Cayenne Powder Versus Chili Powder: What’s The Difference?

Both bring the heat, but here’s how to distinguish between them.

If you love spicy food, you might be used to sprinkling cayenne and chili powder on your favorite recipes when cooking at home. Both lend a kick to boost flavor and can be bought in bulk for ease and convenience. However, they aren’t interchangeable, and there is a difference between cayenne powder and chili powder, which means knowing how they compare and how best to use each individually is essential. Here’s everything to know about cayenne and chili powder to make sure you’re using the right one.

Meet The Expert

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook

The Differences Between Cayenne and Chili Powder


When comparing cayenne powder and chili powder, it’s important to realize their origins differ as well as their ingredients. “Cayenne powder originates from Central and South America and is simply dehydrated and ground cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum),” says registered dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. In contrast, the origin of chili powder varies, and it’s often blended in North America.


Compared to single-ingredient cayenne pepper, chili powder often contains a blend of dried chili pepper, which can include cayenne and a mixture of spices, such as cumin, oregano, onion, and garlic powder, and salt. Cayenne pepper has a fine texture and intense heat. “Cayenne is much more potent and brings a more intense heat due to its concentrated pepper in comparison to the multiple flavors in chili powder,” Harris-Pincus explains. Cayenne and chili pepper are similar in texture; however, cayenne is generally finer than chili powder.


“Lastly, chili powder has a shorter shelf-life than cayenne because of multiple ingredients losing their potency over time versus cayenne’s single ingredient,” Harris-Pincus notes. Both will keep for a good amount of time when stored properly in a cool and dry place like a pantry or cabinet. As a rule of thumb, spices are best used within the first couple of months and up to a year past their expiration date when ground and not fresh for quality and taste.

Related: The Pantry Staple You Should Probably Replace Before The Holiday Season 

<p>Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox</p>

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Best Ways To Cook With Cayenne Powder And Chili Powder

Cayenne Powder

Be careful to avoid sprinkling too liberally when cooking and seasoning with cayenne powder. “With cayenne, a little goes a long way due to its heat intensity, and it’s great for marinades, hot sauce, curry, stir fry, and soups,” Harris-Pincus suggests. Here are a few of Harris-Pincus' favorite ways to use cayenne powder:

  • Sprinkle on eggs, like omelets and deviled eggs, or egg salad, as well as roasted veggies

  • Flavor your favorite bean dishes, like dips or hummus

  • Add a small kick to baked goods that are savory, such as cornbread, or sweet like chocolate cake

Chili Powder

Chili powder adds a more complex flavor to dishes with less intense heat and spice. Here are a few of Harris-Pincus' favorite ways to use it:

  • For chili, rubs for meat and fish

  • For Mexican cuisine including recipes for tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas

  • For soups, dips, and stews.

  • For adding warmth and depth of flavor to vegetarian meals and staples, such as canned beans or lentils, tofu, and whole grains 

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