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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. Gochugaru

Gochugaru is a blend of red peppers that have been dried and crushed into flakes. It’s similar to red pepper flakes, except its makeup is of peppers derived from Korea. Most commonly, chefs use it to create Kimchi – spicy, pickled Korean cabbage.

You’ll find this swap to provide a similar spiciness as cayenne pepper in recipes. However, you will notice a difference in texture since it is in flake form instead of powder form. Because of this, it is not suitable for every recipe.

Another noticeable difference is the smoky flavor provided by gochugaru. This may be more apparent in some dishes than others. You will find that gochugaru and cayenne pepper both share an earthy flavor, though.

Pros
Gochugaru easily matches the heat level provided by cayenne pepper, unlike other alternatives.
This replacement works well in soups and stews as the texture is not as noticeable.

Cons
If you don’t live near a Korean market or shopping area, this swap may be tricky to get your hands on. As noted, the texture is coarser than cayenne powder, and there is a smoky flavor, so it will not work well with all recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use in a 1:1 ratio when replacing cayenne pepper.

6. Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is a replacement that can work in a pinch. As its flavor differs from that of cayenne, it limits the number of recipes. While it does provide a similar earthy taste, it also has a smoky, complex flavor.

This powder is created by crushing smoked and dried jalapeños into a powder. You will find this swap to provide a good amount of heat to dishes. The heat level is also much lower in chipotle powder. This is a good alternative if you’re looking for less spice in a recipe.

Pros
Chipotle powder is relatively easy to find at the store. It also provides a similar earthy taste to dishes.

Cons
This powder substitute is much lower on the heat level, making it an imperfect swap. If too much is added, the smoky taste can overwhelm the recipe. Also, the smoky flavor does not incorporate well into all dishes.

Cooking Tip:
Start with ½ the amount requested in the recipe and adjust as needed.

7. Black Pepper

Black pepper works well as a substitute because it is readily available in your kitchen. However, there is a difference in spice levels, with cayenne being much hotter. Black pepper also does not add the same vibrant red color to dishes that cayenne does.

This pepper is versatile; you’ve likely seen most, if not all, savory recipes list out black pepper as a seasoning ingredient. It has a woody, subtle flavor that meshes well with nearly every type of cuisine.

A higher quantity will need to be incorporated of black pepper to mimic the level of heat. This will require a delicate balance as too much black pepper creates a bitter, unpleasant taste in recipes.

Pros
You likely have black pepper already, either in peppercorn form or ground. It adds heat to dishes and can be used in every savory recipe.

Cons
Even though black pepper adds heat, it’s a much lower amount than cayenne pepper adds. It also does not provide the pretty red color that appears when using cayenne.

Cooking Tip:
Start with 1.5x the amount requested and adjust accordingly by adding in small quantities at a time.

8. Thai Pepper

Thai peppers can also work as a replacement. These peppers are known to be very hot (2x as hot as cayenne peppers). When using Thai pepper, it’s important to take the necessary precautions. This includes using gloves when touching the pepper directly and keeping hands away from the face/eye area until you remove the gloves and wash your hands.

You can also avoid using the above precautions by purchasing Thai pepper powder. You’ll still want to be careful to avoid your eyes if you have some on your hands (as with any spicy powder).

You can purchase red Thai peppers to mimic the red of the cayenne pepper in dishes. Expect Thai peppers to provide a fruity, somewhat sweet heat to recipes.

Pros

With a similar color and a good amount of heat, Thai peppers can work well as a replacement.
Cons

Both the pepper and the powdered version may be difficult to find at stores. It’s very easy to add too much Thai pepper into a recipe, making it too spicy to eat.

Cooking Tip:
Start with 1/8 the amount requested in the recipe and increase very slowly to desired heat.

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 her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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