Ancho chile powder is a staple in Mexican cuisine and is one of the most popular spices in the region, part of its ‘holy trinity’ -- this powder has moderate heat and is made from dried and ground poblano chiles. This spice is usually used in sauces, salsa, and most especially Mole.
Ancho chile powder is easy to find almost anywhere. Many specialty Mexican groceries and some supermarkets may carry ancho pepper powder. This spice has a sweet and earthy flavor that imparts a fruitiness to dishes. If you are not able to find Ancho chile powder, an option is to source dried poblano peppers and grind them -- but if you don’t have these options, a good substitute will suffice.
Substitutes for Ancho Chile Powder
Guajillo peppers measure around 2 - 4 inches and has a smooth and deep red color. Part of the Mexican ‘holy trinity’ of peppers, these peppers are available in powder and paste form, although contains preservatives in these forms. The Guajillo pepper boasts a unique fruity, yet smoky flavor with its heat ranging from mild to medium. These peppers are best used for salsa and sauces.
Pasilla Pepper Powder
Also known as chile negro, these peppers are also one leg of the holy trinity of Mexican chili peppers. The Pasilla has a comparable heat to the Ancho but can reach the heat level of guajillos. The flavor of this pepper is slightly sweet with notes of berry and cocoa. These chiles have a similar heat to poblanos. These can be used in the same quantity as what the recipe calls for.
Chipotle Powder Powder
Chipotle peppers also originated in Mexico and have become popular among households in North America. The pepper that is used to make this powder is the Jalapeno, which is used by American cooks as well.
Jalapenos are dried, smoked, then pulverized to make Chipotle powder. There are two types of these spices that can be found in the US which are the Meco and Morita. Meco chipotle powder has a smokier flavor than the latter and should be considered when using this type of chipotle powder as it can empower some of the flavors in the dish. There is also a difference in heat between chipotle and ancho as Chipotle is much hotter than the Ancho.
Mulato Pepper Powder
Another alternative to the Ancho chile powder is the Mulato pepper powder as it is preceded by the guajillo and pasilla in terms of its popularity. The Mulato chile has a lower heat level compared to the other substitutes and may need to be added in a larger amount to dishes to get the desired level of heat.