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Confused about cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika

They seem pretty similar; I guess thay are made from different types of chilies but are their differences so significant? Are they interchangeable in recipes? Will it be a big difference if I substitute one for the other?

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  1. Cayenne is made from a specific, hot pepper.

    Paprikas are usually made from milder peppers -- sweet paprika is even available, which to me does not taste even a little spicey.

    Chili powder, however, is rather different -- it's a mix that includes dried ground chile peppers (often both cayenne and paprika), cumin, garlic, and oregano.

    1. They are not all the same.

      Generally speaking from mildest to hottest in taste: Paprika, Chili Powder, Cayenne.

      Cayenne are peppers. They are really hot and cayenne powder is ground dried cayenne pepper.

      Chili Powder is a mix of chili pepper powder and other spices like cumin and garlic powder and sometimes other spices like cinnamon or nutmeg (no lie). But chili powder can be really hot depending on the ratio and kind of chiles to other ingredients in the mix. Also, paprika and cayenne can be components of chili powder. If you wanted to sub chili powder for cayenne (say) you would have to consider what it was going into and whether it would go well together or clash.

      Paprika - there are a lot of different types and grades. I think it is made of a pepper that has had the oomph taken out of it. BUT it is a distinct flavor and not just a spice for heat. You do not see many Chicken Cayenne dishes out there. rather than getting all particular, just know that at the grocery there are different kinds. Some are sweet, some are hot. Some are Spanish, Hungarian, turkish (etc. and the within those groups there are grades or different qualities.

      Someone else will probably be able to elaborate on that. I am not, obviously, an expert.

      1. Generic paprika is mild. Hungarian paprika (the best is from the town of Szeged) is available in sweet and hot powdered versions, although the sweet variety is what we usually associate with paprika, used in dishes such as chicken paprikash and Hungarian goulash. There are also Spanish paprikas on the market, which are smoked.

        Generic chili powder is a rather harsh mix of various chili peppers, cumin, oregano, salt and dehydrated garlic. A better alternative to "chili powder" is to purchase chili powders made from one specific type of chili. McCormick's is now marketing, along with their "chili powder", other PURE chili powders. "Ancho Chili Powder" is sweet, slightly smokey, and a bit hot, and is absolutely fabulous for chili con carne. Ancho chilis are dried, smoked poblano chilis. You can also buy chipotle chili powder, as well as others. By buying the pure chili powders, you have more control over the ingredients and flavours (and the amount of salt) that are going into your cooked foods.

        1 Reply
        1. re: FlavoursGal

          ...those smoked Spanish Paprikas are wonderful--try them if you can find them. The brand I buy comes in 'sweet' (not hot) and 'hot' which packs a moderate amount of heat. I use the smoked sweet in place of Hungarian Szeged-type in chicken dishes which call for paprika and the flavor is very good.

        2. Sorry on your last question about whether it will make a difference -- if you tell us what you're making that will probably elicit more useful advice.

          1. Someone should add here that some cookbooks will confuse you by using neutral terms that are not clear.

            For example, Julie Sahni, who writes excellent Indian cookbooks, is fond of the term 'red pepper' when she means cheyenne pepper or another hot, dried, ground, chili-pepper. 'Red Pepper' is vague enough to suggest that maybe paprika is wanted. Anyways, reading a cookbook's glossary on such occasions is usually all that is needed.

            1. You need to read carefully to distinguish between chili powder to make chili which is a blend as already stated. There is also chilE powder which is powdered chilEs and not a blend, just ground dried chiles - usually chipotle, ancho etc. In most recipes the writer will distinguish between the two but sometimes you have to work this out yourself.

              1. When using paprika, make sure you have check the type because some can be very spicy. I used a spicy one to make chicken paprika and it was too spicy to eat. I've cut back on spicy, increased the hungarian which is slightly sweet and it's so much better!

                1. The place where I buy my spices carries both chili powder (which is usually labelled Mexican chili powder) and chilE powder which is ground chilies. I know the chili powder is the mixture usually used to make a pot of chili. BUT does anyone know if the chili powder is the same thing as cayenne? I've been buying it to use as I would cayenne but I never thought of whether it's the same thing or not.

                  Come to think of it - I could ask them, couldn't I?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Nyleve, I don't believe that "Chili Powder" usually contains any cayenne at all. Powdered Cayenne has a very pure hot flavour without any bitterness, and it allows you to really control the amount of heat you want in a dish. I use it instead of crushed chilis in my bolognese sauce, which results in a much smoother, less bitter taste and, unlike crushed chilis, offers me better control.

                    And I don't use cayenne at all in my chile con carne - just McCormick's ancho chili powder (which provides a gentle heat) and cumin, s & p.

                    1. re: FlavoursGal

                      One of my rather few regular shortcut products is Carroll Shelby's Chili kit, which I've been using since Ol' Shel himself was still alive and writing (though maybe with help?) the instructions on the paper bag it used to come in. It contains only the dry ingredients: a large bag (maybe a cup) of a rather good chili powder, a tiny bag of cayenne, a small bag of salt, and maybe a third-cup bag of masa harina for the thickening. The cayenne used to be referred to as an "if you dare" item, but the instructions, while unchanged in their meaning, are now much more bland and corporate. The product however has not changed a bit. Although I like more heat than the chili powder provides I've used the cayenne just once; I prefer to substitute El Pato tomato sauce and Ro-Tel canned tomatoes with chiles for the items specified in the instructions. The meat has ranged from beef through turkey to the "Beefless Ground Beef" from Trader Joe's, and they're all good. So even though I now live where a wide variety of ground chiles is readily available, I have no particular reason to experiment other than from curiosity. I will say that the one shortcoming that the cooking instructions have always had is their telling us to add the chili powder AFTER the liquid, instead of frying it with the meat until it's dark and fragrant and then adding the powder.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Agree. I have bought it before just for the quality of the chili powder.

                        1. re: tim irvine

                          It's also nice to get that small packet of masa instead of having to buy a 5-lb. bag!

                        2. re: Will Owen

                          I meant to say "and then adding the LIQUID."

                      2. re: Nyleve

                        to confuse matters more I have red chilly powder from a market that carrys lots of Indian spices. That "chilly powder" is really hot. It seems even a bit hotter than cayenne.

                        I buy pure ground chili powders from Pendery's in Ft. Worth and have 5 different paprikas on hand. 3 are Spanish and are smoked in varying intensities of sweetness and 2 are Hungarian, one is hot and one is sweet (meaning not hot).

                        Thhough all of the above vary in color hues of redness none are the same or taste the same and have very different uses.

                      3. In addition, you should be able to find chile powders in a good spice department that are rated by scoville units and description.

                        1. FYI - I just picked up the December issue of Cooks Illustrated. Lo and behold, on page 16 is an article entitled, "Spices 101." It's a short-and-sweet guide to some of the more common spices (very few in total, actually), including cayenne, chili powder and paprika.

                          It doesn't give any information that hasn't already been discussed here, except that it mentions (an important detail) that most spices benefit from "blooming" (aka toasting), the act of cooking spices for a brief amount of time (one to 2 minutes most) in oil or butter before adding the liquid to a recipe. This serves to intensify the flavours of the spices and bring out their essential oils.

                          Caution: Don't do this with paprika - it tends to take on a bitter, burnt flavour.

                          1. Argh! Re-reading my post what I meant to ask was: does anyone know if the chilE powder is the same thing as cayenne? It really is very hot - but not sure if it's hot like cayenne or more or less.

                            Sorry - typo.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Nyleve

                              There are 2 types of chile powders and infinite variety there in. The chile powder you buy in most groceries are blends of ground chiles such as anchos and other spices. Pure ground chiles are also available as a single variety such as ancho and also there are blends of pure ground chiles available too. The cayenne pepper is a specific variety which is dried and ground. One could argue that it is a chile powder and it is, but is most often used differently than many of the south western varieties of ground chiles. Follow this link and look at their variety. It may be a help. http://www.penderys.com/

                              1. re: Nyleve

                                Wouldn't the answer depend on what type of chiles are used in making the chile powder?

                                I think that the cayenne chili pepper contributes a lot of heat without a lot of flavor, but something like ancho has a lot of flavor without a lot of heat.

                                1. re: Nettie

                                  That is right. And ground chipotles are even hotter

                                  1. re: Candy

                                    Yeah... whew... learned that one the hard way!!

                                2. re: Nyleve

                                  I don't think there's a standard chile used in chili blends. I've seen some labelled as hot, others as mild and my guess is that they use different chiles. I don't see cayenne used in Mexican cooking much but I'm a complete novice at this. I think arbol chiles would be more likely. There's also a piquin chile which is very spicy. The only way to find out would be to ask at the place you buy it.

                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                    I'd think the chiles used here in stateside mixes would be pasilla, guajillo, New Mexico; for their mild and developed flavors. But I'm just a gringa, so I'm guessing. These are the chiles sold in bulk at my local mexican markets.

                                    Hotter chiles are usually sold in small packets, so I'm thinking a home cook would stock up in pasillas, Guajillos, New Mexico, and then add small amounts of Pequin or other fiery pepper to suit their families' taste.

                                3. Thanks all. This has been most informative. I did not have a specific recipe in mind for substitution, just a general inquiry.

                                  1. Below are some details that I know of and some I could research on!

                                    Chili powder as such is purely powdered hot chili pepper, most commonly either red peppers or cayenne peppers, which are both of the species Capsicum annuum.

                                    In Indian cuisine, when you say chili powder, it refers to just plain ground chili powder and not mixed with any other spice.

                                    When this is a spice mix, it is often mixed with other ingredients like cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Maybe few other ingredients also. But this spice mix is not usually referred as Chili powder, it is called Masala powder in Indian cuisine.

                                    Chili pepper was originally caltivated in american is now available in other parts also.

                                    Paprika is a spice made from the grinding of dried fruits of Capsicum annuum (e.g., bell peppers or chili peppers). In many European countries, the word paprika also refers to bell peppers themselves. The seasoning is used in many cuisines to add color and flavor to dishes. Paprika can range from sweet (mild, not hot) to spicy (hot). Flavors also vary from country to country.

                                    The cayenne, or Guinea pepper or bird pepper is a hot, red chili pepper.
                                    Cayenne is a popular spice in a variety of cuisines. It is employed variously in its fresh form, dried and powdered, and as dried flakes. It is also a key ingredient in a variety of hot sauces, particularly those employing vinegar as a preservative.[4]


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Srivalli

                                      There are many varities of red chillis in sub contenent with slightly different taste and hotness. Cayenne is also a chilli which was nammed on french city name CANYENNE. Like in pakistan it is known as deggi mirch there is no difference at all.