What Is Chili Powder and Can You Make Your Own?

This fiery spice blend is a staple in many kitchens, but turns out you can actually make your own using ingredients you likely have in your spice cabinet right now.

Anytime I'm looking to add a little heat to a recipe, I reach for my jar of chili powder. It's an aromatic blend of dried chiles and other spices that adds just the right level of heat without overdoing it — unlike its fiery chile pepper cousin, cayenne.

But what is chili powder? You might be surprised to learn this quintessential spice blend is actually made up of a long list of spices you likely have in your spice cabinet right now. Here's everything you need to know about chili powder, including how to make your own homemade version.

Chili Powder vs. Chile Powder

chili powder being spilled out of wooden spoon on white surface
Jacob Fox/Meredith

What we know as chili powder (sometimes called chili powder blend or chili seasoning mix) is a spice blend made from ground dried chiles and a number of other spices. It is not to be confused with chile powder, which is made from ground dried chiles and few or no additives. Both chili and chile powder can come in a number of different versions depending on the type of chile used — examples include chipotle chile/chili powder and ancho chile/chili powder.

What Is Chili Powder Made Of?

Chili powder gets its name for chili con carne — a spicy meat stew that originated in either Mexico or southern Texas — as it's often used to season it. The spice blend differs from one recipe to another, but it usually includes some mix of ground dried chiles, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, oregano, and onion powder.

Chili Powder vs. Cayenne vs. Paprika

While chili powder is a spice blend, both cayenne and paprika are individual spices typically used as ingredients in chili powder. Both ground cayenne and paprika are made from dried chile peppers, but cayenne is made from dried cayenne peppers (a fiery hot pepper) and paprika is made from more mild, sweet chile peppers.

Cayenne pepper is eight times hotter than chili powder, so you don't want to use it on its own as a substitute for chili powder. Paprika can technically be substituted for chili powder in a pinch, but be aware that paprika will be a lot less spicy and slightly sweeter than chili powder.

McCormick chili powder jar on white and orange burst background
Allrecipes Illustration/Amazon

Chili Powder Uses

Use chili powder anywhere you want to add a bit of a kick. It's commonly used in Latin American dishes like tacos or enchiladas. It also makes an excellent addition to chilis, stews, soups, meats, and beans.

Although it's a spice blend in itself, chili powder can also be used as an ingredient in other spice and seasoning blends, such as fajita seasoning or homemade taco seasoning. It's a great way to add flavor to snacks like roasted chickpeas or tortillas chips. And finally, try mixing it with salt and adding it to the rim of your next margarita for some serious heat.

Where to Buy Chili Powder

You can find the chili powder in the spice aisle at almost any supermarket or specialty market (like hispanic grocery stores). Popular retailers available online include McCormick ($4; Amazon), Simply Organic (2 for $16; Amazon), and Frontier Co-Op ($13 per pound; Amazon). Chile powder ($14 for 18 ounces; Amazon) is also available for purchase if you'd like to use it to make your own chili powder blend.

How to Make Chili Powder

You probably already have most, if not all, of the ingredients for this homemade chili powder on hand! The original recipe from user Terri, did not include ground dried chiles, but feel free to add some as we have here.

homemade chili powder in jar with ingredients around
Buckwheat Queen


  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • ¾ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • Optional: 3 tablespoons ground chile powder or 3 dried red chiles


  1. Optional ground chile powder: Use either store-bought ground chile powder or make your own. To do so, slice, seed, and stem three dried red chiles. Place the chiles in a medium skillet and cook over high heat for four to five minutes. Set aside and allow to cool. Once cool, add the chiles to a blender and blend until a fine powder forms. Allow the powder to settle before removing the lid.
  2. Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk together.

How to Store Chili Powder

Homemade chili powder should be stored in an airtight container for up to six months. Store-bought chili powder can last up to three years, but the flavor will begin to decline over time.

Chili Powder Substitutes

If you find yourself without chili powder, you can always make your own adaptation using some combination of the above recipe, based on what you already have. You can also substitute similar spice blends such as taco seasoning. And of course, dried chile peppers or pre-ground chile powder can be a suitable substitute, but you may want to consider adding additional spices if you have them to more resemble chili powder.


Was this page helpful?
You’ll Also Love