Cayenne pepper has a strong flavor profile and does bring a mild or dull recipe to life. The spicy seasoning is widely used in Mexican and Indian cuisines to bring intense heat to a dish.
Cayenne pepper is a popular spice that adds both flavor and heat to your dishes. Its origin can be traced back to Central and South America, but it is now widely used in various cuisines around the world. You’ll find that it has a distinct flavor, heat level, color, and can be used in both fresh and dried forms.
The flavor of cayenne pepper can be described as pungent and slightly fruity. While it is primarily known for its heat, it also brings a subtle earthy taste to your dishes. This makes it a versatile ingredient when you want to add depth and warmth to your recipes.
The heat level of cayenne pepper, measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. To put this into perspective, a jalapeño pepper falls between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU. This means that cayenne is significantly hotter than jalapeños but not as hot as some other chili peppers like ghost peppers or habaneros. When using cayenne pepper in cooking, be mindful of the heat level and adjust the amount according to your spice tolerance.
Cayenne pepper has a vibrant red color, making it a visually appealing spice as well as a flavorful one. The bright hue adds a pop of color to your dishes and can often be a sign of the pepper’s freshness. As the pepper ages, the color may fade to a rusty brown.
When purchasing cayenne pepper, you may find it in dried forms such as whole dried chilies, flakes, or a finely ground powder. Dried cayenne pepper retains its flavor and heat quite well, making it a convenient option for long-term storage and easy incorporation into your meals.
It’s pretty easy to get hold of in your local grocery store, however, some just so happen that they’re sold out or they don’t stock them.
Maybe this isn’t the case and crazy heat isn’t your thing and you’re looking for an alternative that will add something to the recipe but not overpower it.
Whether you’re a spice amateur or you’ve just run out of your favorite ground cayenne pepper, you’ll be able to find suitable replacements so your recipe doesn’t have to suffer.
If you’re looking for a good alternative to using cayenne pepper in your recipes then you’re in the right place as we’ll be guiding you through some of the best substitutions right here.
Substitutes for Cayenne Pepper
Paprika is readily available at all grocery stores and brings more of a smoky flavor than intense heat to any dish.
It’s made from chili peppers and is available in various heats, so you’ll be able to find one that is suited to your spice capacity.
Anything labeled ‘hot paprika’ will be able to replicate the heat of cayenne pepper as closely as possible.
Paprika is similar to cayenne pepper in color and texture so you’ll achieve the same appearance to your food as you would by adding cayenne pepper.
Paprika originates from Hungary but is now widely used across the entire world and in various cuisines.
Paprika contains some antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin which helps to prevent damage to your eyes. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties which will help reduce swelling or pain in your body.
Red Chili Flakes
Red chili flakes are also widely available in most stores and they’re pretty much a coarser and slightly milder version of cayenne pepper powder.
However, most households will always have a shaker of red chili flakes in their kitchen even if they only use a little bit to spice up their recipes.
Red chili flakes are made by drying and crushing red chili peppers instead of grounding them to achieve a powder.
As we said, red chili flakes are not as spicy as cayenne pepper, so you’ll need to add nearly twice the amount of chili flakes that you would cayenne pepper to achieve that mind-blowing heat in your mouth.
Whilst chili powder is not as hot as cayenne pepper, it will still be a decent substitute. The powder is made from dried chili peppers that have been ground.
Sometimes chili powder is made from darker red peppers that also get smoked beforehand, this will give your chili powder a distinct taste and smell, so make sure you try it out beforehand before it completely alters your recipe.
If you’re going to use chili powder as an alternative to cayenne pepper, then equal the measurement as if you were putting cayenne pepper into a recipe.
Chili powder is also a secret ingredient for weight loss as it contains capsaicinoids which increase the body’s energy expenditure and it also causes you to eat more slowly, therefore you’ll know when you are full from eating sooner.
Gochugaru is hugely popular in Korean cooking and is made up of coarsely ground red pepper flakes.
It has a distinct smoky flavor to the flakes which are quite different from cayenne pepper so may alter the taste of your recipe slightly.
It has a bright red coloring that will add some vibrancy to any creamy or dull-looking dish.
Gochugaru does offer a similar heat level as cayenne pepper, so is one of the best alternatives to use if you don’t have any in your house.
Gochugaru is more difficult to get hold of in grocery stores but can be easily found in Asian grocery markets or bought online.
It’s normally sold in bulk as gochugaru is a popular ingredient in many Korean dishes so chefs like to have as much as possible to hand. If you’ve never tried gochugaru before, then you should try out kimchi so you can get a real taste of the flavor profile.
You should use the same amount of gochugaru in a recipe that you would cayenne pepper.
If you’re lucky enough to have your own plant patch or pots in or around your home, then you should try to grow your own jalapeno peppers so you can ground your own jalapeno powder.
Admittedly, this is a long-winded process and won’t yield immediate results, but you’ll be rewarded with fresh jalapeno peppers and the satisfaction of knowing that you grew them yourself.
Once you’ve dried out and grounded your peppers, you’ll be able to keep them for a long time and will prevent you from having to go to the store to buy any for a while.
All you need to do is cut and slice your jalapeno peppers, making sure to remove the seeds and then put them in the oven on low heat for 12-16 hours until they are brittle.
You can then put them in a blender, grinder, or pulsar until it reaches your desired consistency.
If you want to replicate the hot, smoky flavor of cayenne pepper then you should try out chipotle powder.
There are many varieties of chipotle powder available and they can be easily found in local grocery stores down the herbs and spices aisles.
Chipotle peppers and powder are insanely popular in Mexican cuisine and its popularity has made it one of the best spices for achieving high levels of heat in recipes.
If there’s one thing you will most certainly have around your kitchen (we hope anyway!) is black pepper.
Black pepper is a milder substitute for cayenne pepper but it will still add some kick to a recipe, especially if you’re generous when mixing it in.
Black pepper can be easily found in grocery stores and should if not already, be an essential ingredient that you always have to hand in your kitchen. Black pepper should be a go-to ingredient for every single dish that you cook.
Even if it can’t bring the heat levels that cayenne pepper does, black pepper is not to be underestimated and will still bring life to your recipe.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate heat into your recipe if you don’t have cayenne pepper is by using a spice mixture.
Some of these spice mixtures may already contain cayenne pepper, which will then allow you to really spice up your recipe.
However, some will not contain cayenne pepper but will contain numerous other spices like chili powder, paprika, curry powder, and more all within one jar or packet.
A spice mixture is one of the best ways to produce a well-rounded spicy recipe as it contains so many different profiles.
However, some spice mixtures will be suited for certain recipes more than others, for example, some are specially made for Indian cuisines to make things like dahl or curry whereas some are made for Mexican cuisines for fajitas or tacos.
Check the ingredients list before adding to a recipe to make sure the spices inside will be suitable for your recipe.
If you’re struggling for ideas and have little to no alternative spices in your cupboards, then you could use whatever hot sauce you have to replicate the heat of cayenne pepper.
A few dashes of a sauce like tabasco will amp up the heat of your recipe in an instant. However, as tabasco is a liquid it may not be well suited for recipes that require dry spices to be added to the dish.
If you don’t have any tabasco in your home, you could always buy another type of hot sauce, but be careful that the sauce doesn’t have other ingredients that will completely alter the profile of your recipe.
On your next visit to your local grocery store, browse through the selection of hot sauces and pick one out. You can always use hot sauce as a dipping condiment for parts of your meals.
Serrano peppers are also ideal for replicating the heat profile of cayenne pepper. Serrano peppers are becoming a lot easier to find in grocery stores nowadays however serrano pepper powder is not.
So you can either dice, and de-seed your serrano pepper and add it directly to your recipe, or you can follow the dehydration method and ground the peppers to create a powder.
If you’re feeling dangerous, then you could always opt to try Thai peppers in replacement for cayenne pepper in your recipes.
You’ll probably have to search for them in International grocery stores as they’re quite difficult to come across, but they’re worth it if you’re a lover of spice.
Thai peppers offer double the heat levels of cayenne pepper, ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units. So if you do want something that’ll make your dinner guest’s eyes go wide, then Thai peppers are one to try.
If you’re shy of spice and cayenne pepper is pushing your limits as it is, then it’s best to stay away unless you want to risk setting your insides on fire.
What sorts of recipes can you make with cayenne pepper and its alternatives?
- Spicy Fish Tacos
- Bloody Mary Cocktails
- Detox Lemon Water
- Blackened Chicken
- Hot Chili Pepper Truffles
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cayenne pepper and paprika the same?
Despite similarities, cayenne pepper and paprika are not the same. Both are made from chilies that are dried and ground into powder. Both are a vivid red in appearance, and both are used to spice up dishes.
However, cayenne powder is made from dried cayenne peppers, whereas paprika is made of dried red capsicum peppers. This means that cayenne is generally much spicier than paprika. Paprika has a sweeter taste, and cayenne is more immediately fiery.
There is ‘hot paprika’ available, which is a blend and generally contains cayenne. This makes a better substitute, although there’s great variety depending on the blend used.
If you want to substitute paprika for cayenne, then you can use more to add a spicier kick. The flavor match won’t be exact, but both add a hit of heat and a depth of flavor to improve a dish.
Can you use cumin instead of cayenne pepper?
You can’t use cumin in place of cayenne pepper, but you can use spice mixes as a quick substitute and these often contain cumin. Cumin is a spice that adds warmth and an earthy flavor to a dish, rather than heat.
Cayenne has a similar earthy flavor, but a much greater heat level. By replacing cayenne with cumin you lose out on the fiery power that cayenne brings. Cumin is also brown, whereas cayenne is red, so the appearance of the dish would be altered.
Cumin is a popular ingredient in a variety of spice mixes, and these can be used as substitutes. If you want to tone down the heat level, you may choose to add cumin instead of cayenne. This will give a similar earthiness, but use it sparingly. Too much cumin may alter the taste of the dish entirely.
Can you use red pepper instead of cayenne pepper?
Yes, you can use red pepper flakes as a substitute for cayenne pepper, but they don’t generally have the same heat level. If you want to make this substitution, you may need to double the amount of red pepper flakes.
There are a few other differences to take into account. Red pepper flakes are made from peppers that are dried and crushed. This gives them their large, flaked appearance. Cayenne peppers are dried and ground to make a powder, making them much finer in comparison. For most dishes this difference won’t matter, but it’s worth taking into consideration.
One advantage to using red pepper flakes is that many of us use them regularly, so you know the spice level. Red pepper also won’t do much to alter the flavor of a dish other than the spiciness, perfect for complicated flavor profiles.
What is the difference between cayenne pepper and chili powder?
Chili powder is made from a blend of dried and ground chili peppers, whereas cayenne pepper is just ground cayenne. This gives a different flavor, and a different heat level.
There’s a great variety to be found in chili powder, ranging from the very mild to the much spicier. Cayenne pepper, on the other hand, is exclusively fiery. Sometimes chili powder is made using smoked chilies, giving it a distinct taste.
This can cause problems when used in a delicately balanced dish. Chili powder can make a good substitute for cayenne pepper, but it’s best to add slowly and taste regularly. Especially if you’re unsure of the heat level of your chili powder.
For a milder chili powder you may want to add more than you would cayenne pepper. However, be careful not to overwhelm the dish with other flavors.
Our Best Substitute For Cayenne Pepper
- Red Chili Flakes
- Chili Powder
- Jalapeno Powder
- Chipotle Powder
- Black Pepper
- Spice Mixture
- Hot Sauce
- Serrano Pepper
- Thai Peppers
- Try our kitchen tested cayenne pepper substitutes.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.