Ancho Chili Powder Substitute

Ancho chili powder is a delightful spice with rich earthy flavors and peppery undertones. Unfortunately, it’s not always readily available and is often only found in specialty food stores. That’s where a good ancho chili powder substitute comes in. 

This particular chili powder is the go-to ingredient for making authentic Mexican dishes. And it’s one of the most special spices in the region. You’ll often find ancho chill powder as a burgundy-colored spice called for in pork and beef recipes.

So, what exactly should you do when you look around your pantry and find you’re completely out of ancho chili powder? There’s no need to worry because you likely have many suitable ancho chili powder substitute options right in your kitchen.

What Is Ancho Chili Powder?

Ancho chili powder is made from dried poblano peppers. This gives it a spicy flavor with moderate heat and a fruity undertone. 

Despite being traditionally used in Mexican cuisines, ancho chili powder is often used in baked goods such as cakes. 

Ancho chili powder has a Scoville heat rating of roughly 1,250, which is within the mildest level. It also has a more earthy and smokey flavor than many other chili powders. 

Ancho Chili Powder Substitute

What if you want to cook a dish that calls ancho chili powder but don’t have it on hand? In this instance, a good ancho chili powder substitute is called for. And we recommend you use it when you find yourself out of ancho chili powder and need a little heat.

1. Pasilla Pepper Powder

This holy trinity of spices is prepared from pasilla chilies that have been dried, trimmed, and crushed. It’s perhaps one of the best ancho chili powder substitutes because it has similar earthy notes. 

On that note, pasilla pepper powder does have a slightly sweet flavor. And it delivers a level of heat up to 8000 SHU. Despite this, it’s somewhat chocolatey in flavor with notes of berry, which works well in anything from stews to baked goods.

Use pasilla pepper powder at a 1:1 ratio when replacing ancho chili powder.

2. Guajillo Chili Powder

Guajillo chili powder has a comparable smokiness to ancho chili powder, which makes a great substitute. 

With a moderate heat of 3,750 SHU, guajillo chili powder is hotter than ancho chili powder. Plus, it has a tangier, more robust flavor and notes of berry with a tea-like aftertaste.

This chili powder can be used in virtually any recipe that calls for ancho chili powder. But it typically works best in stews and marinades. You can use it as a substitute at a 1:1 ratio. But you may need to adjust the quantity according to your preference.

3. Paprika

Paprika is a solid ancho chili powder substitute that delivers mild, flavorful warmth. This spice is derived from the capsicum annuum plant and comes in different blends. 

It’s slightly sweeter than ancho chili powder, but it offers hints of spicy and smokey tones. And it’s also reasonably easy to come by. 

You can use a ratio of 1:1 when substituting ancho chili powder with paprika. 

4. Chipotle Powder

You can find chipotle powder in almost every major store, which makes it one of the easiest alternatives to find. Produced from dried, smoked jalapeno peppers, it carries a heat of up to 8,000 SHU. 

Although this is undoubtedly hotter than ancho chili powder, it works great for meats and seafood dishes. It’s also a great flavor enhancer for tacos and enchiladas.

Just be sure to add a little at a time and do plenty of tasting to meet your preferred heat level.

5. Mulato Pepper Powder

Mulato pepper powder is also made from poblano peppers and has an earthy flavor. So, it’s an excellent ancho chili powder substitute. 

However, mulato pepper powder is darker and has a richer flavor than ancho chili powder. It also has a higher heat level. 

The licorice and chocolate flavors of mulato are fantastic for sweet dishes and stews. Start with a little and gradually add more based on your preference.

6. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper originates from the Northeast coast of South America. It has a heat range of 30,00 to 50,000 units, so it can be an excellent spicy substitute for ancho chili powder. 

But it won’t have the same smokiness as ancho chili powder. Because cayenne pepper has a richer flavor, add pasilla pepper powder when substituting for ancho chili powder. 

You can replace 1 teaspoon of ancho chili powder with a ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder. Just remember to use a light touch.


Most of the above alternatives are readily available, making them great go-to options. They may offer a slightly different level of heat and flavor. But each ancho chili powder substitute listed will deliver delicious results.