Store-bought chili mixes often contain too much sodium and filler ingredients that don’t contribute meaningful flavor. A custom blend of pure herbs and spices is more piquant and satisfying. Many of the ingredients are common seasonings you likely have in your pantry already. Consider simple enhancements, such as toasting the spices and grinding them yourself, which can elevate a chili recipe from good to superb.
Dry chili powder is a blend of several mild chili pepper varieties, and it usually includes other seasonings such as garlic powder or oregano. It’s a suitable base ingredient in chili seasoning mix, but using a single-pepper chili powder, such as ancho chili powder or chipotle chili powder, yields a richer taste and allows you total control of the flavors in the mixture. Ancho chili powder is ground dried poblano peppers, which are mild to moderate in heat. Chipotle chili powder is ground dried jalapeno peppers, which are moderately hot. You can buy both single-pepper chili powders in most grocery stores.
In most cases, chili powder is the most abundant ingredient in chili seasoning mix. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per serving of chili you plan to prepare. Add cayenne pepper to make the mixture spicier. Incorporate ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to create a layered pepper flavor. Use about 1/4 teaspoon of each additional ingredient for each 1 tablespoon of chili powder in the mixture.
Pre-ground spices are fine for a chili seasoning mix. But spices that you toast and grind yourself have more dynamic, robust flavors. Toast whole spices only, such as dried cumin seeds, rather than their ground counterparts. The flavors of ground spices dissipate when you heat them. Though you shouldn't toast all of the ingredients in the seasoning blend, such as chili powder, it enriches the final product to toast the whole ingredients. Toast spices in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant, approximately one to five minutes, depending on the spice variety. Gently toss them while they toast to distribute the heat evenly.
Cumin, which has a sultry, earthy flavor, is standard in chili seasoning. Toasting cumin seeds before incorporating them in the mixture enhances their earthy quality and diminishes any bitterness. Coriander seeds, which come from cilantro plants, have a warm, nutty taste that complements cumin well. Some cooks include dried cilantro leaves or oregano in their chili seasoning. Onion powder and garlic powder are standard in chili to complement the dish’s diced onion. To create a more complex blend, consider unexpected spices, such as cinnamon and allspice, which share flavor qualities with more common chili ingredients such as cumin. The earthy, slightly spicy flavors of cinnamon and allspice complement the earthy notes in cumin and chili peppers.
Grind the mixture in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or pepper mill to reduce the varied ingredients to a well-incorporated blend of uniform particles. If you don’t have a grinder or mill, put the mixture in a resealable plastic bag and gently mash it with a blunt kitchen tool like a meat mallet or rolling pin.