Cayenne pepper is a popular type of chili pepper used to add heat and flavor to dishes. With its spicy-sweet flavor and vibrant red color, cayenne pepper is a versatile ingredient used in many global cuisines.
Read on to learn more about cayenne pepper, from its flavor profile to its heat level, and the best substitutes to use when you don't have it on hand.
What is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne pepper is a type of chili pepper belonging to the Capsicum annuum species. It originated in Central and South America and has now become popular worldwide.
Cayenne peppers are long, skinny, and generally between 2 to 5 inches in length. They are usually red in color but can also be found in yellow and orange. Inside the pepper are seeds surrounded by membranes. When dried, cayenne peppers turn a brownish-red hue.
The flavor of cayenne pepper can be described as spicy and slightly fruity, with hints of smokiness. The heat level ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units on the Scoville scale, making it moderately hot but not as intense as habanero or ghost peppers. The vibrant red color of cayenne pepper makes it visually striking in dishes.
Cayenne pepper is frequently used dried and ground into a powder. It can also be found dried whole or in a flake form. Dried cayenne pepper powder is convenient to store and integrates seamlessly into recipes when you want to add a spicy kick of flavor.
Best Cayenne Pepper Substitutes
If you've run out of cayenne pepper, don't worry! Here are some of the best substitutes for cayenne pepper powder or fresh cayenne peppers:
Paprika makes an excellent milder substitute for cayenne pepper. It provides more sweetness and smokiness compared to the heat of cayenne. Hot paprika offers a closer match to Cayenne's heat level. Since paprika is less spicy than cayenne, use double the amount in your recipe. Paprika mimics the color and texture of cayenne pepper powder.
Red Chili Flakes
Red chili flakes are a good alternative with a coarser texture than ground cayenne. They are made by crushing dried red chile peppers. Red chili flakes are milder than cayenne, so use 1 1⁄2 times the amount of flakes when substituting. If you want a fine powder, grind the flakes before adding them to your dish.
Chili powder contains a blend of ground chile peppers and spices. It is milder than cayenne pepper, so you can replace cayenne measure for measure. Be mindful of other seasonings in the dish, as commercial chili powder often contains extras like garlic powder.
Gochugaru is a Korean red pepper flake with a smoky flavor. It comes in fine powder or flake form. Gochugaru has a similar heat to cayenne pepper. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting gochugaru for cayenne. Grind it to a powder for a smooth texture.
Fresh chile peppers like serrano, Thai, or cayenne can substitute for cayenne powder. Remove the stems and seeds first. For every 1 tablespoon of cayenne powder, use around 1/3 ounce of chopped fresh peppers. Adjust the quantity based on the heat level of the pepper.
A few dashes of Louisiana-style hot sauce made with cayenne peppers can replicate the heat. Tabasco sauce works well. For 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder, substitute around 8 drops of hot sauce. Adjust to taste.
Jalapeño powder is made from ground dried jalapeño peppers. It provides a similar heat level to cayenne pepper, though jalapeño has more of a fresh, green pepper flavor. Use an equal amount when substituting jalapeño powder for cayenne.
Chipotle powder is made from smoked and dried jalapeños. It has a deep, smoky flavor that's not quite as hot as cayenne pepper. Use around triple the amount of chipotle powder to match cayenne's heat level.
Ancho Chile Powder
Ancho chile powder is made from the dried poblano pepper. It is milder than cayenne pepper but with a sweet, fruity taste. Use double the amount of ancho powder as a substitute for cayenne.
Aleppo Pepper Flakes
Aleppo pepper is another moderately hot red pepper. Aleppo pepper flakes can substitute for cayenne but may need to be used in greater amounts to match the heat level. Start with double the amount.
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Crushed red pepper flakes contain a mix of dried chile peppers. The heat level can vary. Use around 1 1⁄2 times the amount of red pepper flakes when substituting for cayenne pepper.
Harissa powder is a North African spice blend containing cayenne and other hot chilies. It has great heat along with bold, smoky flavors. Use the same amount as cayenne pepper.
Q: What is the best substitute for cayenne pepper powder?
A: Paprika and chili powder are two of the best substitutes for cayenne pepper powder. Paprika offers a similar color and appearance but is much milder. Use hot paprika for the closest match in heat level. Chili powder also works well but may have a more complex flavor from other spices in the blend.
Q: Can I use red pepper flakes instead of cayenne pepper powder?
A: Yes, you can use red pepper flakes as a substitute for cayenne pepper powder. They will be coarser in texture but provide a spicy kick of flavor. Use about 1 to 1.5 times the amount of red pepper flakes to match the heat level of cayenne pepper.
Q: Are fresh peppers a good cayenne pepper powder substitute?
A: Fresh peppers like jalapenos, serranos, and Thai chilies can substitute for cayenne pepper powder. Adjust the quantity based on the pepper's individual spice level. Remove seeds and dice the fresh peppers before adding them to recipes.
Q: What's the difference between cayenne pepper powder and chili powder?
A: Cayenne pepper powder is made from ground cayenne peppers only. Chili powder contains a blend of ground chile peppers and often other spices like garlic powder or cumin. Cayenne pepper also tends to be spicier than most chili powder blends.
Q: Can you use wasabi powder as a substitute for cayenne pepper powder?
A: Wasabi powder is not a recommended substitute for cayenne pepper powder. While it does provide a sharp, pungent heat, the flavor profile of wasabi is quite different from cayenne. Wasabi has a distinct horseradish-like flavor that would not suit most recipes calling for cayenne pepper powder. The green color of wasabi powder would also alter the appearance of dishes. It's best to use wasabi powder only when it is specifically called for in a recipe.
There are many great options to use in place of cayenne pepper powder. Good substitutes include paprika, chili powder, chili flakes, dried chilies, fresh peppers, and hot sauce.
Consider the flavor profile and level of spiciness you want when selecting an alternative.
Test small amounts at first to ensure the substitute provides the desired heat and taste.
With this guide, you can confidently replace cayenne pepper powder in your recipes. Explore different substitutes to find your favorites.