Thai Chili Powder Vs. Chili Powder

For spice lovers, chili powder is an essential ingredient that can add flavorful heat to dishes. But there are different types of chili powder to choose from.

Thai Chili Powder Vs. Chili Powder

Two popular varieties are the intensely spicy Thai chili powder and the milder traditional American chili powder.

Both have their place in the kitchen, depending on the flavor profile and heat level you want.

What is Thai Chili Powder?

Thai chili powder, also known as prik bon (พริกป่น) in Thai, is a spice made from ground dried Thai chilis or bird's eye chilis. It is an essential ingredient in Thai cooking, used to add spiciness and flavor to dishes like soups, curries, stir-fries, and dipping sauces.

To make Thai chili powder, whole dried chilis are first roasted in a dry pan or oven until fragrant and slightly darker in color. This enhances their flavor. Once cooled, the chilis are then ground into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or blender.

Compared to other types of chili powder, Thai chili powder packs some serious heat. On the Scoville scale, which measures spice heat, Thai chilis can range from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Some Thai bird's eye chilis can reach up to 225,000 SHU, making them extremely hot!

In Thai cooking, Thai chili powder is valued for the spicy heat it provides. It is used both as an ingredient during cooking and as a condiment on the table, allowing people to adjust the spiciness of their food. Having a jar of homemade Thai chili powder on hand is essential for authentic Thai flavor.

How is Traditional Chili Powder Different?

Chili powder typically refers to the American/Tex-Mex blend of ground chili peppers and other spices like cumin, garlic powder, and oregano. This type of chili powder is used in classic dishes like chili con carne, tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas.

The chilis used in traditional chili powder are generally milder than Thai bird's eye chilis. Common varieties include ancho, pasilla, and New Mexico chilis, which range from 1,000-5,000 SHU. This makes traditional chili powder only mildly spicy compared to Thai powder.

While Thai chili powder is mostly just ground chilis, with little else added, traditional chili powder contains a mix of spices. The chilis make up only a small portion, usually with a ratio of 1 part chili to 7 parts other spices. This results in a more complex flavor profile compared to the straight heat of Thai powder.

So, in summary, the main differences are:

  • Heat level: Thai chili powder is much spicier and hotter than traditional chili powder.
  • Ingredients: Traditional chili powder contains a mix of milder chilis and other spices, while Thai powder is mainly composed of ground bird's eye chilis.
  • Flavor: Thai powder provides intense heat and chili flavor. Traditional chili powder offers a more balanced, nuanced spice blend.

Using Thai Chili Powder

Here are some tips for cooking with fiery Thai chili powder:

  • Start with small amounts and add more to taste. 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon is usually plenty for four servings.
  • Add it at the end of cooking versus simmering it for a long time, which can mellow out the flavor.
  • Pair it with coconut milk, citrus, and herbs like cilantro to complement the heat.
  • Use it in moderation in marinades, dressings, and dipping sauces. A little goes a long way!
  • Make a batch of Thai chili oil by combining the powder with a neutral oil like grapeseed or rice bran oil.
  • Mix it with salt or sugar to make a spicy dipping condiment for chicken, fish, and vegetables.
  • Include it in Thai curry pastes along with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, and other aromatics.
  • Sprinkle it over snacks like nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh or dried fruit for a spicy kick.

With its intense heat, Thai chili powder is best used in small amounts and handled with care. But when used properly, it provides an indispensable flavor that is integral to Thai cuisine. Start with less and add more until you achieve the desired spiciness in your dishes.

Cooking with Traditional Chili Powder

Compared to the intense heat of Thai chili powder, traditional chili powder offers a more subtle, slight kick of spice. Here are tips for using it:

  • Add it in the beginning when browning ground beef for chili, tacos, etc., so the flavor can bloom.
  • Use it along with cumin, paprika, and cayenne to make your own signature chili seasoning blend.
  • Make a spiced rub for meats by combining it with brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  • Stir it into tomato sauces and simmer for a while to let the flavor develop.
  • Whisk it into oil and vinegar for a bold salad dressing or marinade base.
  • Coat oiled popcorn with a sprinkle of chili powder and nutritional yeast for a spicy movie night snack.
  • Swirl it into sour cream or guacamole to add some zing.
  • Add it to breading or batter when cooking fried foods like chicken, eggplant, or zucchini.

With its blend of spices, traditional chili powder adds a warm, subtle heat and savory depth to dishes. Start with 1-2 teaspoons and adjust to taste. It pairs especially well with foods like beans, tomatoes, cheese, rice, and chicken.

Which is Better: Thai or Traditional Chili Powder?

Whether traditional or Thai chili powder is "better" comes down to personal taste and how you plan to use it.

For authentic Thai food and other Southeast Asian cuisines, the intense spicy heat of Thai chili powder is essential. It provides that special chili flavor expected in dishes like Thai curries, stir-fries, and dipping sauces.

Traditional chili powder works well when you want a more balanced, subtle heat that interplays with other spices. It's the right choice for making chili, enchiladas, tacos, rubs, and other American and Mexican favorites. The blend of seasonings also adds a depth of flavor.

If you love spicy heat, use Thai powder. For a milder, warmer kick of spice, go for traditional chili powder. Or keep both varieties stocked in your pantry so you can choose based on the dish and your personal heat tolerance.

When shopping, look for high-quality, fresh peppers and chili powders without additives for the best flavor. And consider making your own customized blends. With the right chili powder, you can infuse your cooking with just the right amount of heat and spice.


What are the health benefits of chili powders?

Chili powders contain antioxidants and can provide some health benefits when consumed in moderation. According to research, capsaicin, the compound that gives chilis their heat, may help reduce inflammation, cholesterol levels, and risk of diabetes and promote healthier weight management. As with anything, moderation is key as excessive spicy heat can cause issues for some people. Also, keep in mind that Thai chili powder is intensely hot, so use it sparingly.

What dishes pair well with chili powder?

Chili powder is very versatile. It can add flavor and mild to moderate heat to meats, vegetables, eggs, rice, beans, sauces, marinades, dressings, soups, stews, and more! It's especially well-suited for recipes that already contain complementary spices like garlic, cumin, and oregano. Some great options include chili con carne, stir fry, taco meat, enchiladas, fajitas, roasted vegetables, deviled eggs, and spicy salad dressings or marinades. Let the food you're making guide the type and amount of chili powder to use.

How do I tone down the heat of homemade chili powder?

If your homemade chili powder is uncomfortably hot, there are a few easy ways to reduce the heat level:

  • Use milder peppers, like ancho or pasilla, when making the powder.
  • Remove all or most of the seeds and membranes from hot peppers before grinding them. These contain most of the spicy capsaicin.
  • Adjust the ratio of hot peppers to other spices like cumin or paprika to dilute the heat.
  • Start with small amounts of powder and slowly increase to taste when cooking.
  • Balance the heat by including cooling ingredients like yogurt, lime juice, or avocado.

With a few simple tweaks, you can customize your homemade chili powder to achieve just the right amount of heat.


Thai chili powder and traditional chili powder each have their strengths depending on the dish you're making and your tolerance for heat. For intensely spicy Thai and Southeast Asian foods, the Thai powder can't be beaten. Its pure chili flavor and extreme heat are essential in those cuisines.

Traditional chili powder offers a more subtle warmth thanks to its blend of spices. It's right at home in classic American and Mexican foods. The best approach is to keep both varieties on hand. That way, your pantry is equipped no matter what you're cooking. With the right type of chili powder, you can give your food an extra kick of flavor and spice.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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