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Homemade Trials

The Homemade Trials: Chili Powder

by Nick

 

By weight, I’m pretty sure spices are some of the most expensive things in the grocery store.  Normally, I just suck it up and buy them because there’s no way I’m going to go foraging for my own coriander seeds.

But there are a handful of spices that I regularly make at home.

At the top of the list for me is chili powder.  I almost never buy the stuff these days because I’ve found it pretty easy to make.

That said, I thought I’d send chili powder through The Homemade Trials and try to figure out if it really makes sense to make it or if buying it is the way to go.

As always with the homemade trials, I broke it down for TIME, COST, NUTRITION, and TASTE.

Homemade Chili Powder

Honestly, there is no one recipe that I use for chili powder.  What I normally do is just pick up a few different kinds of dried chilis at the store.  For the version I made for this post I used just normal New Mexico chilis and also a handful of slightly hotter Arbol chilis.

Once you have your chilis picked out, just bake them at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes to bring out the flavors and dry them out even more.  Then let them cool and process them into a powder.  I like to use a spice grinder for this, but you can also use a mortar and pestle if you’re going for a more rustic feel.

Time

It’s pretty much a no brainer who wins the category of time.

It takes me no time to purchase a small jar of chili powder.  Meanwhile, it takes me about 30 minutes to mix up a batch of it myself.

Now, if I wanted to get technical here I could argue that I can make a huge batch of chili powder at once and it would save me time over the long-run.  But, of course, you could also just go to the store and buy out the entire shelf of chili powder and you’d be set for years.

No matter which way you grind it, store bought chili powder wins the TIME category.

Cost

Cost was a bit hard to quantify because it’s hard to know exactly how much chili powder you’ll get out of the dried chilis.

Here’s my best estimation though.

For the store bought version, what I consider to be the average quality chili powder cost me $5.09 for 2.12 ounces.  That’s a cost of $2.40/ounce!  Now, of course there was a cheaper version, but not by much and those cheaper versions aren’t as flavorful.

When it comes to my homemade version, I was able to buy a huge bag of New Mexico chilis (5 ounces) for $1.99 and a large bag of Arbol peppers (1.5 ounces) for $1.99.

So I spent roughly $4 on 5.5 ounces of dried peppers.

Of course, you won’t get 5.5 ounces of chili powder out of that amount of peppers though.  I didn’t actually process all of my peppers into chili powder, but the only things that you can’t process are the seeds and the stems which are a pretty small percentage of the pepper weight.

I did process about half of the peppers and ended up with roughly 2 ounces of chili powder so I would estimate that out of the 5.5 ounces of dried peppers, I could get 4 ounces of chili powder.

That means that homemade chili powder runs $1/ounce.

For those that haven’t been following the homemade trials, that’s an insane price mark-up between the store-bought and homemade version.  The store bought version is more than double in price.

So yea.  COST goes to homemade for sure.

Nutrition

Nutrition is really tough to judge here for a few reasons.

1) The store bought version actually doesn’t have nutritional info listed.

2) Both of the versions are pretty similar although the store bought version does have some salt in it as well according to the ingredients.  So you could say that it’s less healthy due to sodium.  I didn’t add any salt to my homemade version.

That said, I’m calling NUTRITION a tie in this case.  There’s not enough of a difference between the two to get a winner.

Taste

This is a close homemade trials so far and it’s all coming down to taste.

The awesome thing about homemade chili powder is that you can completely customize it until you find a mix that you like.  You could try some dried chipotles, poblanos, or a dozen other kinds of peppers until you find a mix that works for you.

For this version, I thought the homemade version was a clear winner in taste.  I tasted both versions by themselves and this is what I noticed when I tasted them side-by-side.  The store bought version tasted basically like salt.  It has some flavor, but the main flavor component was salt.

Meanwhile, the homemade version is pure chili peppers.  It had a really deep flavor that’s savory and interesting.  Even though I only used two different kinds of peppers, the flavors were really complex.

An added benefit of the rich flavor of the homemade version is that you’ll actually need to use less of it to get a nice chili flavor to your dish.  A little goes a long way.

To me, flavor was a no brainer for the homemade version.

Conclusion

I think chili powder is a spice that you can and should be making at home.  The flavors are much more interesting and while it does take a half hour of your time, you’ll only have to do it probably once a year.

Once you get comfortable using a variety of chilis, the possibilities are pretty endless.

Plus, come on.  You’re really going to pay $2.40/ounce for what is essential a salt mixture?

We can do better than that, people.

Anybody make chili powder at home?  Leave a comment if you have any tips on good chilis to use!

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28 comments on “The Homemade Trials: Chili Powder

  1. Homemade is always better tasting, and doesn’t have the insane salt content other spices contain. Now I know what to do with the 3 bags of dried chilies I have!! I usually reconstitute them after stemming them for beef chili, but I’m intruigued to make my own chili powder now. Thanks Nick!

  2. I make most spice mixes from scratch, but for some reason, chili powder just never occurred to me. I will definitely give this a try! I love the idea of being able to customize my own mix.

  3. I make taco seasoning but have never tried to make chili powder. I order all my spices from Penzeys and their chili powder is so vastly superior to what’s in the average grocery store that I’ve always stuck with that. Now that we’ve moved to TX (from NJ), though, and things like dried peppers are both cheaper and more readily available I may have to try it!

  4. One year I had a huge abundance of chilies from my garden. I dried them all out in the oven at a really low temp for a while, and then ground them into a powder in my food processor. I gave little jars as part of my homemade Christmas baskets. It was a huge hit and really didn’t cost me much money, but it did take a little time. Also, the powder filled the air of my kitchen with spicey scent you could smell for a while and even made my eyes water. If I ever get an abundace of chilies again I would do this for sure, and even have my husband smoke them on his smoker first. Happy holidays !

  5. We always grind our own spices at home, be it chilies or garam masala powder and I have to say that there is a huge difference in flavor as compared to the store bought ones. And we can always adjust more or less of any spice as per our own personal taste :)

  6. I won’t buy grocery store spices such as the one you have pictured and others. I have made my own the same way you do except I add ancho chiles and maybe a serrano or two. I used to travel through New Mexico quite a bit, so, it was easy to pick up already ground chiles (No additives) and then mix to the flavor I was trying to achieve according to what I was making. Even buying the already ground chiles is still cheaper than purchasing store bought. And it is quicker than going to the store. So, in all categories homemade is the best. Here in Georgia one has to be mighty lucky to get the already ground chiles from NM. When I run out, I guess I will hit the web to find what I need. Or maybe, just maybe I can get back to NM. I would like to retire there.

  7. OK…so I’ve never thought about this but would like to try it. After you bake them to dry them out more, how do you get the seeds out before grinding them? Also, could I grind the chilis in a food processor??

    1. Getting the seeds out is super easy. After they are baked and cooled you can just crack them open and the seeds will just pour out or you can scoop them out with your finger.

      I’ve never tried it in a food processor but I worry that you wouldn’t get a very fine grind… I think you need a smaller grind that a coffee grinder or spice grinder can give you.

  8. Cilantro is actually pretty easy to grow, and it goes to seed pretty fast if you don’t pick the leaves quick enough. Then you can just let the plants die and dry out, harvest the dried seeds and crush them up and you’ve got coriander!

  9. I usually just toast my peppers with some cumin seed in a pan for a couple of minutes, that would save you on time.

  10. Wow, it never even occurred to me to make chili powder at home! I make homemade chili constantly during the winter, so I will need to try this! Particularly since I won your mortar and pestle giveaway a few months ago…It’s been used for many batches of pesto and guacamole, but not yet as a spice grinder!

    By the way…one of my friends just bought me a book for Christmas that you might be interested in, seeing as you home-make a lot of stuff that most people wouldn’t. It’s called “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter,” and the author goes through the pros and cons of making versus buying yogurt, hot dog buns, butter, etc. I’m only about 30 pages in so far, but it’s an interesting read!

  11. Hey Nick,
    While I’m positive homemade is still infinitely tastier, did you consider bulk spices? I buy most of my spices out of bulk bins, only as I need them (except I always keep chili powder on hand), and usually only pay 20 cents or so for what I need. I’m wondering about the cost comparison on something like that?

  12. I’m another homemade chili powder enthusiast. With spices a large portion of the price is for the small glass jar. Buying bags of chiles definitely cuts out that middle man. In general, spice stores like Penzey’s that offer spices in bags are an incredible cost saver.

  13. I’ve tried this a few times but haven’t come up with a favorite. My first several attempts included dehydrating my own chiles from our yard and the market. The results varied wildly in heat and taste. Some I couldn’t even use for the heat level and my family’s “sensitive” tastes.

    I need to try some of the dried ones like you did for more consistency, mine had too many variables.

  14. I have a huge bag of dried chilis I’d love to use up and I love that you’ve made your own powder. I’m sure the flavour is so much better and I love that you can customize to add in whatever you like best. Now, I just need a little spice grinder :)

  15. Your chili powder is just chiles. Most other mixes also have cumin, oregano and paprika in them.

    1. Really? I’m not sure about that… that sounds closer to like a taco seasoning or something. What brand are you looking at?

        1. Huh… okay. My version still tasted better I thought… you could add in the things you mention without too much extra time/cost/etc.

    2. Not quite. Chili (or chile) powder is simply dried, powdered chili peppers. Chili powder BLEND has cumin, oregano, garlic, and salt. Many “chili powders” bought in the store are actually chili powder blends, not true chili powder.

  16. Great site on making chili powder, thanks!

    I would like to add my twist on it. I make all of my own spice blends. Where I live in Canada we have a good Indian spice store and a good Latino Tienda.

    When I make a spice blend it is usually enough for 2 -3 dishes.

    My take on a good chili powder is:
    Traditional taste from chili peppers, cumin, garlic and oregano, plus additions to add complex flavors. Heat is easy, the challenge is to get good chili taste without burning mouths. ( I can take the heat, some I cook for can’t) Easy to add heat latter.

    My daughter ask me to cook with her for an upcoming charity chili cook off, here is the chili powder I will make:

    Homemade chili powder

    3 -5 kinds dried mild Mexican peppers such as:
    Anchos
    pasilla
    costeñas
    guajillos
    chiles de arbol

    6 tble of the above, ground
    2 tble Sweet paprika
    2 tble Cumin
    2 tble Coriander
    1 tble Mexican oregano
    1 tble organic garlic granulars
    1 -3 inch stick Cinnamon
    1 tsp Cardamom
    1/4 tsp Cloves
    1/2 tsp Mace
    ½ tsp Allspice
    1 tsp dry mustard
    ½ tsp dried Thyme
    ½ tsp dried Basil

    Method:

    De-seed and de-stem the peppers
    Roast peppers and all of the whole spices in a cast iron pan or oven until fragrant

    Grind all fine and blend with other ingredients

    A note on the garlic granulars:

    It is not a substitute for fresh garlic, it is a different spice with a different effect.

    I always use fresh garlic in my chili. I grow my own.

    When you make your chili, add the chili powder in stages. Always when you salute your onions, always some when you brown your meat, some during simmering and always some near the end.

    Question: Did you ever notice what all winners of world champion chili cook-offs have in common?

    Answer: They don’t know how to cook!

    They use this or that brand of chili powder
    This or that brand of canned stock
    This or that brand of canned tomatoes
    Msg and more msg

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