The Mystery of Chili Powder

When I see a recipe that calls for chili powder, it makes me wonder, ¿What brand of chili powder are they talking about? Yes, exactly what do they mean by chili powder? Actually, dried ground cayenne is one type of chili powder. Dried ground jalapeño is another type of chili powder. Beware, that’s probably NOT what the recipe author had in mind. The point here is I want to know which chili peppers and how much I’m using in a recipe, I do not want some mysterious blend of cayenne, sweet peppers, paprika, and sand.

If you want my advice, don’t buy anything called chili powder. The best chili powder I’ve found is not even called chili powder. It’s made by Yellowstone Seasoning based in Idaho Falls. Their Spicy Buffalo Blend was once offered at dining tables in Gardiner, Montana. I tried it on my fries, my buffalo burger, and wanted more, so I purchased a few bottles.

A couple years later, I was sitting in my kitchen in Emigrant, with my last jar of the Spicy Buffalo Blend wondering how I could get more of the stuff when it was gone. I had searched every joint in Gardiner, and nobody there was offering it any more. Sure, I could order directly from the company, but getting mail delivered in Emigrant was a tricky business. There was no regular mail delivery to my house, and I was uncomfortable with UPS because of prior bad experiences with them.

So I wondered, ¿Why not mix my own seasoning blend? Indeed. There was nothing preventing me, except that I had no spices on hand, and it was a long drive to the nearest grocery store.

I wrote my shopping list before I got to the grocery store, and decided I would need to purchase a spice grinder.

This is the Buffalo Blend recipe I came up with.

  • Bob’s Red Mill Sea Salt, 6 teaspoons
  • chipotle chili powder, 3 teaspoons
  • garlic powder, 3 teaspoons
  • onion powder, 3 teaspoons
  • ground cumin seeds, 3 teaspoons
  • ground black peppercorns, 3 teaspoons
  • ground celery seeds, 2 teaspoons
  • ground savory, 2 teaspoons
  • cayenne powder, 1 teaspoon

This recipe fits very nicely into an empty, used glass spice jar of 2.5 ounces. Ideally, every spice should be fresh ground, for the best flavor, but let’s be practical. Grinding 8 spices by hand is a real pain in the elbow. And the wrist. And some of these spices are not available un-ground. For instance, chipotle pepper is really smoked, dried jalapeño. ¿Who wants to process a fresh jalapeño into chipotle powder? Not me.

There are some people who think it’s cool to buy spices a gallon at a time. If you run a restaurant, go for it! If you’re a plain dude who lives with his mother, use some restraint. You don’t need a five year supply of spice blends, taking up space. Keep in mind that dried ground spices start losing flavor after they’re unsealed. Garlic and onion powders go stale rather quickly, say within 15 months.

You may want to adjust the recipe for your own taste. Let me suggest the most critical ingredients are the first two. Too much salt, and the other flavors will get lost. Too much chipotle will numb your taste buds and your throat.

My favorite way to use this spice blend was thus:

Take two large slices of fresh white Hutterite bread [¿And have you ever seen small slices of Hutterite bread?]. Spread each with mayonnaise or miracle whip, sprinkle on a liberal amount of the Buffalo Blend. Add fresh tomato slices, sweet onion slices, and sweet pepper slices, and serve as a sandwich.

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