If you have ever walked down the spice aisle of the grocery store, odds are you have found at least one or two types of chile powder. Paprika is widely used throughout Europe and the Americas. It is not spicy, but it gives a nice earthy flavor to whatever it is used on. Cayenne pepper is also common wherever you might go, as it is a simple way to add heat to a dish.

By grinding the chile pods into a powder, it increases the overall surface area immensely. This means that flavor compounds will degrade faster in a powder than a dried chile pod. The chile powder itself won’t go bad for a very long time, but the flavor will be less and less potent. This is the same for any spice, the whole spice can last years without large degradation, but powders should be replaced within a year or two.

People often will ask me how to use New Mexico chile powder, whether it is red or green, mild or extra hot. There are two schools of thought in this regard. Some people will say to use a lot of it and make a red chile sauce. This works well enough if you don’t have a blender, but it uses a lot of powder, and the sauce isn’t that difficult to blend up. My favorite way to use it is as a spice.

I have found that if you use it in a similar way to paprika or cayenne pepper, it provides a really nice addition to almost anything. You can calibrate it based on the heat of the chile and also your preference for the chile flavor. A lot will give a strong flavor, where a little may just give a slight tinge.

Powder is incredibly useful for this convenience. It takes a lot of time to grind up a chile pod into a powder, so having a small amount on hand to sprinkle on food is an excellent time saver. For a large amount, I would buy pods though, as you can always grind up more powder from them, and they last longer. If you want a decorative way to store your pods, chile ristras are great for that.

A full dish using dried chile isn’t too difficult to make if you have a blender. In this case, pods win out. If you are looking to add some flavor to a dish that is about to be served, the powder is a great choice.

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