The Difference Between Chile and Chili

Chile powder

I’ve mentioned before the difference between chile and chili, but didn’t have a good reference for the claim.

In case you missed it the last time: The hot peppers used in spicy dishes are chile peppers; the meaty (well, usually meaty, though you can do a vegetarian version) prepared food you eat with nachos is chili. Also, when you dry and grind a single pepper, that is chile powder. When you dry and grind one or more peppers, plus add garlic, cumin, salt and other seasonings to use in making chili, that is chili powder.

Anyway, now I have a reference. No, it’s not authoritative but it’s better than just “because I said so.” Although if you’re good with “because I said so” then that’s fine with me.

At the West Side Market is my source for spices that they don’t carry at the grocery store: Urban Herbs. (They do mail-order from their site, by the way.)

They have an extensive selection of chile powders.

Chile powder

If you don’t want to click through to the large picture and read all those upside-down labels yourself, that includes: Ancho, Guajilla, Chipotle, Cayenne, Jalapeño, d’Arbol, Pasilla Negro, Aji Panca, New Mexico, Aji Amarillo, Amazon, Birdseye and Serrano.

And all the way up in the top-right corner …


… is the chili powder.

So, like I said … a single pepper is chile powder, a blend of peppers and other spices is chili powder.


  1. This has been so confusing! Thanks for the clarification, Drew.

  2. Down here in the land of Chili (with an I) I had to learn quick which powder was which. Being from San Francisco I wasn’t much for chili. Now I’m told by my life-long Texan husband (and his life-long Texan dad) that I make “darn good” chili. That’s a complement for a Non-Texan made chili. I use buffalo meat as the base meat with venison sausage as flavoring. I doubt I could get away with a vegetarian version around here.

  3. Barb, just don’t try to explain this to someone from New Mexico. They get into the whole green chili / red chili thing, and no one can tell a New Mexican they’re wrong about their chili. They’re like Philadelphians and our cheesesteaks.

    Stephanie, I’m a huge fan of venison in chili. Haven’t had a chance to do buffalo, though they do have it at the West Side Market. Might get some next time I’m there.

  4. Wow, some serious chile powder envy going on here. I’ve never seen such a selection! Yum!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m glad to have the difference pointed out. Here, we can only find chili powder–and I could do without the additives. Chile powder would be greatly preferred!

  5. Genie, check the link. I’m pretty sure they do mail order. If this is your first time with chile powder, I’d recommend ancho for mild and chipotle for hot.

  6. I’m so glad you brought this up! To me, it is an important topic worth discussing. I just love chiles.

  7. Stephanie says:

    Drew, I checked the link for Urban Herbs. I’m now totally addicted and I’m trying to figure out a way to convince my husband that I must buy all the beans, curry herbs and salt they carry. “But honey, I need the Pink Hawaiian Salt.”

  8. That’s a lot of chili powders!

    Happy New Year!

  9. Meryl, global warming is “important”. This is just interesting. That’s what I tell myself to keep from becoming one of “those people” at parties.

    Stephanie, please convey my apologies to your husband. And by the way, have you ever tried any of the “gourmet” salts? Besides iodized table salt, I’ve used kosher, popcorn and sea salt. Other than the size of the flake I can’t tell a difference. (Probably because they’re all basically the same thing.) I suspect salt snobs are like wine snobs, just in it for the fashion.

    Biz, yes it is. And Happy New Year to you, too.

  10. You really can’t tell the difference in the salts? Do you taste it raw or in food? Personally, I think sea salt in pasta water tastes more like the sea… Iodized (Morton) salt just tastes “salty.” Wait a sec… going to kitchen to taste again… ok, the Morton and the sea salt tasted alike! But I’m going to cook some pasta soon and use Morton and test my taste buds again!

  11. Anonymous says:

    whoops for the red hot chili peppers then.


  12. Barb, make sure you do a blind taste test or it won’t be valid. (I think I’m mostly kidding.)

    Anon, ooh, you’re right. I’ll bet they’d be so embarrassed. :-/

  13. Anonymous says:

    Great clarification on the chile or multiple chili…

  14. Stephanie says:

    Drew, It’s not so much as being a salt snob, as opposed to being a Hawaii snob. Case in point, the lengths I go to for coffee. Green 100% Kona coffee beans shipped from an organic farm on the Big Island. My favorite honey is lehua honey. Macadamia nuts are the best gifts to give. I actually almost went to college there.
    OK, that was off topic. :)

  15. Oh, you almost went to college there. Then you almost have a reason to be a snob about it. 😀


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