kick than ancho chili powder can give.
If you’re using a hot sauce like Tabasco or Frank’s RedHot, expect an added tang to your dishes from the vinegar.
I didn’t mind the extra vinegar in my enchilada sauce, but you can always offset it with a pinch of brown sugar.
Psst.. add the hot sauce just before serving.
How to substitute: replace ancho chili powder with a splash of hot sauce.
Other substitutes to consider
The list above are my top picks for ancho chili powder substitutes, but here are some more options to consider:
- Ginger powder – if you’re looking for a non-pepper alternative for ancho chili powder, go for ginger powder. It was a warm heat to it and will add an extra layer of flavor.
- Chili flakes – another handy alternative. But this will only add heat to your dish and no extra flavor.
- Aleppo peppers – these offer a medium heat level, with some sweetness and a hint of a fruity flavor. They’re a decent alternative for those who want to maintain the slight sweetness of ancho chili powder without overdoing the spice.
- Peri-peri seasoning – this spicy seasoning is made from crushed chilies, citrus peel, onion, pepper, salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, basil, oregano, and tarragon. It’s hotter than ancho chili and has an added savory twist.
- Gochugaru – this Korean chili powder is a hot, sweet, and smoky. The spice is more robust than ancho chili, but it’s an excellent substitute for anyone wanting to add a touch of Korean flair to their dishes.
Substitutes to avoid
Not everything you read on the internet is true!
These are suggestions I encountered while researching, but after my experiment, I don’t recommend them as a substitute for ancho chili powder.
- Fresh poblano peppers – ancho chili powder comes from fresh poblano peppers, but the drying process gives ancho chiles their distinctive sweet and smoky flavor, which fresh poblanos lack.
- Ginger powder – this is not a good substitute for ancho chili powder because it has an entirely different flavor profile. Ginger is spicy and zesty but lacks ancho chili powder’s smoky, sweet heat.
13 Best Ancho Chili Powder Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 2 oz ancho chiles
- Pull the ancho chile peppers open and remove the seeds. Remove and discard the stem too.
- Tear the chiles apart into smaller pieces and grind in batches in your spice grinder or food processor.
- This will yield ¼ cup of ancho chile powder. Transfer the ground-up peppers in a lidded jar and store in a cool, dry place.