Cayenne is a chili pepper, so it must be similar to chili powder. But they aren’t actually the same at all. That’s why some recipes call for both or one over the other. Home cooks should know the differences between chili powder vs cayenne.
We all should know the differences between chili powder vs cayenne pepper powder so we can add the flavor we want to our recipes and make appropriate substitutions in our recipes. We’ve all been there before.
We pick out the perfect chili con carne recipe for dinner; it will be a breeze. We brown the meat, break out the seasonings, and find out we don’t have the chili powder. There is a bottle of cayenne powder; maybe we can use that instead.
The last thing we want to do is leave the stove on while we run to the store to get that chili powder, so we just go with it. But something is off in the end; it’s not terrible, but it’s not quite right.
Knowing the differences between chili powder and cayenne powder will explain why the recipe isn’t right. Some seasonings are just staples and are used in almost everything we cook—garlic powder, for example, or salt and pepper.
Seasoning our food is very important; these seasonings can be found in many recipes. Chili powder is another one that is used quite a bit, especially in Mexican or Asian food.
Cayenne is another popular seasoning that is also used in Mexican and Asian recipes as well as African, Cajun, and Indian recipes. Spoiler alert: you can’t substitute ground cayenne pepper powder for chili powder or vice versa.
But the difference between a talented cook and a try-hard is knowing why you can’t make those substitutions. Knowing the differences will help you make better decisions when encountering situations like the earlier chili con carne.
You can even start using these ingredients inventively once you know the details about each one.
Chili Powder vs Cayenne – What to Know
The difference between chili powder and cayenne powder is pronounced when you look at each ingredient list. Cayenne powder is as straightforward as it gets. Cayenne peppers are dried and then ground into a fine powder that carries all of the flavors of the cayenne pepper.
Some people fear cayenne powder because they think cayenne peppers are very spicy. But cayennes are only mildly spicy in the world of peppers. Drying out and grinding cayenne pepper down removes many nutrients in cayenne peppers.
However, the powder is still considered a good source of vitamin A. We also lose some of the spiciness from the pepper when ground up, which is why the powder is even milder than the pepper itself.
There are no added ingredients to cayenne powder; it is nothing more than dried cayenne peppers. But the same can’t be said for chili powder.
What is Chili Powder Blend?
One of the most significant differences between chili powder vs cayenne powder is the ingredients list. Cayenne powder is nothing more than cayenne peppers. But chili powder is a spice blend.
You can think of chili powder like we think about AllSpice. It is a blend of spices that make up the chili powder blend. But what are the spices that makeup chili powder? This is the most crucial aspect to know if you want to start using chili powder more often in your cooking.
Chili powder blends red ground chilis, cumin, garlic, and onion powder. Some varieties also include salt, but it’s more common to find it without salt. The variety of peppers used in chili powder often varies depending on the brand, but the flavors are similar.
Chili powder does have cayenne powder in the mix of red chili powders. But not enough to make it stand out in any way.
Cayenne vs Chili Powder Look
Separately, chili powder vs cayenne appearances are very similar. Picture both seasonings in your head. Chances are you’re picturing a red powder that is light and almost fluffy in its appearance.
However, put them together in real life, you will see they are different. Cayenne powder is a bright red color carried over from the actual pepper itself. But the combination of seasonings that make up a chili powder blend makes the color darker.
That darker color comes from the cumin added to the mix. Otherwise, they would almost look exactly the same. Of course, the appearance doesn’t matter to the taste, which is the more critical aspect of every seasoning we use.
Seasoning Flavor Profiles
Comparing the key differences between chili powder vs cayenne powder only really matters regarding taste. We don’t often use these ingredients just for the color but for different flavors.
Cayenne peppers are considered to be medium-hot peppers. However, the flavor is 12 times spicier than a jalapeno. There is a scale used to determine spiciness called the “Scoville scale.”
The Scoville scale measures the spiciness of pepper based on the capsaicin in the pepper with Scoville units. Capsaicin is where the spiciness comes from in every pepper.
The more capsaicin, the spicier the pepper. Jalapenos’ land is between 2,000 and 8,000 Scoville heat units heat level on the Scoville scale. Cayenne powder has a Scoville scale ranking of 30,000 to 50,000.
Cayenne powder is added to any recipe to add spicy flavor. Chili powder is an entirely different flavor. Adding a blend of other spices, primarily savory, gives chili powder a milder flavor.
Chili powder is often used to add savory flavors and a touch of spice to spicy dishes. They are not used interchangeably because the spice provided by cayenne powder is a more intense heat than that of chili powder.
Think about it this way: cayenne powder adds too much spiciness to a dish that calls for chili powder as a key ingredient. But there may be one way to make that substitution work.
Making Chili Powder at Home
We already know that chili powder is a blend of spices that add savory flavors to a dish. This means we can make our own chili powder at home! It is important to note that you will likely get a different flavor from homemade chili powder blends than from a bottle of chili powder.
However, substituting this is only done when you don’t have chili powder on hand but need it for the recipe. You can get close enough by blending cayenne powder with garlic, cumin, onion powder, and a dash of salt.
This will get you close enough to chili powder that it will work in the recipe. However, you cannot substitute chili powder for cayenne powder. Not every chili powder uses cayenne peppers; combining other spices may not be necessary.
This means that cayenne powder can be used to substitute chili powder, but it is not a one-for-one situation. It’s not a perfect science, so most people would recommend not doing it.
But some recipes for chili powder online can help you get as close as possible to a good substitute.
The main difference between chili powder vs cayenne is flavor. But knowing how to use each one may help you decide when you can make your own chili powder vs just running to grocery stores.
Chili powder offers a beautiful combination of spice and savory to a dish. You will find chili powder in a variety of dishes from Mexican cuisine and Asian recipes. Tacos, enchiladas, and even chili con carne use chili powder.
But you can also use chili powder in spice rubs or marinades. Using chili powder as a rub or marinade adds a smoky flavor to the meat, stew, or soup. Cayenne powder is used for Cajun, African, Asian, and Mexican dishes.
You will often find cayenne in things like gumbo, stir-fries, and, again, as dry rubs or marinades. Have you ever had a bloody mary cocktail? You’ve had cayenne powder. This spice is also used almost like a hot sauce, sprinkled on top of things to add some spice to the mix.
Therefore, we can take away that chili powder is meant to be used in a recipe to add savory flavors, and cayenne powder is used to add spice.
Potential Health Benefits
Seasonings take a lot of nutrients out of the mix since the ingredients are often dried and ground up. However, some of those nutrients still reach the main dish. Therefore, every seasoning has potential health benefits that should not be discounted.
Chili powder has vitamins A and C that could be slightly more robust than cayenne. Chili powder gets the nutrients from an array of combined seasonings. Meanwhile, cayenne powder just has cayenne pepper in it.
Still, cayenne powder provides vitamins A and C as well. The most significant difference between chili powder vs cayenne is that cayenne powder adds more capsaicin. Capsaicin is that spicy flavor you taste (and feel) in any spicy dish.
But capsaicin has also been shown to aid weight loss thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant content. Just be warned, too much capsaicin may aid weight loss because it is too spicy for you, and you won’t want to eat another bite of food, like an appetite suppressant.
You need to be a fan of spicy foods to enjoy cayenne in both small quantities and large amounts.
Recipes to Try
Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa Recipes | Break out that chili powder to make some delicious barbacoa.
Instant Pot Recipes with Ground Beef | Plenty of ground beef recipes will call for either cayenne or chili powder. Some may need both!
Healthy Crockpot Freezer Meals with Chicken | You’re more likely to find chili powder in chicken recipes than cayenne.
Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipes | You will need chili powder for your taco soups. But dare you add some cayenne?
Instant Pot Cinco de Mayo Recipes | Mexican food will put those spices in your pantry to work.