Ancho powder is one of the most popular spices in Mexico. Mexican cooks use for a range of dishes from enchilada sauce to mole. Ancho pepper imparts a mild heat and fruity sweetness to dishes. The heat of the ancho usually tops out at about 9,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).
Ancho powder is made from dried poblano peppers, the fresh version of which is best known as the main ingredient in chile relleno. If you want to make Mexican dishes that taste authentic, you try to find high-quality ancho powder or source some dried poblanos and grind them yourself. If none of these options are feasible or you need the spice right now, consider one of the many alternatives. You probably have at least one good substitute in your spice cabinet.
Your best bet: Guajillo pepper powder
While ancho chilies are often considered Mexico’s favorite chili pepper, guajillo peppers are not far behind. The name means “little gourd” and was given because the pepper makes a rattling noise when you shake the dried fruit. If you are unable to find ancho chilies, then these are the perfect substitute and are often used along with ancho peppers to make moles. They provide a mild heat that usually does not go beyond 8,000 SHUs. Guajillo powder is also on the sweeter side, which means that you can use it to replace ancho powder if you are seeking a sweeter flavor. Its sweetness makes it perfect for use in tomato dishes.
A decent second choice: Pasilla powder
Pasilla powder is made from chilaca peppers. When dried, chilaca are called pasilla negro chilies because of their dark brown color. The word “pasilla” comes from “pasa,” which means “small black raisin.” Pasilla negro chilies have a similar heat level to the poblanos used to make ancho powder. Many cooks believe that the only meaningful difference between ancho and pasilla chilies is the shape. Usually, you can use pasilla powder in the same quantity that you would use ancho powder.
In a pinch: Chipotle powder
Chipotle peppers are another type of pepper that originated in Mexico. These chilies have become popular among North American cooks in recent years. The pepper used to make chipotle powder is the jalapeño, which is familiar to American cooks as well.
To make chipotle powder, the jalapeños are dried and then smoked. The two types of chipotles that you can find in the US are the Meco variety and the Morita variety. Meco chipotles have a more intense smoky flavor than Moritas. The smokiness is something that you should take into account when using either type of chipotle powder as it may be overpowering in some dishes. You should also keep in mind the difference in heat between chipotle powder and ancho powder. The heat from chipotle powder can be as much as 10,000 SHUs. When using it as an ancho powder substitute, start with half the amount that your recipe requires and increase to taste.
Considered the third in the trinity of Mexican chilies, mulato pepper powder is yet another good substitute for ancho powder. It is preceded by the aforementioned guajillo and pasilla in terms of popularity. Note that the heat of mulato chilies is considerably lower than that of the other alternatives above; you may need to add more to get the desired level of spiciness.
Ancho chilies are often used in chili powder blends, which means that pre-made chili powder can be a good substitute. Note that chili powder seasoning contains other spices like oregano and cumin, which means that chili powder will only be a good substitute if their flavors will work in your dish.