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What is Ancho Chili Powder?

Ancho Chili Powder Spice


Ancho chili powder is one of the most popular Mexican spices derived from dried, roasted, and ground ripe poblano chili peppers. When fresh, the chili is referred to as poblano and when dried, it is called ancho. The pepper has a texture similar to a raisin, flat, dark, and wrinkled.

What does ancho chili powder taste like?

The ancho chili pepper has a mild heat from 1000-2000 units on the Scoville Scale, for reference a sweet bell pepper has 0 units and a mild jalapeno has 2500 units. Ancho is a dark smoky chili with a deep rich flavor that’s slightly sweet and mild with heat. The roasting of the poblano develops the earthy and smoky characteristics of the ancho chili powder. The ancho chili also contains sweet fruity properties with hints of fig, prune, raisin, and cherry.

Ancho Chili Powder Uses

Ancho chili powder is a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking to provide smoke along with sweetness and spice to dishes. The ground powder is ideal for rubs and marinades of meats and fish, other uses include dips, dressings, soups, stews, and seasonings. Ancho provides a distinctive flavor similar to chipotle and can be used with the same applications, especially chili con carne and barbeques.

Ancho Chili Powder Substitutes 

  • New Mexico Chili Powder: made with Anaheim chiles this would be the best alternative as New Mexico chili powder provides a similar mild heat and a level of smokiness.
  • Chipotle Chili Powder: the product of dried and roasted jalapenos which are slightly hotter than the poblano chili. Chipotle powder would be a possible alternative as it contains smoky and sweet properties without being overwhelmingly spicy.
  • Chili Powder: most store-bought chili powder is a spice blend containing ingredients such as chili powder, cumin powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, or ground oregano. Chili powders are generally far hotter than ancho, so use sparingly when substituting. 

Compliments and Pairings 

Ancho chili powder suits ingredients which will benefit from its earthiness whilst being mildly spicy and sweet, typical ingredients in South American cooking include beef, onion, garlic, shellfish, fish, pulses, beans, poultry, chocolate, cinnamon, honey, mustard, sweet potato, pork, avocado, sweetcorn, sour cream, nuts, coriander, plantain, cassava, potato, lime, and mango. 

Expiration and Storage

  • Dried Powder: store dried ancho chili powder in an airtight container away from direct light or moisture for 2 – 3 years. Over time the chili will gradually lose potency.

Where does ancho chili powder come from?

Ancho chilis are a member of the Capsicum annuum family and the name translates to ‘wide’. The name ancho describes the dried ripe form of the Poblano chili which is native to Mexico and named after the town in which it was discovered, Puebla. Ancho chiles are popular within Mexican and South American cooking, their distinctive smoky flavor is a key component of mole which is Mexico’s national dish.

The chili is approximately 3 inches wide and 4 inches long with a deep reddish-brown coloring. Ancho chili powder can be made at home by purchasing whole ancho chili peppers, slicing in half and removing the seeds and stalk. Then place the chili into a coffee grinder or food processor and blend until a fine powder. You can find more nerdy scientific details about ancho chili over on wikipedia.

Fun Facts

  • In Mexico the Ancho chili is graded into three quality levels, ‘Primero’ is the highest grade, ‘Mediano’ medium, and ‘Ancho’ is the basic quality. 
  • Legend says that a Dominican nun in Puebla used ancho chiles to create the original ‘mole poblano’ in the 16th century which is now Mexico’s national dish.
  • The holy trinity of chilis in Mexico contains Ancho, Mulato, and Pasilla. 

Popular Recipes

  • Ancho chili mole sauce
  • Ancho beef and kidney bean chili
  • Ancho spice rub
  • Ancho chili brownies
  • Ancho chicken enchiladas
  • Ancho chili shrimp pasta
  • Ancho chili steak tacos
  • Ancho chili-spiced sweet potato
  • Ancho chili pork tenderloin
  • Ancho chili avocado dip
  • Taco seasoning

Chef Max

Michelin trained professional chef with a passion for recipe writing and all things food. I have worked for over five years at top restaurants across the UK and have gained an ability to create any recipe you desire, from comfort food recipes to fine dining recipes. My experience in food writing includes a placement at Delicious Magazine which involved feature writing, recipe testing, article research, and content creation.

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