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Substitute for Cayenne Pepper


Cayenne pepper is an essential ingredient in any spicy dish; you’ll find cayenne listed as an inclusion from soups to sauces. So, what happens when you’ve used the last of it and forgot to purchase a new bottle? Check out the list below and pick the best substitute for cayenne pepper to use when cooking.

tabletop with spaces labeled cayenne pepper

What is cayenne pepper?

Cayenne pepper is a pepper that comes from the nightshade family. Technically, these peppers are the fruit that grows on the capsicum anuum plant. This plant is related to both bell peppers and other chili peppers. It can produce both spicy and sweet fruits depending on which strain the peppers are growing on.

Cayenne is thought to have originated in Cayenne, which is located in French Guiana. Their location of origin is why the peppers are named so. These peppers are typically bright red and are most often used as a spice. Cayenne peppers are dried and then pulverized, providing the well-known red seasoning.

Ground cayenne peppers provide a hot, subtle, earthy flavor to dishes when it is used.

What types of cayenne peppers are there?

Most people think of the standard type of cayenne peppers when the name is brought up. These are the peppers that are dried and used to create the spice. You might be surprised to find out that many different varieties range in color from yellow-green to bright oranges, yellows, and reds.

Most cayenne peppers are grown in the US, with one variety produced in Italy and another in Indonesia. Like their colors, they range in heat levels as well. Expect to see peppers that are sweet, mild, and medium levels of spiciness. These are not the hottest peppers grown; moderate heat can be expected as the highest level of heat they produce.

A few cayenne peppers include cayenne carolina, cayenne long slim, and cayenne ring of fire.

Cayenne Pepper Substitutes and Alternatives

1. Spicy Paprika

There are multiple different varieties of paprika, ranging from sweet to spicy and smoky. While you can use sweet and smoked paprikas as cayenne pepper substitutes for their red color, they do not add the heat that cayenne powder provides.

Hot paprika brings both spiciness, earthiness, and a similar red color to dishes. Out of the paprika varieties, this offers the closest alternative.

Pros
Hot paprika adds both heat and red color to dishes. When using paprika, you’ll have a similar taste, and it can be used in most dishes that you would typically be using cayenne. Paprika is also relatively easy to find when at the store.

Cons
This spice has less heat than cayenne pepper powder. You’ll need a more significant amount of seasoning to get a similar hit of spiciness.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 2:1 ratio when subbing hot paprika for cayenne powder.

2. Red Chili Flakes

Red Pepper flakes also work as a substitute for cayenne pepper. They provide an excellent amount of heat. The texture of red pepper flakes offers quite different than cayenne powder. Red pepper flakes have a roughness to them – they are created from the dried seeds and dried skins of one type of chili pepper.

Red chili flakes are not to be confused with red pepper flakes which have a similar texture and process of creation. Red pepper flakes consist of multiple chili peppers combined. These flakes don’t incorporate well into sauces or soups and are better used to replace cayenne pepper when used as a topping.

There are multiple versions of chili flakes – all from different types of peppers.

Pros
Red chili flakes add a similar amount of heat to recipes as cayenne pepper would. They work as an excellent alternative when used as a topping for food items.

Cons
As red chili flakes derive from different chili peppers, the heat can vary. If you have multiple versions, it can be tricky figuring out how many of the bits to use without making the food too spicy. The uses are also quite limited for red chili flakes since they are best as a garnish.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ½ the amount you would use of cayenne pepper and increase as needed.

3. Hot Sauce

Hot sauce is another substitution for cayenne pepper that provides a good source of heat to dishes. It works in a pinch when your dish lacks spiciness. However, most people have a hot sauce that incorporates additional spices that can change the taste of your recipe.

I recommend using Tobasco or a similar hot sauce. This specific hot sauce only includes red peppers, salt, and vinegar. Of course, the vinegar will alter the flavor as well. Though, you can be sure there aren’t competing spices.

Tobasco works well with sauces, soups, and even egg salad sandwiches. However, hot sauce does not work well as a topping or garnish due to its liquid nature.

Pros
Hot sauce adds an excellent bit of heat to dishes that you include it in. It works well if you’re only seeking a way to increase spiciness in your dish. Use it for your favorite chili recipe for a perfect pop of spice.

Cons
While most recipes can work with hot sauce as a substitute, it can’t be used to top deviled eggs. Hot sauce (especially Tabasco) provides vinegar flavoring to recipes. Double-check that your flavors mesh well with your hot sauce before adding it in.

Cooking Tip:
Use ½ tablespoon of hot sauce for every tablespoon of cayenne pepper in your recipes.

4. Jalapeño Powder

Jalapeño powder is created from fresh peppers that are dried and ground. It works as one of the substitutions for cayenne pepper powder since it is also made from a spicy pepper and ground into a powder. Jalapeños are much less spicy than cayenne and are green in color instead of red.

Jalapeño powder works to liven up any dish and can be substituted for most cayenne pepper recipes. Plus, it’s easy to make this powder out of ground chili peppers at home.

Pros
Jalapeño powder works well when you’re avoiding cayenne pepper because of the heat level. It’s also a versatile powder that can be used for nearly any dish that uses cayenne pepper.

Cons
The color and level of heat provided by jalapeño powder are much different than that of cayenne powder. For those seeking spiciness that matches cayenne powder, this is not a good swap. However, you can use extra powder to increase the heat.

Cooking Tip:
Use a 1:1 ratio if you have a low heat tolerance or a 2:1 balance if you want a closer heat level.

5. Chili Powder

Chili powder works as perfect alternative to cayenne pepper. It adds bright color to the dish and extra smoky flavor. It’s might lacks a bit of spiciness but works great as substitute in many dishes.

Pros

You can easily find almost at any grocery store or most likely it’s already in your pantry.

Cons

Lacking some spiciness.

Cooking tip:

Use a 1:1 ratio, add spice gradually to make the dish suited for your taste buds.

FAQs

What can I use in place of cayenne pepper?

Some multiple spices and seasonings can be used as a replacement for cayenne pepper. A few of the top options include spicy paprika and red chili flakes. They both add heat to any dish.

Is cayenne pepper and paprika the same thing?

No, cayenne pepper and paprika are not the same. While both spices share a similar color, there are a few differences between each of these spices. Cayenne pepper powder is created from one chili pepper, while paprika is made from multiple peppers.

Is cayenne pepper really spicy?

Hot peppers are rated using the Scoville scale to differentiate and rate the spiciness of each. Cayenne peppers are generally at 30,000-50,000 SHU for heat. This is a moderate temperature. As a comparison, jalapeños sit at 2,500 – 8,000 SHU. Some of the hottest peppers, like ghost peppers, can go over 1 million SHU.

Is cayenne pepper and cayenne chili pepper the same?

Yes, cayenne peppers and cayenne chili peppers are the same things. One is an extended version of the name, though they are the same food item.

Summary

Cayenne pepper is a fantastic spice for adding heat. However, it’s not the only option you can elect. Hot paprika will provide the closest flavor and color in dishes, so opt for this choice when you want a reasonably good match.

Those who want less heat should use jalapeño powder. It still works well with many cayenne pepper dishes. Still can’t find a suitable alternative? Use chili powder as a way to bring spice to a dish. Choose a cayenne pepper alternative from above to take your dish from bland to spicy in a few seconds. Try them all and see which works best with your favorite meals.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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