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New Mexico/California Chili Powder

I've got a couple Mexican cookbooks that call for New Mexico or California Chili Powder. I just visited a local Penzy's spices so I could finally buy some of these--but they had no such thing and they had no idea what to recommend. (I did buy ancho chili powder just because I'm always making a paste from anco chilis and thought it might be nice to have the powder form).

Can anyone help? What makes NM and CA chili powder different? Are they known by other names?

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  1. Anytime I see something like that, I use Penzey's Ground Ancho, too.

    1. They're made from New Mexico and California chiles, not too surprisingly. In California at least, a wide assortment of varietal chile powders are easily available- These are not to be confused with the generic chile powder (Gebhart's, Grandma's et al)., which are made of a mixture of chiles and usually contain cumin, oregano, sometimes onion or garlic powder and other stuff. And no doubt salt. The most common packager in my area is "Paradise Brand"- you might get somewhere by Googling that.

      1. Do the books explain why they recommend NM/CA powder as opposed to one or more of the common Mexican dried varieties (Ancho, Guajillo, etc)? Are the books giving you New Mexican or California-Mexican recipes, or are they adapting Mexican recipes to the American kitchen? My guess is that they just want you to use a mild chile, without worrying about the nuances of taste. As long as the heat range is right, it probably does not matter what dried chile you use.

        6 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          Please, stay away from CA and go right to the source and get the real stuff. Here's one site:


            1. re: carbonaraboy

              It makes me sad to see that the Santa Cruz Chile Company of southern AZ doesn't get more press, they';re a great source for those of us in southern AZ- I grew up with it and have continued to ue it due to the high quality of their products.

            2. re: paulj

              It always matters, but they do fall into groups- Anchos and Negros and the rather mixed up group of pasillas and Poblanos (the names are used differently in different places) are relatively thick walled peppers with generally complex flavors. The New Mexicos, Californias, Anaheims and Guajillos (this list is not exhaustive) are relatively thin walled chiles with all in all lighter flavors. Within those groups they interchange fairly easily, although it always makes a difference. And of course they vary by where they were grown and how, how they were handled etc. AND these are all complex hybrids that tend to be skittish genetically- often adjacent fruits on the same plant will be vastly different. As far as real stuff, bet California has more Mexicans than New Mexico- possibly more than old Mexico. But seriously, haha- I would like to hear from somebody in the Southwest how this year's brutal weather is affecting the Pepper crops- surely the unusually cool summer in Northern California is doing ours no good.
              ps- I usually pay a little under $2 for 2 oz packages of these things, but if you buy them from purveyors of "gourmet' products prepare to pay through the nose.

              1. re: oldunc

                I think that Apple Annie's in Willcox has a good crop.

              2. re: paulj

                While it is possible to make powder from any dried chili, I'm going to interpret the OP's request as referring to the long-stem New Mexican chile. It is the progenitor to the Anaheim pepper, which I'm interpreting as the reference to "California".

                Without blathering on, these two articles should clear things up. Chiles are a serious thing in NM...


              3. Here is one site for New Mexico Chile Powder:


                Also, California chiles are also known as Anaheim chiles.

                1. Just go in any store catering to Hispanics and buy the chile powder that comes in cellophane bags. Dirt cheap and good, as a matter of fact all of the spices packa.ed this way are great and much fresher as you do not have to buy a tin can of whatever you need and let it go to hell in your cabinet until you need it again.Of course living in Houston it's easy to find a store catering to Hispanics and just about any other ethnic group. I was shopping in both an asian supermarket and a middle eastern one yesterday

                  1. I live in Calif and have relitives in New Mexico. In California, the Anahiem chile is also called New Mexico chile. But in New Mexico, this is not correct. New Mexico is know for thier chilie and the chilie there that sometimes gets made into a powder is different the New Mexico chilie made form Anaheim. The California version was not native, it was brought over from people moving west through New Mexico in 1800s. Over 100 years later, there is a noticeable difference.

                    The true New Mexico chilie is a little bit hotter and has more flavor. I cant stress how much the local chilie is part of life in New Mexico. It's as important to them as beef is to Texas. It's in most of the recipes they prepare and its even used as decoration for it's bright red and green color.

                    When buying New Mexico chile powder, just look closely at the lable or buy online to make sure its from New Mexico. Nothing wrong with the California version, most people dont know the difference even in the Mexican grocery store I go to. It's like Lemons vs Meyer Lemons.

                    On a side note, despite it's name, most of the people in New Mexico are not decendants of Mexico at all. They are a mix of Native American and Spanish. As in the same ones who came from Europe and conquered Aztecs. While thier language may sound the same as Mexican, thier dialect has remained traditinal to 1400s spain and is quite different from that spoke in Mexico. It's like English spoken in Europe vs America.

                    FYI. Dont call them Mexican, that's sort of an insult! Remember, their ancestors were here before Columbus "discovered" America.... they did not corss any boarder and did not come from Mexico.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: kjonyou

                      I don't know about New Mexico, but a great number of the Mexicans in California did cross borders and are called Mexicans because they are, Mexico is still their home. Most peoples in the New World are mixes of native American, Spanish or Portuguese and sometimes African; borders weren't such a big thing, but most populations were to a large extent isolated geographically.
                      Meyer lemons are not difficult to distinguish, they're generally considered to be a hybrid with oranges, and have a thinner, smoother skin and darker flesh than other lemons- in fact sort of orange.

                      1. re: oldunc

                        I know, I live in Southern California, it was once Mexico, so yes there are a lot of Mexicans here because it was once thier homeland.

                        New Mexico is compleatly different. Thier ancestors did not come from the south, they came from the north. They are not Aztec or Myan and have nothing to do with Mexican culture. They are decendants from the Anasazi to the north, dating back from 1200 B.C. in what is now the four corners area of the US.

                        1. re: kjonyou

                          Yah tah hey, I gottcha! No tomatillos, poblanos or chipotle in the Land of Enchantment.

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            I forgot about that, but you are right, those are things that would probably suprise people who have never been to New Mexico looking for Mexican food.

                            1. re: kjonyou

                              Two of my favorite NM foods are mutton on fry bread smothered in green chile and green chile mutton stew.
                              Most New Mexicans use the dried red chile pods and not the powdered chile for chile making.

                              1. re: kjonyou

                                Funny thing is, the best meal that I had in New Mexico (decades ago) was poblano rajas on grilled chicken - at a place in Santa Fe called Old Mexico Grill. Our supper was good enough that we went back there for lunch the next day, a rarity in our travels.

                                Admittedly I was only going by the recommendations of a Moon Handbook (or was it Lonely Planet?) when seeking out the 'authentic' New Mexican fare for the other meals. This was at a time when Jane Butel was the best known promoter of New Mexican cooking (outside of the state).

                                1. re: paulj

                                  At my local Smith's supermarket, here in NM, there are no poblanos or tomatillos, but there are nopales. I'd have to drive to Albuquerque to get them. At my home in small town Maine, I can get both poblanos and tomatillos in abundance. I find this interesting.
                                  edit. Lots of New Mexican powdered chiles though.

                        2. re: kjonyou

                          I went to New Mexico once and I saw a lot of people that were German, Irish, Norwegian, English, Italian, etc. Most of them never told me there family history though.

                        3. I think there is a big difference between New Mexico Chili Powder it is much earthier than ancho powder. I got mine in a bag at a WalMart here in South Florida. They have a huge hispanic section so I don't have any problem finding many of the mexican recipe ingredients and spices. It's like substituting Italian Oregano or Greek Oregano for Mexican Oregano. There is no comparison. Mexican oregano is much stronger and better flavor.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: cdesoto

                            I think Mexican oregano is a different species than the other oreganos you mention, if I'm not mistaken.

                            Actually Mexican oregano tastes quite different to me - I love it, whereas I'm not enamored with regular oregano, as I usually replace it with marjoram.

                            1. re: Rella

                              It is- I'm a big gardener, I've grown them both, and there's a big, big difference between Mexican and mediterranean oregano. Mexican is sharper, more flavorful, could be obnoxious to some, and I love it a lot more than the Mediterranean types.

                              1. re: EWSflash

                                Hmmm, intresting, I watch the Food Network a lot and The Barefoot Contessa has said several times that the one herb she will not use fresh is oregano. She says its too strong. Wounder then what she would say about Mexican Oregeno.

                          2. What you want are New Mexico red, or green peppers. Google Hatch NM and you'll be able to buy pure NM red & green powder. I love Ancho powder but NM chiles have a very different taste compared to the Ancho. I usually buy 'June's Special' from Hatch and it's outstanding.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Maggie19

                              Second that, Hatch Chilie is what you might be looking for if you want chilie form New Mexico.

                              1. re: kjonyou

                                I always order from a place in New Mexico. Hatch, New Mexico is an area, and they have chilies from other places in New Mexico; I can't recall the names now.

                                Here is a book that has been around for a long time that IMO has the best sauces made from chili powder. "The Feast of Santa Fe." Easy, too. I recall that Walmart used to have numerous types of dried chilis in bags that were inexpensive. I haven't shopped there for some time, so I don't know if they still carry them - but would think so.


                            2. As the New Mexico chamber of commerce is taking a brief break, I thought it time to point out something that seems to have become obscured in the course of this thread- "New Mexico" and "California", as used in the OP, are genetic types of chiles- I am currently growing New Mexico chiles in my California front yard for example. While the term "New Mexico chile" might reasonably be used to mean a chile grown in New Mexico, that is not what it will mean on a package of chile powder- if it was grown in New Mexico and they think you care, it will presumably say so somewhere on there, but not as the product name.

                              1. Sorry to take so long to get back to this thread. Took me all week to finally get out the cookbook in question: Marge Poor's "1,000 Mexican Recipes." The main thing I want to make is my own enchilada sauce. She's got plenty of labor intensive ones with dried chilis, but I was interested in her "Chili Powder Enchilada Sauce" that calls for "1/4 pure New Mexico or California chili powder."

                                It only now occurs to me that if I use Penzy's Ancho chili powder, this is going to be an expensive proposition each time I make it. I'd really like to know if Badia brand chili powder might be a possible alternative. (Where I now live, I don't have a lot of choices for Mexican ingredients.)

                                One note: another reason I'm looking for something other than the McCormick/Schilling-type chili powder I grew up with is that it upsets my stomach. I was so pleased the first time I made my own ancho chili paste for tortilla soup: no stomach ache! But I'd like a tad more spice than ancho provides--if it's possible to increase the spice without the stomach upset.

                                19 Replies
                                1. re: Thanks4Food

                                  Making enchilada sauce from whole chiles is really very little work if you have a blender. There was a thread on the home cooking board a day or two back which included some serviceable recipes; the one I posted was probably the most work, and I spend no more than about 10 min. of actual work, probably less. The large chiles used for this don't bring much heat- you can spice it up by using the seeds, which I don't much like the taste of and find indigestible, but it's the usual way, or by using some hotter peppers- you do want to avoid introducing strong extraneous flavors.

                                  Also, several people on this thread, including me, have had some confusion with the spellings chile- chili. If (big if) my memory serves, chile is for the peppers, chili for the dish, so powdered peppers would be chile powder, while the more familiar product that contains various spices would be chili powder. Unless it's the other way around.

                                  1. re: oldunc

                                    It's not set in stone, but in the USA 'chili' commonly refers to the beef stew. chile the pepper. I like to use 'chiles' for the plural, though spell checkers don't like it. And then throw in British spellings like chillies.

                                    'chili powder' would, in that usage, be a blend intended for chili, with salt and cumin already included (check the ingredients).

                                    I'm not sure if I've ever used Badia products. The packaging looks familiar. I wouldn't have problems buying items like

                                    1. re: oldunc

                                      I'll look for that recipe, thanks.

                                      In my Marge Poore book, she uses "Chile" for the peppers, sauces, etc. "Chili" is for the powder and the dish (i.e., chili con carne). And I just found this:

                                      "Pure Ground Chili Powder and Chili Powder Blends:

                                      Unseasoned chili powders are labeled with the name of the chile, pure ground ancho, pasilla, California, New Mexico. Commercial chili powders are blends of ground chili, cumin, oregano, garlic, and other spices. Generally used in chili, beans, and stews."

                                      So I guess I just answered my original question. Penzey's does not sell a pure ground California or New Mexico chili powder as some of the recipes call for, so I"ll have to check out other sources. Wonder if I should return the ancho chili powder and just get the dried anchos that I'm used to dealing with...

                                      1. re: Thanks4Food

                                        Why return the ancho powder? There should be plenty of recipes in that book where you can use it. I keep a small jar of ancho powder (bought in a Mexican cello packet) by the stove, and sprinkle it on stews and other dishes - any time I want a mild pepper flavor and don't mind the dark color.

                                        Don't forget that Mexicans make enchilada sauce(s) all the time, usually without New Mexico chiles. Ancho is the workhorse in Mexico, with Guajillo a close second where they want a bit more heat, and a brighter red. Look at the mole recipes for more complicated blends of chiles - whether powder or whole dried.

                                        If you are going to take this Mexican cooking seriously, you want to try a variety of chiles, dried and fresh, and decide for yourself which you like, and which can be substituted for each other.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          I'm just not a creative cook: I need to follow recipes or I have disasters, and I didn't see any recipes that actually called for ancho chili powder. Whenever she mentions anchos, it always seems to be for the dried peppers. And I have another really old Mexican cookbook (by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz) that also calls for making a paste from ancho chilis. Since I know how to do that, I figured I should just stick with it. But I'm open to keeping it if I can figure out what to do with it.

                                          1. re: Thanks4Food

                                            To me, Ortiz's red enchilada recipe is a little weird- really don't think tomatoes have any place in a red sauce; eggs and cream less so. Then again, I haven't heard what she thinks of mine; enchiladas have been made in a lot of ways in a lot of places and been greatly enjoyed.

                                            1. re: Thanks4Food

                                              The only difference between New Mexico chile powder and ancho powder is a subtitle difference in taste (and maybe color).

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Ah-hah! That's what I needed to know. If this is close enough, I'll try it out. I appreciate the info from all of you.

                                                1. re: Thanks4Food

                                                  Ummm- it's a very different flavor, color and aroma. Really not a good sub- the dish will probably taste fine (if you start with a good recipe) but will be pretty far from the original if the chile powder is a significant flavor component.

                                                  1. re: oldunc

                                                    What was the original? A true New Mexican recipe, or an adaptation of a Mexican one? The book is Marge Poor's "1,000 Mexican Recipes.". I've seen it as the book store, but didn't browse through it.

                                                    In Diana Kennedy's Tortilla Book, nearly all the enchilada recipes use anchos (or fresh poblano). A New Mexican making a similar sauce would probably use the locally available dried chiles. Which is fine.

                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                      It doesn't matter what was the original. New Mexico chiles and anchos will not taste the same in any recipe. There are numerous other peppers more similar to either. I now abandon the chase- if people wish to fill their sauces with tomatoes, flour, eggs, cream and the like, it's but another episode in the ongoing tragedy of life.

                                                      1. re: oldunc

                                                        What are these other similarities?

                                                        On compilation of dried chiles is:

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Objected to as already asked and answered.

                                                          1. re: oldunc

                                                            I suppose you are referring to your post on the 24th. I forgot about that.

                                                    2. re: oldunc

                                                      I found the recipe in question via Google Books
                                                      A easy convenient sauce for enchildadas. Uses chil[i] powder from
                                                      the cello packages (e.g. the Mexican spice rack in a grocery store).
                                                      California powder is less spicy than NM

                                                      2T oil
                                                      1T flour
                                                      1 small can tomato sauce
                                                      1/4c chile powder (NM or California)
                                                      2c broth
                                                      1t Mexican oregano
                                                      1/2t cumin
                                                      salt to taste

                                                      Nothing uniquely New Mexican about this version

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        Except the tomato, flour, cumin and oregano; all foreign to this Land of Enchanter.

                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                          So you only have one recipe using dried chiles? I thought New Mexico cuisine was more sophisticated than that. :) Come to think of it, I have heard that the standard question in NM restaurants is 'red, green or christmas?'

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Yup, one red, that's what the thread is about; one green, and Christmas, once a year! Is that a problem??? TRADITION!

                                        2. re: Thanks4Food

                                          I found Poore's book in the library. Note that she has other red/enchilada sauces. One starts with whole guajillo and anchos, another just anchos, yet another just guajillo. A couple add some cream at the end. Some use diced tomato. In contrast the one you cite uses the chile powder, and tomato sauce. I think the powder was chosen for ease of use, rather than any distinctive taste, or New Mexico character. Read her description of dried chiles at the start of the book.

                                        3. Just had to follow up: I went to Williams Sonoma today in search of caramel color for pumpernickel bread (no luck)--but I was surprised to find they sell both California Chili Powder and New Mexico Chili Powder. I couldn't believe it. Problem was, they were about $8 for about 3 oz. The Marge Poore recipe in question calls for 1/4 cup of chili powder, so that just makes it too expensive for a quick enchilada sauce. (But I'll check out the links many of you provided.)

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Thanks4Food

                                            It is somewhat curious that Penzeys does not have a New Mexico powder; but closest at Worldspice (seattle) a New Mexico chile flake. It's almost as though this SW chile powder is 'too ordinary' for these specialty shops to carry. :)

                                            At risk of repeating myself, I don't think Marge expects you to use anything special in this 'quick' enchilada sauce - just something that many of us can get in inexpensive cello packs from the grocery store Mexican aisle.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Yes, I've decided that first I'm going to try Badia's chili powder--and if I don't like that, I'm going to go to a Mexican grocery store for whatever "polvo de chili" they might have.

                                              1. re: Thanks4Food

                                                Er, polvo de chile. that's why I always spell it "chile".

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  Well, the jar I have says Polvo de chili. See my post above: chile is the pepper; chili is the powder.

                                                  1. re: Thanks4Food

                                                    Never! He says w/ vigor. Chile is the pod, powder and and the sauce in New Mexico. Chilli is some eastern name for bean stew, he says lowereing his head onto the chopping block.

                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                      With two l's, chilli is a typical UK spelling. With one l, it is a convenient way of distinguishing the Texas stew (and its derivatives) from the pod, but it is unwise to count on others following that rule.

                                                      Things get even more confusing when you add the plurals, chiles, chilies, chillies, etc.

                                                      summarizes the spelling patterns. I would use aji more if thought my readers understood it. Another option is to focus on the cultivar name.

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        I'm just passing a local New Mexican insight. Chile, dhile, or chile, I love it.

                                          2. Spice House has it for $15/pound if you buy in bulk.


                                            1. In my search for caramel color (for bread making), someone directed me to Great American Spice Company, and not only was I able to get caramel color for $10/16 oz, I was also able to find both Mexican Chile Powder and California Chile Powder at about $10-11/16 oz.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Thanks4Food

                                                They have a nice selection of peppers, both whole and ground, even one of my favorite Peruvian aji.

                                              2. I have read all the wonderful answers, but there may be some people like me where some of the replies do not make sense. Here is a real simple way to remember, it was how I was taught:

                                                New Mexico chili: use for heat
                                                California: use for color......... not as hot as New Mexico. Color of sauce, food is not as dark as when New Mexico chili is use, color is more of a dark blood red like most chili con carne looks like