Is it a Chile or a Chili?

The Spoon Mage™ Explains the Difference Between Chile and Chili!

Chile Tree WM 500Chiles are peppers that grow on capsicum plants.

Chile flavors range from mild to very hot. Ancho and guajillo are two mild chiles. Chipotle and hot New Mexican are two very spicy chiles. Some chiles, like my favorite the Hatch Chile Pepper, come in both hot and mild! Tasty chiles can be used fresh or dried and ground. Use the Scoville Scale to help you select the right pepper for you. The higher the unit, the hotter the pepper! There are plenty of mild peppers to choose from, just look lower on the scale. Explore the varieties of peppers. They are not just about hot and mild. Each one brings its own special flavor to your mindful palate.

Chili is a product.

The product can be a ground seasoning blend or a stew made of chile powders, meat, and beans. You make chili with chiles! Chili powders are more than just ground chiles. They include a variety of additional seasonings such as cumin, salt, and pepper. A unique blend is created for each brand.

But we have always called the pepper a chili!

That’s ok. Like many words, the terms have, over the centuries, gone through some changes in use. Food traditions are important, so go ahead and call them a chili if that is what you are used to doing. Even Wikipedia calls a chile a chili – although their source materials call them chiles. My only exception to the “it’s ok to call it what you want rule” is that you may not simmer up a nice pot of meat and beans and call it a pot of chile.

Are Chili Powders Necessary?Chile Powders WM

Chili powders are convenience seasonings. If you find one that suits the way you cook, enjoy it! For a good well balanced grab and go chili powder, The Spoon Mage™ loves Gebhardt brand – when she is not tinkering around in a pile of powders creating her own chili powder recipes.

Basic Chili Powder Recipe


1/4 cup ancho or your favorite mild chile powder
1/2 t hot chile powder of your choice IF you choose
pinch of salt
2 t cumin
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t Mexican oregano – If you cannot find Mexican oregano, do not use Mediterranean oregano, it has a different flavor.


Combine and place in a small tightly sealed container. Test by using it in recipes and tweak until it fits your cookery. Vary the type of chiles, add paprika, use more or less cumin, etc. For the freshest flavors, make this only in small batches.

Can I substitute chili powder for chile powder?

To sub chili powder for the powder of a chile, first read the recipe. Now read the label on your chili powder. If the recipe calls for the same ingredients listed in your chili powder blend, go ahead and use it in place of chile. Taste the dish to correct flavors. A good rule of thumb to remember is 1 part cumin to 3 parts mild chile powder.

My recipe calls for hot chile powder and I do not like hot food!

No worries, sub in your favorite mild chile. A recipe is a template, not an order that must be obeyed.

Mindfully Considered

As with all products purchased from a store, read the label so you know just what you have.

One of the best places to begin your chile and chili experimentation is with good recipes. Make a delicious red chile sauce to create Red Chile and Turkey Stacked Enchiladas. Or use chili powder to make Chili Mac!

For more information on chile peppers, check out The Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University!

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