It's likely that you have seen different spellings for the word "chile," including "chili" and "chilli." Are these words referring to the same thing or do they all mean something different? While it is confusing, you're not alone. It's a common question that has actually fueled many arguments over the subject. The difference may depend on what you are talking about—is it the Capsicum pepper? Or the bowl of spicy ground meat? It also may have to do with where you are because different countries and regions use different spellings.
The Short Answer
There are many accepted versions and the dictionary lists the main three: chile, chili, and chilli. However, the term "chile" with an "e" is considered the correct way to spell it according to die-hard hot pepper fans. They believe "chili" only refers to the meat dish while "chile" is the pepper.
Chile with an "e" at the end is the most common Spanish spelling in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It is also used in some parts of the United States and Canada when referring to the spicy pepper. The plural is "chile" or "chiles."
In the American Southwest, "chile" is also a condiment made from either the red or green pepper. This is popularly used as a hot dog topping to create chile dog. Although the spelling is the same, the South American country of Chile has no relationship with the chile pepper.
Chili with an "i" at the end is the Americanized version. This version began with the name of the dish carne con chili meaning "meat with chile," referring to the popular spicy meat and bean stew. That evolved into chili con carne and was then shortened to just "chili." Many Americans use "chili" to refer to the pepper as well, though.
The term ending with an "i" is also used when referring to a hot dog topped with chili con carne, or the chili dog. This is well-loved throughout the U.S. but much different than the Southwest's chile dog.
The third version, "chilli," is the preferred spelling in Britain. It's also used in other countries, including Australia, Singapore, India, and South Africa, to name a few. The double "l" and "i" date back to the Romanization of the language. The plural is "chillies."
Other Accepted Spellings
To add to the confusion, there are additional spellings of "chile" out there. You may come across "chilly," " chilie," or "chillie" when reading about this spicy fruit.
Chili Powder vs. Chile Powder
There is also a distinct difference between the spices labeled as chili powder and chile powder. Generally, if a container says "chili powder," you're buying ground, dried chile peppers mixed with other spices. "Chile powder," on the other hand, should be nothing but dried chile peppers.