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indian chili powder vs. other chili powders

In making curries I assume you use Indian type of chili powder when they call for "chili powder" in the recipes but what is the difference between it and other types of chili powders?

In particular the kind of chili powder you buy in a big tub at the local supermarket in the USA vs the bag of chili powder that says "product of India."

Is it the ingredients? The type of chili pepper? I went into an Indian market and there were tons of different brands of chili powder, some said "extra hot" (how do they make it extra hot? different chilis?)..

And, while on the subject, what is the difference in the types of chilis between Indian food and other food?

Are "thai chilis" different somehow? I recently ate at an Indian buffet in the US and they had what looked liked serrano peppers (is this a big no no in Indian food??).

Very confusing.

Do they make habenero chili pepper powder?

And thank you.

- SG

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  1. The amount if capsaicin, the heat ingredient, ranges from negligible in sweet peppers through toxic, in one upland-grown Indian variety. Nothing is added top chili powders to make them hotter, they just start with a hotter variety. There's a scale (Scoville) used to rate the heat level of chilis.

    1. Indian chili powder is just pure ground chilies. Mexican chili powder contains several other spices.

      Standard Indian chili powder is about like cayenne pepper in heat. The extra hot types are like they say while Kashmiri chili powder is more like a hot paprika but with loads of flavor.

      1 Reply
      1. re: OnkleWillie

        I would say that "American" chili powder is the one that contains cumin and salt and other assorted spices.

        Mexican ChilE powder is almost always pure ground chile peppers.

        Stangoldsmith - as far as serranos being a "no-no" it depends what YOU like. Hotter powders come from hotter peppers. Maybe they blend them, but I would assume it is one pure ground pepper. It's really not confusing - you just have to know that there are many, many different chile peppers, each with it's own characteristics. India is a country of different regions and many people. There is no one chile pepper that is solely used in their foods. Use what you like.

      2. Indian chili powder (lal mirch) is not much different from cayenne pepper, the only difference might be in the peppers used. Both are dried and ground red peppers which pack plenty of heat.

        The tub of brownish chili powder you buy at the local supermarket, however, is a blend of cayenne, paprika, oregano, cumin and seasonings for cooking the Southwestern stew known as "chili."

        Thai chilies (aka bird's eye chilies) are the chili I grew up with in South Asian cookery. Serrano, while it packs a punch, is more suited to Mexican food. I wouldn't say it is a big no-no, but it does leave a vegetal taste that I don't always like.

        As for habanero chili powder, I am sure there are specialty grocers willing to satisfy any chilihead's craving.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JungMann

          i agree that serranos give a green "vegetal taste".

        2. Thanks!

          So, when someone says "Indian chili pepper" it is a general umbrella term encompassing many many different types?

          Like "Mexican chili pepper" or "Thai chili pepper" (though the latter seem to be a bit more specific no?).

          I got some Kashmiri chili powder at the store, but it seems different (again) from regular Indian chili powder...back to the drawing board.

          5 Replies
          1. re: stangoldsmith

            Don't overcomplicate by trying to PIN a specific pepper on a label like "Indian, or "Mexican."

            In my experiences:
            Thai Chile peppers are pretty specific - usually "bird's eyes" or those long skinny ones which usually provide ample heat.

            Mexican Chile Peppers:
            This is a whole great big can of worms. They run from sweet to smoky to sizzlin. There are MANY different varieties this would include.

            Indian Chile Peppers - again, a big variety. I think the Kashmiri label would indicate that it would not be a fairly hot chile.

            You're going to have to try the peppers and decide which ones you like to use. There is no law that says you HAVE to use serranos to make harissa, or jalapenos for salsa, or dundicuts for vindaloo, or bird's eyes for papaya salad. Just use what you like. Beware, however, that chile peppers do have different flavors along with heat levels. Some might not go well in whatever you are making, but once you taste more peppers, then you will know what flavors match.

            1. re: stangoldsmith

              For clarity's sake, let's use the Indian terms to avoid confusion. Kashmiri powder is degi mirch. They are made from Kashmiri chilies which are small and less spicy, but do lend a bright red color to dishes like rogan josh. Regular Indian chili powder is lal mirch and is made from fiery chilies, comparable to cayenne pepper.

              I have never heard anyone refer to an "Indian chili pepper." Chili powder yes. Chili, yes. But not a chili pepper, which I think usually refers to the fresh chilies in this context. As I mentioned before, Thai chili peppers are the common fresh chilies eaten across the subcontinent.

              1. re: JungMann

                A quick subquestion for you since you know what you're talking about:
                In an Indian cooking context, if someone referred to a hari mirch, is there any real specific variety of chile you would assume it to be? Would you assume it to be a "Thai" chile?

                It sounds to me like StanGS might simply be in an area where the chile peppers are labeled as "Indian" or "Mexican" or "Thai" but is trying to get a better understanding? A noble quest indeed if this is the case. There are many different types of peppers. I love them all. I love HEAT, but I also like the different flavors they bring to the table.
                StanGS - if this is the case, don't try to label these peppers, just kinda go with the flow. They are what they are, not what someone has erroneously labeled them as.
                An Indian Chile isn't one specific variety.
                A "Thai Chile" is usually only one of several (here in the States, that is)
                A Mexican Chile could be one of hundreds (although, again, here in the states, you don't really hear the term "mexican chile" thrown around)

                Wanna get a gray squiggle (frustration line) over your head? A "NEW Mexico" chile is a pretty specific variety. - lol.

                There's a WHOLE array of different chiles.

                1. re: gordeaux

                  If someone asked for a green chili, I'd automatically assume they meant fresh bird's eye chili (Thai chili).

                  What I find somewhat ironic about the confusion here is that if you go to my Indian market, there are two different types of pepper labelled "chili" or "mirch" (as well as several vegetables labelled "saag"). (To avoid too much confusion, though, Mexican peppers are kept in a separate bin labelled "jalopeno.") Had I not grown up with these peppers, I wouldn't know which ones to get.

                  1. re: JungMann

                    saag is just greens, as you know.

            2. South Indian chiles are different so I can't comment. They are supposedly VERY HOT. I have never used them.

              In N Indian/Pakistani cooking with fresh green chiles there is a regular hari mirch, or green chile which is like a skinny pinky finger and runs from green to sometimes green and red but is mostly always green. That is the standard one. However, in the US I just use jalapenyos for this. You can get them in the Indian market, though.

              There is also the not-hot by Asian standards Pakora mirch which is used for stuffing and for making pakoras. It is big and green. It is never used as a seasoning, only as a vegetable. It looks similar to a jalapeno.

              In dried red chiles there is the standard laal mirch or red chile, which is also pinky finger slized in length...that is the one usually ground up into laal mirch powder, red chile powder. I would not compare these to cayenne but rather chiles de arbol which are ground and they look exactly like them, too.

              Then you have the Kashmiri chile, which is still quite hot by American standards but is less hot than the regular laal mirch and also has a nice underflavor. I prefer this one and use it myself.

              There is also the "gol mirch" or the small cherry sized dried red chile which I don't always see in Asian markets here but it is common to use. It is also very hot, perhaps hotter than the long skinny laal mirch.

              I don't use Thai bird chiles in any of my South Asian cooking. I use kashmiri powder for all powdered chile, I use long red dried chiles in a lot of dishes for looks, I use gol mirch often for baghaar/tarka because it looks pretty that way.

              6 Replies
              1. re: luckyfatima

                Is there a difference between hari mirch and bird's eye chilies? The chilies I see in the Indian market and in Chinatown look the same to my American-bred eye (although what appear to be mild banana peppers are also labelled "mirch" at my Indian market). In what kind of dishes would you use the jalapeño?

                Do you know the English name for "gol mirch?" The translation I'm finding online is black pepper.

                1. re: JungMann

                  black pepper is kaali mirch. Gol mirch = round mirch. I don't know if these have official names or not. Come to think of it, maybe the whole black pepper is called gol mirch cuz it is round. If you go in the Indian market, ask for dried round red chiles and see what they show you. I tried to google you a pic but no luck.

                  The real Indian hari mirch is larger than a bird's eye chile. I think the bird's eye is the Thai chile? Anyway, it is different. It is hot but much less hot than the bird's eye. I just googled and there is a picture of the typical Indian green chile on the wikipage here

                  I just use jalapenos for anything that requires fresh green chile.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    a Dundicut MIGHT be considered a "gol" mirch - just a thought.

                    1. re: gordeaux

                      Good detective work Gordeaux I looked at google images and the Dundicut dried is indeed the mysterious gol laal mirch!

                      I will ask around and see if this has an official name in Hindi/Urdu besides gol laal mirchi.

                2. re: luckyfatima

                  "Hari mirch" means "green chilli". "Lal mirch" is "red chilli". You can have fresh lal mirch, dried lal mirch (sookhe lal mirch), or powdered lal mirch (mirchi ka powder).

                  For fresh chillis, I use the really long, skinny chillis from the indian market (4-6 inches long) or I use serranos. I'm not a fan of green jalepenos. For fresh lal mirch, I use red serranos or red jalepenos (I always have red jalepenos on hand for Malay cooking). If I want to make chilli pakoras, I use either banana or Anaheim peppers, depending on what's fresher.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    When I came to the US this summer I saw that the jalanenos were really large and had very little heat. The jalapenos I remember were pretty hot and smaller. I would not recommend using them for Indo-Pak cooking anymore except as a use garnish for those who don't want atomic heat from other types of chiles in the many desi recipes that require raw green chile added at the end as a garnish.

                  2. Thanks, just trying to figure out what it means when a recipe calls for "chili powder" - now I have a better idea thanks to you all.

                    I found a website too which lists the major main Indian chilis, there are lots:


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: stangoldsmith

                      On that website it says:

                      Kashmiri Mirch
                      One of much in demand chilli in India is Kashmiri Mirch. Though there is lot of wrong claims, the true Kashmir Mirch is grown in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir . It has smooth shinning skin and fleshy with dark red in color. They are mild in pungency and have a fruit like flavor.

                      The Kashmiri chiles we get have a wrinkly skin. I have heard before that these wrinkly skin ones are not authentic Kashmiri chiles, but are marketed as such. In that case, I have never really used a true Kashmiri chile.

                      1. re: luckyfatima

                        From what I understand "true" Kashmiri chilis are hard to come by but many people also use what are called "faux" Kashmiri chilis which also seem to be a decent (but not as true) substitute...

                        I found more on the Kashmiri debate on this forum:


                        As well as a potential online supplier in the US

                    2. for many years, Indians in the US (Texas) that I know used serranos anyplace where a fresh green chili was called for. the tiny Thai peppers were not easily available. I have subbed jalapenos when that's all that I have around, but I have some friends who think jalapeno is a little off in Indian food. I don't think so, and I thought it interesting that an upthread poster said that he mostly uses jalapeno, and would think serranos odd! from my perspective at least, it is what was available in the stores.

                      i haven't used much chili powder (if any) in Indian cooking, except for cayenne, which I think if more about heat then a specific chili flavor. but I will say that if someone wants to try a dish that calls for chili powder, and all you have is the American kind, it is probably worth subbing. The American kind has cumin, which is common in Indian food, and oregano, so I don't think it would be too off. if it is a recipe calling for a small amount of red chili powder, then cayenne powder or even crushed red chili flakes are probably a decent substitute.

                      and when making pakoras, I used slied of serrano with the onion, if I want spicy. I haven't noticed a separate pakora mirch, but I will have to look for it.

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: cocktailhour

                        Are all chile peppers not originally from Latin America????????

                        1. re: wineman3

                          They have origins in South America but those origins took place over 3000 years ago and they have spread out over the world and evolved into different species and types from then.

                          There are still tons of different chili peppers in South America, many of which are not known outside the region. But there are also many throughout Asia and elsewhere that are not found in Latin America either.

                          Kind of like people.

                          1. re: stangoldsmith

                            It would be interesting to do DNA tests........to see for example where the birds eye derived from

                            1. re: stangoldsmith

                              I've never heard of any evidence to suggest chiles existed outside Central and South America until the 1500s. Quite a lot more recent than 3000 years ago. There are still only a couple of species but they varieties have of course multiplied, but they are much more alike than they are dissimilar.

                              "Chili powder" is something quite different from "chile powder" though until recently, it and cayenne were probably the only sort of powdered chile of any kind you could find in most of the US...

                              It's always dangerous to judge by appearance alone, but there are a number of American chiles that resemble bird chiles in flavor and heat - the "wild types" like pequín/ chiltepín and amazonas from Brazil, for example..

                              1. re: stangoldsmith

                                Yes, there are five chile species - although the one with the most variants/cultivars/varieties is Capsicum anuum. On the other hand, although chiles were widespread in the New World, they had to await contact in the 1500s for global diffusion to take place.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  I haven't looked but since the 1500's make sense. I guess I must do a little more searching to find out if infact did asians make it to the new world earlier ........than the 1500's and take those blazing little thangs back.

                                  1. re: wineman3

                                    i'd look to the portuguese as the agent for introducing new world peppers to asia. heck, they even colonized sri lanka for a while.

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      Our own Chow.com just posted a little about chili peppers (with pictures!):


                                      1. re: stangoldsmith

                                        Jean Andrews' "Peppers" (U.Texas Press) is among the most serious books on the subject and has several chapters on history and dispersion. She makes it very clear that the trade in peppers begins in the late 15th Century and she has a detailed map of routes that trace Spanish, Portuguese. Ottoman Turks, Arab and Gujrati, Melanesian, Polynesian and Chinese trade routes between 1492-1600.

                                        The idea that chili peppers existed in Asia or on the India subcontinent "3000" years ago is nonsense.

                                        If you're really interested in peppers, this book will make you very happy.

                                        1. re: penthouse pup

                                          thanks. i love those kinds of books. thanks for turning us on to jean andrews' works: http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?bin...

                                          1. re: penthouse pup

                                            Thanks for the book recommendation. Sorry for my mis-worded post that has garnered so much controversy, what I meant is that their cultivation and use in Latin America is at least 3000 years old, obviously they couldn't have spread without a reason... sheesh

                                            1. re: stangoldsmith

                                              you call this colloquy "controversy"?! hahahahahahaha. you ain't seen nothin' -- just wait until you post something that *does* generate "controversy."

                                              you said: "They have origins in South America but those origins took place over 3000 years ago."

                                              i can't see where mikeg or penthouse pup got the notion you said that peppers were in asia 3000 years ago.

                                              1. re: stangoldsmith

                                                Sorry if I misinterpreted your response to the question about the origin of peppers ...Well, at least I got to spread the word about Jean Andrews' book!

                                                1. re: penthouse pup

                                                  no worries and thanks for the book rec again, it's on its way!

                              2. Fascinating subject. But I'm mildly--so to speak--surprised that nobody has mentioned the fabled bhut jolokia, the world's hottest pepper, which is indigenous to far northeastern India (Sikkim perhaps?). This pepper has become all the rage among chileheads, and I expect it to leak into the mainstream within five years, just as the habanero has. At that time, expect to find them fresh in grocery stores, and perhaps even in powdered form as well.

                                As to their cooking utility, I have no idea. They are so hot that one would have to be very judicious in deploying them, and I'm not certain how the bhut jolokia's flavor melds with other ingredients. Indeed, I'm not even sure if the cuisine in northeastern Indian makes wide use of this pepper. I know that it is used to ward off elephants from farms and gardents, to give you some idea of its potency!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  We could have used those chiles in Tanzania where elephant trampling was a problem in rice and maize fields.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    The Tanzanians should try fatalii peppers (indigenous to Africa) for the same purpose. Not as hot as the bhut jolokia, but pretty doggone strong nevertheless.

                                  2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                    I grew bhuts last year, and they are indeed firey hot. Used just 1 1/2 peppers (and they're smallish) for 3 lbs of buffalo wings. Also made some salsa with them. Can't imagine a wide use. However, have read there's now an even hotter pepper on the scene. Don't think I'll grow them.

                                    1. re: pine time

                                      Seems like there's a new hottest pepper popping up about every six months. I think the champeen right now might be the Trinidad scorpion or a close cousin to it.

                                  3. just use TRS chili powder