Hey, buddy, I ancho chili powder. I ain’t nobody’s chili powder.
Because I cayenne-‘t help myself I had to start with a pun and for that, I apologize. I have a problem. I need jalapeño.
Ancho chili powder is the love child of poblano peppers and time. That’s it. Most of us are familiar with poblano peppers, which are named to honor their origination in the Mexican state of Puebla. In their unripened state poblanos are spade-shaped, about the size of a palm, and a deep forest green. They have a little bit of heat (but not a whole lot; on average, a jalapeño is about five times hotter), and are relleno great for stuffing. When poblanos ripen they turn dark red, almost black, and that is when poblanos are harvested for drying. By means of metamorphosis, poblanos turn into ancho peppers.
Anchos—the name simply means “wide”—undergo a change in character and flavor profile as they wizen. The drying process helps intensify the heat of the pepper, hence the dried product, both in whole dried form and pulverized into powder, is spicier than the pepper itself. Drying also teases out richer flavors in the pepper, contributing to anchos being described as sweetly smoky (but they are not smoked, and that’s important to note in pepper prep), with a hint of raisin. The ancho’s complex flavor provides a great base for things like sauces—I’m looking at you, mole—and enchiladas. And, happily, it’s a phenomenal pairing with chocolate, so if you’re looking for a little sweet heat it’s your go-to choice.
Because ancho powder is just ground-up pepper, it carries the same nutritional payload as a pepper. Capsaicin, the compound that gives a pepper its heat, has been shown to inhibit internal inflammation, aiding in the relief of things like arthritis. Spicy peppers can also help control cholesterol and act as an antioxidant, lowering risk of things like strokes and heart attacks. And the vitamin A and beta carotene in peppers shores up the ol’ immune system, the iron in the pepper helps keep red blood cells healthy, and there’s always a little boost of fiber (a little? One measly tablespoon of ancho powder has 4 grams of fiber, or 15% of the recommended daily allowance) to keep…other things…moving along.
Don’t confuse ancho chili powder with a standard chili powder, which can be a combination of available chili powders on hand (much like canned pumpkin can be any kind of bright orange squash, but I digress). If you want to bring a little spicy-sweet raisiny-ish powdered love to your dinner table, make sure it says “ancho”. Rub it on steaks. Roast some carrots in it. Turkey chili? Yes, please! But most of all, enjoy it!