11 Best Substitutes for Ancho Chili Pepper That You Should Use

Ancho chili peppers are common in Mexican and Southwestern U.S. cuisines and are used in a variety of spice blends, sauces, and dishes. The mildly spicy and slightly sweet pepper has a distinct flavor but if you find yourself without an ancho chili pepper, don’t worry. 

There are several great substitutes you can use, such as: chili powder, chili flakes, paprika, and mulato peppers just to name a few. 

What is Ancho Chile?

The ancho chile is a ripened poblano pepper that has been dried. The fresh, unripened poblanos you buy at the store are green, but if allowed to ripen it becomes the ancho chile which is a reddish hue. Ancho chiles are mildly spicy with an earthy sweetness to them – even with a slight chocolate undertone. This pepper is full of bold flavor.

You can find ancho chiles dried whole or ground up and they add a delicious flavor profile to many dishes. Many people also reconstitute the whole dried ancho chile (a process where you soak the dried chile in a hot liquid), lending it for use in salsas, moles, and other sauces. 

What is the Difference Between Ancho and Regular Chili Powder?  

Ancho chili powder is just the ground up dried ancho chili pepper. It is a deep red color and just contains the one ingredient. 

Alternatively, chili powder can use more than one type of chili and also usually consists of several other ground ingredients, including: cumin, garlic, paprika, and even cayenne for an extra kick. 

There are several varieties of chili powder ranging in flavors of varying degrees of smokiness, sweetness, and spiciness. Some chili powders may even contain ancho chili in them. 

What is a Good Substitute for Ancho Chili Pepper? 

If your recipe calls for ancho chilis and you don’t have any, or can’t find any – don’t worry. There are several great substitutes for ancho chili pepper, some serving a better purpose depending on the dish you are making and how spicy you want things.   

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1. Chili Powder

Replacing chili powder for ancho chili powder is a great option. Some chili powders may even contain ancho chilis in them, so you will get a similar flavor from it. It’s a good idea to taste the chili powder before using it. 

Specifically using a chipotle chili powder instead of ancho chili powder will help match the smokiness you get from the ancho chili. So, if you are needing a good ground spice, chili powder would make a good substitute for ancho chili powder

2. Chili Flakes

Chili Flakes are a very common substitute to ancho chilis, because they are made from one chili and they are readily available in grocery stores. Since chili flakes use just one ingredient, you won’t find other competing flavors and it is easy to adjust the amount of chili flakes needed for your recipe. 

Some chili flakes can be spicier than others, so you will definitely want to taste first and add a small amount – you can always add more later. If you are needing more of a ground spice texture, you can use a grinder to process the chili flakes. 

3. New Mexico Chili Peppers

There are so many different varieties of chili peppers, and the New Mexico chili pepper, also referred to as a Hatch pepper, is one of them. Hatch chiles have a distinct smoky, slightly spicy, and unique citrus flavor. They can be hard to find as they are only grown in certain areas and have a short season, but many stores now offer them jarred or frozen.

They offer a unique flavor that is best when the pepper is roasted. Using the Hatch chile just as you would an ancho chile for salsas, marinades, and sauces works well. If you haven’t tried one of these chiles yet, it is worth checking out!

4. Paprika

Paprika is a common staple in many spice cabinets and is easily found at most grocery stores, making it another good substitute for ancho chili pepper. Paprika is a combination of different dried chilis, ground together and varies in flavor depending on the peppers used.

There are three different types of this red spice: hot paprika, sweet paprika, and smoked paprika. If you happen to have all three, you could make your own spice blend to try and match the flavor of the ancho better. 

5. Dried Anaheim Chili Pepper

Dried anaheim peppers come from California and offer an earthy flavor with mild spice and fruity undertones. It makes for a good substitute to an ancho chili pepper, especially if you don’t want as much spice in your dish. 

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You can find these peppers whole or ground up making them versatile depending on what you are cooking. 

6. Pequin Chili Pepper

Pequin chili peppers are also known as bird peppers and although are very tiny in size, pack a big punch of spice. They are considered to be up to 8 times hotter than a jalapeño and have a slight citrus undertone to them. While they are spicy, when used properly they make a good substitute for an ancho chili pepper. 

You can find pequin chilis fresh, dried, ground up, and even pickled making their uses great. You may only need one or two, but pequin chili peppers make a great addition to sauces, salsas, soups, and spice blends and a great replacement to ancho chilis.  

7. Dried Poblano Peppers

Remember, ancho chilis are just poblano peppers that have been ripened and then dried – so naturally, dried poblanos make a good substitute for an ancho chile pepper. 

The unripened pepper is green and not as spicy as an ancho chili but still provides a nice smoky and slightly sweet flavor to your recipe. Dried poblanos can be reconstituted for salsas and sauces, or ground up. You can always add a little heat if needed. 

8. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is another common spice available in most places. Although it can be much spicier than an ancho chili pepper, it still makes for a good substitute if you don’t have any ancho chilis. 

You can find cayenne peppers fresh, dried, whole or ground up and a little of this spicy pepper goes a long way. 

9. Guajillo Peppers 

Guajillo peppers are a delicious smoky pepper from Mexico that is very similar to the ancho chili pepper. In fact, these two peppers are the most used in Mexican cuisine and are often used interchangeably. The guajillo pepper offers a similar subtly sweet and smoky flavor as the ancho pepper, but with less heat. You can use guajillo peppers the same as you would an ancho pepper. 

10. Mulato Peppers

Just as the ancho pepper is a ripened poblano, the Mulato pepper is an over-ripened poblano pepper that has been dried. Mulato peppers may be harder to find than other substitutes, but would make an excellent replacement to the ancho chili pepper. 

This dried pepper has a deep brown (almost black) hue and offers a fruitier and smokier flavor than its younger sibling. 

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11. Roasted Red Bell Peppers 

While a fresh red bell pepper is considered to be a sweet pepper, it is very common to roast these delicious peppers. Roasting any pepper provides a smoky flavor as well as helps to bring out the sweetness. The resulting flavors of a roasted red bell pepper are sweet and smoky which is why it makes for a good substitute to an ancho chili pepper. 

These peppers are great in sauces, marinades, and can easily be blended into a variety of dishes. To get the spice that is lacking, you can add a little chili flake, cayenne, or other spicy pepper you may have. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to peppers, there are so many different varieties all with distinct flavors and levels of heat. Let’s find out more about chilis to better help you with your pepper knowledge. 

Which is hotter, ancho or guajillo?

Although very similar in taste, the ancho chili pepper is slightly spicier than a guajillo pepper. 

How spicy are ancho chilis?

The heat factor for chilis is measured by something called the Scoville Scale where each chili pepper is given a level of spiciness in Scoville heat units (SHU). The ancho chili pepper is given a range of 1,000-1,500 SHU, which is considered to be pretty mild. To put that into perspective, a jalapeño pepper is rated with 5,000 SHU. 

Which dried chilis are the hottest?

The award for hottest dried chili pepper goes to the Carolina Reaper, with a measurement of 1.4 million to 2.2 million Scoville heat units. Wow, talk about spicy! Following closely behind the Carolina Reaper are: the Trinidad Scorpion Chile, Naga Viper, and the Ghost Pepper. 

Conclusion

The ancho chili pepper plays such a key role in southwestern and Mexican cuisine and has a beautiful smoky, earthy, and spicy flavor profile. 

Finding a good substitute for ancho chilis in case you don’t have any is a good idea. For some, finding something that offers more or less heat is necessary, while for others, maybe a slightly different flavor profile is desired. 

Regardless of why you need to find an alternative to an ancho chili, there are several great options available. Just remember to taste before you use it to make sure you can handle the heat!