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Chili powder/Cayenne question.

Here in the UK almost all "Chili Powder" sold is a cocktail of spices (mainly cumin, paprika and cayenne) and flavourings which does a passable job in producing an ordinary chili con carne. It often comes in mild or hot versions, and I'm happy to use the mild sort, usually with sliced fresh chilis to give some heat.

In the US, however, it seems that chili powder is a pure hot powder, which, when I've found it in the UK (Rajah brand), appears to be identical to cayenne.

Are they one and the same please? Do some recipes call for both chili powder and cayenne?

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  1. Cayenne powder is specific to a certain type of chili. It is usually ground when red and ripe and is used more for the heat than for flavour. At least in my kitchen.

    Chili powder in North America is usually non specific and can use a variety of chilis. As such, the heat level can vary widely. Tasting them to find your preference is usually very economical.

    Unlike curry, I have yet to find anybody who grinds their own. But I am sure that I few Hounds will fess up, if not to yield their secret recipe.

    1. "Chili" powder is usually the blend, whereas "chile" powder is usually the ground powder of a single type of chile. Depending on how much heat you want, try different ones - ancho is milder and tends to be my go-to is I don't want a lot of heat.

      I have recipes that call for both, in which case I always use ancho for the "chile" powder and cayenne as indicated in the recipe. But I don't use the mixed chili pwder in these cases - as you state, that makes decent chili con carne.


      1. I live in California. I can buy "chili powder" a mix or "ground chili" an individual species of chili, dried and ground. Cayenne is a hot chili

        Not all chilis are the same, one can use different chilis in any combo they want, how much spice do you want

        1. 53% of chilies are poblanos, and most chili powders will be mostly anchos (dried poblanos), which are fairly mild, plus unknown others. Cayenne by itself is pure heat.
          The term 'chili powder' is very ambiguous.

          1. If you ask most Americans for chili powder, they will give you a blend of paprika, cumin, oregano and chiles that is mostly used to make chili con carne.

            Cooks who are familiar with South Asian or Mexican cooking may use the terms chili/chile powder differently. In my home, I cook a lot of South Asian food so the only chili powder in my cupboard is the red chilli powder I procure from the Indo-Pak grocer. Other Americans may keep chile powders of dried guajillos or anchos, which would give a very different flavor profile.

            When I am making chili con carne, commercial chili powders rarely have enough heat for me so I will add cayenne or Indian red chilli powder.

            1. Chili powder in the US is a blend of chile, cumin, and other seasonings. Some hotter blends contain cayenne, but not ordinarily. A cook who uses chili powder might have a mild or medium blend and punch it up with cayenne to taste. A recipe could not be consistent merely by specifying chili powder and cayenne, because there is considerable variation in chili powder blends.

              1. Chili powder is a blend of ground chiles, cumin, garlic and oregano

                Chile powder is ground dry chile of one sort or another. Youcan also buy specific types of chile powder like ancho and cayenne

                2 Replies
                1. re: C. Hamster

                  This. Exactly. The "i" vs. the "e" makes all the difference in the world. However, and unfortunately, not all spice companies make that distinction. So it becomes a case of caveat emptor and label reading.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    Chili powder in the US also frequently includes ground coriander, in addition to the chilies (ancho/poblano most typical), cumin, garlic and varying levels of oregano (European oregano, not typically the Mexican oregano, as best I can tell).

                  2. Thanks for the replies. As I suspected it seems that, aside from chili con carne blend, we only really have cayenne available here. Shame, as I'd like to try some of the less brutal products available in the US.

                    I do actually have an unpoened packet of "Aachi" chilli powder brought to me as a present from India. Has anyone any knowledge of this please?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Robin Joy

                      Aachi is a brand name. On their website they list two chilli powders - Kashmiri and the one you have. Kashmiri chilli is very mild,I think, used to add vivid red color to dishes more than heat.

                      The company does not identify the variety of chilli in the product you have unless it's in the small print on the package but I'd guess it's much hotter.

                      Another spelling note - others have emphasized the difference in the 'i' and 'e' ending to the word, note also in India the word is spelled with two 'l's - chlli.

                      1. re: brucesw

                        Yes, you do need to pay attention to the country of origin when evaluating these 'chil...' products. Regardless of spelling, powder from Korea (or Mexican powder sold in American Korean markets) is bound to be different from Indian, and both different from Mexican or American.

                        I'm reminded of 'Taco seasoning' from Trader Joes (an American grocery chain).
                        In small print the package is labeled 'Made in South Africa'. It is higher in cayenne than expected (compared to most American taco mixes).

                        1. re: brucesw

                          I've not found consistency in Indian spellings--while it's usually "e" it's sometimes "i" and, as brucesw wrote, often with 2 "l"s but not always. One of my Indian cookbooks also uses "chilly."

                          I made biryani just today; the recipe is from a wonderful cook in India, and I noticed she wrote "chilies" in one place and "chilys" in yet another.

                      2. Robin, if you are looking for different varieties of chili, you might check the Cool Chili Company

                        I used to buy from them when I lived in London, but they have mail order in the UK.

                        1. I had a hard time finding just plain Ancho Chile powder anywhere. For anyone looking for it, World Market/Cost Plus carries it, and I believe Whole Foods has it as well.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Atomic76

                            Anchos are more widely available and far less costly than powdered if you buy the whole dried ones. They are easy to reconstitute, clean up, and puree.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              I buy Penzey's 1 oz dried anchos (which they label "chili" peppers), and I just grind them, rather than reconstituting. (Same with Penzey's guajillos.) In today's biryani, I used Penzey's Sanaam "India chili peppers"--would have expected that to be chilE.

                              To complicate matters, I also like McCormick's ground chipotle chilE peppers in making chili.

                            2. re: Atomic76

                              Penzey's carries ancho chile powder, too

                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                I have a tiny 1 oz. jar of Penzey's ancho chili pepper, not enough for one pot of chili!

                              2. re: Atomic76

                                I use Anaheims as a substitute for Anchos

                              3. both www.savoryspiceshop.com and http://www.penzeys.com/ have a variety of powdered chiles as well as whole

                                1 Reply
                                1. Some possible distinctions:

                                  chili - a mix; check the ingredients list for 'spices', salt, cumin, etc

                                  chile - most likely pure something or other; this might also identify the type of pepper, e.g. ancho (dark red mild), New Mexico, guajillo (bright red, hotter), chipotle (hot, smoky), etc.

                                  If the UK chili powder is mostly mild (nearly tasteless) Spanish paprika with just a hint of cayenne, it might be milder than a USA chili powder that is mostly ground ancho. Ancho (or something close labeled pasilla or negro), while mild compared to cayenne, still is hotter, and more flavorful than (most) paprika. I put 'most' there, because there is such a think as hot Hungarian paprika. Also Spanish smoked paprika comes in 3 heat levels.

                                  Gebhardt is the original chili powder brand. My impression is that it is hotter than a generic brand or McCormack, but probably milder than specialty mixes.

                                  1. Chili Powder here in the US is the blend of spices used to make Chili, the dish.

                                    Chile Powder is powdered dried chile pepper.

                                    Chilli Powder, as spelled in India and other parts of Asia, is dried powdered chile peppers. It's spelled as "chilli" instead of "chile". I tend to spell it as Chilli Powder, as I use the indian powders as opposed to something like cayenne pepper powder. I use Kasmiri Chilli powder for mild heat and bright color, and the regular chilli powder for everything else.

                                    1. Here is how I make my chili powder. This is based on Alton Brown's formula:

                                      3 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
                                      3 cascabel chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
                                      3 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
                                      2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
                                      2 tablespoons dried garlic
                                      1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
                                      1 teaspoon smoked paprika

                                      I toast the chiles and cumin and then throw everything into a spice grinder until smooth. Lately, I have wanted additional heat, and have been adding other peppers I have lying around to taste.

                                      How you would translate these flavor profiles into a locally available pepper, I don't really know.