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Best Substitutes for Chili Powder

Below you’ll find a list of the best substitutes for chili powder for when you suddenly run out of this flavorful spice or if want to mix it up in the kitchen.

Chili powder is a mixed spice that can liven up any dish. It’s fantastic in chili, stew, and spice rubs. Check our list below that includes homemade chili seasoning mix as well.

tabletop with three different spice blends with label "chili powder"

What is chili powder?

The history of chili powder is convoluted, though it is agreed upon that someone in Texas created this spice blend years ago.

Chili powder combines multiple different spices to create a bright color in dishes and provide heat. It provides an earthy and somewhat peppery taste to dishes.

You will notice that chili spice blends sold at the stores differ in color from bright red to more brown. Dark chili powder offers a slightly smokey flavor. Multiple chilis can be used to create chili powder, though the most commonly used ones are dried ancho chili peppers and New Mexico chilies, chipotle chili peppers.

Top 6 Chili Powder Substitute

1. Homemade Chili Seasoning

Making your own chili powder blend has its own benefits. It will be fresh without unnecessary additives. You can make the flavor exactly how you like it by adjusting the ingredients based on your taste buds: making it spicy or mild, using your preferred paprika kind, and adding salt if desired. This substitute for chili powder is more budget-friendly as well.

The ingredients that you’ll need are powdered paprika, oregano spice, cumin, powdered onion, powdered garlic, and cayenne pepper powder. Mix all spices in the bowl and store in the glass airtight container in a dark place.

If you are feeling adventurous and craving the extra flavor boost, try this homemade chili powder made from scratch using different varieties of dried chili peppers.

2. Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes can easily be used as a chili powder alternative. They add heat to any dish you include them in. They’re also readily available in grocery stores. If for some reason, they are out, you’ll most likely have a few packets lying around from a previous pizza run that can be used.

If you want the red pepper to be incorporated more easily into the dish (for soups and sauces), you can grind the flakes up until they turn into powder. This can be done by using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Red pepper flakes are a great choice for when you want your dish to be spicy. It does lack the other flavoring, so it will not provide the earthiness or peppery taste to your recipes.

Red pepper flakes can be used both for cooked meals (soups and sauces) and as a garnish, though be prepared to bite into certain spicier spots than others when using it this way.

Cooking Tips:

  • Start with ¼ tablespoon of red pepper flakes for every tablespoon of chili powder in the recipe. Red pepper flakes will add much more heat.
  • Slowly add in more pepper flakes if you want a spicier dish.

3. Cayenne Powder

You can use cayenne powder as a sub for chili powder in any recipe that you want extra heat and a similar red color. Cayenne powder works well in chili and spicy red sauces. Cayenne powder is often used in Mexican dishes. If you’re looking for a swap for a tex-mex recipe or a Mexican recipe, the cayenne powder should work well.

While it does add spiciness to dishes, it lacks the other flavors that cumin, oregano, garlic, paprika, and onion powder provide. This is due to what cayenne powder is made of – hot red peppers ground into a powder.

Cayenne powder is much hotter than chili powder since it is more concentrated. You’ll need to use a much smaller amount in your recipes than chili powder.

Cooking Tips:

  • Use 1/8 tablespoon of cayenne powder for every tablespoon of chili powder you use. Increase as needed in each recipe.

4. Paprika

Unlike cayenne powder and red pepper flakes, paprika works well as a chili powder replacement because it provides a more complex flavor to dishes. There are multiple varieties of paprika to choose from, including sweet, hot, and smoked. This allows you to select an option that works best for your dish.

If you have to choose between the different types of paprikas, opt for smoked paprika. It will provide a nice flavor, similar red color, and potentially some heat (depending on which chili pepper was used).

Use smoked paprika when you are looking for more than just heat in a dish. It will provide a smoky and robust flavor to recipes. It can be used in chilis, soups, rubs, marinades, and rice recipes. You may want to add some cayenne pepper if you want a spicier dish.

Cooking Tips:

  • Use ½ tablespoon of smoked paprika for each tablespoon of chili powder.

5. Ancho Powder

Ancho powder is created from the ground-up ancho chili peppers. It’s another spice that can be used as a replacement for chili powder. It adds spice to dishes as well as a sweet and earthy flavor.

You may recognize ancho peppers by another name – poblano peppers. Ancho peppers are poblano peppers that have turned red after ripening. This is used to create the ancho powder and why it is red instead of green (like poblano peppers typically are). Poblano peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A.

Use ancho powder when you’re looking for a similar flavor in dishes. You can substitute ancho powder in any Mexican dishes like rice, stews, and meat marinades.

Cooking Tips:

  • Use ½ tablespoon of ancho chili powder for every tablespoon of chili powder as it is spicier.

6. Hot Sauce

Can’t find any of the above substitutes for chili powder in your pantry? You can use hot sauce to add heat, salt, and some flavor to your meals. The exact flavor it adds will depend on the type of hot sauce used.

For example, if you opt for Tobasco, expect your recipe to have a vinegary flavor. Valentina works for adding heat and not much though not much flavor to dishes. If you have sriracha on hand, this will be your best bet flavorwise. It not only adds heat it also provides some sweetness.

The hot sauce works best for sauces and soups. If your tacos lack flavor because you don’t have chili powder, the hot sauce also works to spice them up.

Cooking Tips:

  • Use a few drops of hot sauce to replace 1 tablespoon of chili powder.
  • If you want more flavor in your dish, add ¼ tablespoon of cumin with the hot sauce. This will create a more robust flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you substitute paprika for chili powder?

Yes, you can substitute paprika for chili powder. Use hot paprika if you’re looking to replace the heat in a dish, or use smoked paprika to replicate the complex flavors that chili powder provides.

Can you use red pepper flakes instead of chili powder?

Yes, you can use red pepper flakes instead of chili powder. It will add heat to your dish, though you’ll be missing some of the other flavor notes.

What is chili powder made of?

The spice blend includes cumin, dried ancho chilies, oregano, garlic, and salt. You can make your own homemade version at home in just a few minutes.

What can I substitute for chili powder?

The best option would be to make your own chili spice blend. The second best option is using ancho chili powder or smoked paprika.


If you’ve run out of chili powder for your recipe, the optimal substitute is homemade chili powder. If, for some reason, you don’t have the necessary spices to make your chili powder mix, opt for ancho chili powder. It will provide a nice flavor and some spice to your dishes. Any of the above alternatives will work as substitutes.

Ensure you check your recipe needs before choosing a substitution to avoid creating a dish that you don’t enjoy. For example, if you know your recipe does not have a lot of additional seasoning, avoid cayenne pepper and hot sauce.

Next time you reach for the chili powder, try one of these options instead for a unique flavor in your dish.

Recipes With Chili Powder

Chili Seasoning Recipe

Natalia-Flavorful Home
Best Chili Seasoning recipe to use when you suddenly run out of this flavorful spice. It's fantastic in chili, stew, and spice rubs.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Course spice blend
Cuisine American


  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper


  • Combine all the spice in the small mixing bowl.
  • Mix, place in the air-tight container and store in a dark dry place, away from sun.


Note on the paprika, feel free to use smoked or sweet kind based on your preferences. 
The powdered onion can be replaced with powdered garlic. 
Adjust the spice level to your preferences, add more cayenne powder or skip it completety if desires. 


Calories: 34kcalCarbohydrates: 7gProtein: 1gFat: 1gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 8mgPotassium: 192mgFiber: 3gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 2446IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 69mgIron: 3mg
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Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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