Many recipes call for chili powder, but once in a while, you will find one calling for chile powder. Is this the same thing with a different spelling? Can you substitute chili powder for chile powder?
Chili Powder and Chile Powder are Not Really Interchangeable
The answer to the last question is yes, you can, but it is not advisable. A chile powder is a dried chile which has been ground into a powder. On the other hand, a chili powder is a mix of spices which includes dried chile powder and it is typically used to season Southwestern chili, a stew made with meat and chiles, or other dishes. Technically, ground cayenne is a chile powder, but other chiles, such as chipotle, are also found in ground form.
Now, it is true that the terms “chili” and “chile” are used interchangeably in the United States. However, when it comes to the grocery store spice aisle, they denote two different things.
McCormick Chili Powder versus Chile Powder
The ubiquitous spice company McCormick makes both a chili powder with unidentified “ground chili pods,” garlic, and other spices; a chipotle chile pepper, and an ancho chile pepper. Confusingly, the regular McCormick chipotle, which comes in a small plastic container, uses the spelling chili, whereas the McCormick Gourmet chipotle pepper, in the glass bottle, is spelled “chile.”
Typical Chili Powder Ingredients
Most home cooks use cayenne pepper for a homemade version of chili powder, since cayenne is the most widely available.
Chili powders may contain any number of different spices in addition to chile powder: paprika, cumin, garlic, oregano, etc. Keep in mind that paprika itself is a type of chile powder, albeit a mild one that you can use much more of than you probably do.
Most store-bought versions of chili powder will also include salt, and an anti-caking agent such as silicon dioxide to keep the powder from clumping together.
Should You Make Your Own Chili Powder?
So, although you can use chili powder to replace chile powder in a recipe, you will be getting less of the actual chile powder and you will also be adding other spices, and likely more salt. Therefore, it would be better to use an actual chile powder. If you are creating your own recipe, you will usually be better off using ground chile peppers (if not fresh or whole dried) so that you can adjust the amount of each chile in the recipe, along with the other spices you are using. Although there are many standard recipes for homemade chili powders in cook books, unless you have chile containing a spice blend with specific ratios that you use often for specific purposes (such as a dry rub or you favorite chili recipe), making one is a waste of time. If you want to take the time and expense to use individual spices rather than a store-bought chili powder in your dish, you may as well adjust the amount of each spice to suit the specific dish.
Varieties of Chile Powder
To sum it up, the term chili powder usually refers to a dried ground chile (or chiles) mixed with other spices and chile powder refers to the ground powder of one specific dried chile pepper. Commercial versions of chili powder will contain different ratios of spices depending on the brand, and more or less salt, or no salt at all. Typically, ancho chile is used in commercial chili powders, but other chiles may also be used.
Chile powder can be found in many varieties, including ancho, New Mexico, Anaheim, De Arbol, Guajillo, pasilla, and many others.
In other cultures, either term may refer to various spice blends or chile powders.