Need a Cayenne pepper substitute to finish your recipe? These 11 swaps cover ground powders, fresh peppers, and hot sauce, so you find the perfect Cayenne replacement for your dish.
Best Substitutes for Cayenne Pepper
The Cayenne spice is a red powder made from dried, ground Cayenne peppers. It’s a moderately spicy seasoning at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) used to brighten flavor and add a bit of heat to recipes.
The tricky part is knowing how much of the Cayenne pepper alternative to use so you get the right flavor and heat level. Here are my tried-and-true backups when you need to find a substitute for Cayenne pepper in your kitchen.
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Ground Cayenne Pepper Substitute Options
In my experience, hot paprika is the best Cayenne pepper powder substitute. Paprika isn’t as spicy as Cayenne, but it has a similar color and flavor as it contains a combination of dried red chili peppers, including the Cayenne pepper.
I recommend using hot paprika if you want some heat. Bottles labeled “Paprika” refer to standard sweet paprika made from dried, milder red chilies. Hot paprika is a better match to ground Cayenne powder in terms of heat level, and I love using it as a Cayenne pepper substitute in baking.
» Substituting Paprika: Use 2 times the amount as a substitute for Cayenne pepper powder
» Common Uses: sauces, baking, BBQ, chili, seafood
is cayenne pepper and paprika the same?
No, Cayenne pepper and paprika are not the same. Cayenne pepper powder is typically hotter, made from Cayenne pepper plant chilies. On the other hand, paprika (the sweet version) generally has a somewhat fruity flavor as it comes from a range of chilies like the Bell pepper.
2. Chili Powder
Chili powder (a.k.a chile powder) is another good option for replacing Cayenne pepper. This chili seasoning, made from different ground peppers and spices, offers a less spicy and sometimes smoky flavor.
Remember, Cayenne pepper is only made with Cayennes, whereas chili powder is a mix of red chilies and spices. When swapping chili powder for Cayenne pepper, do a taste test to verify added spices like garlic and oregano don’t seriously change the flavor of your dish.
» Substituting Chili Powder: Use a 1:1 amount as a Cayenne pepper substitute
» Common Uses: chili, sauces, marinades, dry rubs, fajitas
more on chili powder
If you don’t want a chili seasoning that has additional spices, look for a red chili pepper powder that matches the flavor and/or heat of Cayenne. For example, you can choose something mild like chile Ancho or Pasilla pepper powder, or opt for a Chiles de Arbol powder that has a similar heat to Cayenne pepper. You can also use Indian red chilli powder (Lal Mirch).
Found in Korean cuisine, gochugaru (Korean chili powder) is made of a variety of dried red peppers ground into flakes that have an earthy, slightly smoky taste. If you don’t mind the coarse texture and potential to add sweetness to your dish, gochugaru makes an excellent Cayenne pepper substitute.
» Substituting Gochugaru: Use equal amounts to replace Cayenne pepper
» Common Uses: kimchi, tofu, seafood bowls, stir frys, red pepper pastes
gochugaru vs cayenne texture
Gochugaru has a flaky consistency compared to the finer, powdery texture of Cayenne pepper. I like using a spice mill to grind down the chili flakes into a powder.
4. Red Chili Flakes
Red pepper flakes contain a variety of dried red peppers crushed into fragments of chilies and seeds. These flakes have a chunkier texture (compared to ground Cayenne peppers) and are commonly used to top pizza slices.
The heat level of red chili flakes is similar to Cayenne, but it has the potential to be slightly milder or hotter. Even though it’s one of the more comparable Cayenne pepper substitutes, do a taste test first to get the spice and flavor you want.
» Chili Flakes Substitute: Use 1 to 1.5 times the amount of red pepper flakes for Cayenne pepper
» Common Uses: glazes, sauces, marinades, pastas, dry rubs
cayenne pepper vs red pepper flakes
Cayenne pepper is made solely from Cayenne chilies. Red pepper flakes, on the other hand, include Cayenne and a variety of Capsicum annuum peppers like Jalapeno, Fresno pepper, and Anaheim [source]. (It’s also possible to get an extra spicy version where flakes include the Ghost pepper — it varies by product.) If the course texture of red pepper flakes (another main difference) is an issue, you can use a spice grinder to break it down.
Fresh Cayenne Pepper To Powder Conversion
Another option for substituting dried Cayenne flakes and powder is using whole Cayenne peppers. If you’re looking for a similar heat level, know that Cayenne pepper from a fresh pod is less potent — dried spices are three to four times more intense.
» Fresh Cayenne Pepper Substitute: Use 3 times more fresh Cayenne pepper than powder (e.g., 3 tsp fresh pepper for 1 tsp powder) and taste test from there
More Fresh Chili Pepper Options
If you have fresh peppers on hand, you can use different types of chili peppers as a Cayenne alternative. The following varieties can sub for dried spices and work as a fresh Cayenne pepper substitute. Choose an option that fits the flavor and spiciness you want (as a reference, Cayenne is 30,000 to 50,000 SHU).
» Fresh Chili Pepper Substitutes: Use at least 3 times more fresh chili pepper when replacing dried Cayenne powder. When substituting for fresh Cayennes, start with a 1:1 ratio and adjust to taste.
» Common Uses: salsas, hot sauces, guacamole, condiments, pickled peppers
5. Tabasco Pepper
Tabasco is the closest match (heat-wise) to the Cayenne. It’s also similar in flavor (see below), which makes this hot red chili the best substitute for fresh Cayenne pepper as you can use equal amounts.
tabasco vs cayenne pepper
Tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens) are juicier and smokier tasting, whereas Cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum) have a bright, peppery flavor.
6. Serrano Pepper
Use Serrano chilies when you don’t mind (or prefer) a pepper that doesn’t have as much spicy heat as Cayenne. Serranos also make an excellent green Cayenne pepper substitute for salsas and all kinds of green sauces.
cayenne vs serrano
Cayenne peppers can be five times spicier, while Serrano peppers (typically sold green) have thicker walls and a fresh, vegetal taste.
7. Jalapeno Pepper
Jalapenos are another green Cayenne pepper substitute, although they have a much lower heat level. (The Jalapeno Scoville ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU). If you’re not growing Jalapenos right now, you can usually get them at the store.
cayenne vs jalapeno
Cayenne peppers are potentially up to 12 times hotter than Jalapenos. Green Jalapenos have a juicy, grassy flavor, while red Jalapenos are sweeter and spicier.
8. Thai Pepper
The Thai pepper (Bird’s Eye chili) is a thin-skinned pepper that can be twice as hot as the Cayenne pepper at 50,000 to 100,000 SHU. It’s one of the best red chili alternatives for adding heat to curries and ground powder.
» Thai Pepper Substitute: Use equal amounts when replacing fresh Cayenne peppers and Cayenne powder, then adjust to your liking.
cayenne pepper vs thai chili
Cayenne peppers are larger and have a slightly smoky flavor compared to Thai peppers, which are smaller, hotter, and more earthy and fruity tasting.
Cayenne Pepper Sauce Substitute
Hot sauces can also substitute Cayenne pepper. Each sauce, however, has its own distinct flavor and heat. For example, a Louisiana type of hot sauce uses vinegar, which can influence the taste in recipes. The following list of common sauces work well as a Cayenne substitute.
(Hot sauce is one of my favorite backups for replacing fresh Cayenne peppers when a crunch factor isn’t required.)
» Cayenne Pepper Sauce Substitutes: Taste your hot sauce for flavor and heat, then use 1 to 2 times the amount of hot sauce to replace Cayenne pepper.
» Common Uses: dips, marinades, cocktails, dressings, stir frys
9. Frank’s RedHot
The first ingredient listed in Frank’s RedHot sauce is “aged Cayenne red peppers.” Although Frank’s RedHot Original sauce has a low heat (450 SHU), you’ll get more of the Cayenne pepper taste and way less of a vinegar flavor. Frank’s hot sauce is my top choice for substituting Cayenne pepper.
(If you’re like me and prefer more heat, check out Frank’s RedHot Xtra sauce which is about four times hotter at ~2,000 SHU.)
10. Tabasco Sauce
Made from aged red Tabasco peppers, distilled vinegar, and salt, Tabasco sauce is mild (2,500 to 5,000 SHU) on the hot sauce Scoville scale. This sauce has vinegar, so use Tabasco when you don’t mind a tangy flavor in your recipe.
tabasco vs cayenne pepper
Tabasco and Cayenne peppers, similar in heat, differ in hot sauce flavors: Tabasco sauce has a vinegary taste and natural smoky flavor, while Cayenne offers a more concentrated, earthy heat.
11. Crystal Hot Sauce
Crystal Hot Sauce, another Louisiana classic, is made from aged red Cayenne peppers and offers a medium heat level (~4,000 SHU). It can substitute Cayenne pepper, providing a sharp taste that is less tangy and more peppery.
Notes On Cayenne Pepper Substitutes
Here are some more tips on the Cayenne pepper and alternatives.
- Cayenne Pepper Alternative Name: Recipes calling for “ground red pepper” or “red chili powder” refer to pepper blends that include the Cayenne pepper.
- Green Cayenne Pepper Substitute: Some recipes call for a green Cayenne, which is the immature version of the red chili pepper. Use a fresh Serrano pepper or multiple Jalapenos when you need a green substitute for Cayenne pepper.
- Cayenne Pepper In Indian Food: Lal Mirch — a vibrantly red chilli powder used in Indian cooking — comes from dried, ground chillies that flavor curries, marinades, and dishes like tandoori chicken [source]. Mirch powder is flavorful and mildy spicy, with lower-heat versions like Kashmiri chilli powder. Use equal amounts (to start) when replacing Cayenne pepper.
- Cayenne Pepper Substitute In Baking: Dessert recipes, like cookies and pies, can include a pinch of Cayenne pepper to enhance flavor and add a subtle spice. For baking, I recommend paprika and gochugaru (if you grind it down) as substitutes. Use 1.5 to 2 times the amount as an alternative to Cayenne pepper.
- Fleshy Pepper Substitutes: When using chiles with thicker walls, such as Tabasco or Jalapeno, be aware that the extra moisture content can change the flavor. (This doesn’t matter as much if you’re making salsa or something similar.)
Is Cayenne pepper spicy?
Cayenne peppers contain an upper mid-level heat that ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). For comparison, the Cayenne is at least three times hotter than the Serrano pepper and about 12 times as hot as a Jalapeno.
Can you substitute Chipotle pepper for Cayenne pepper?
Chipotle powder is not the best substitution for cayenne pepper. Chipotle comes from Jalapeno peppers that are smoked and dried. This gives it a more earthy flavor that’s commonly used in barbeque dishes. Chipotle is also more of a brown color as opposed to the red color of Cayenne powder. All of these differences alter the flavor and appearance of the dish.
Is Cayenne pepper the same as curry powder?
No, Cayenne pepper is made up the dried and ground Cayenne chile. Curry powder is a blend of herbs and spices such as turmeric and cardamon.
Answering the question, What can I substitute for Cayenne pepper, you now have 11 swaps that cover ground, fresh, and sauce options. It helps to have a heat level and flavor profile in mind so you pick the best Cayenne pepper substitute for your recipe.
And, if you’re like me, you might not follow recipes to a T. 😉 Having lots of choices is always good. Buen provecho! (Enjoy your food.)
Print Cayenne Pepper Substitute List
Ground Powders & Flakes
- Tabasco Pepper
- Serrano Pepper
- Jalapeno Pepper
- Thai Pepper
GROUND POWDERS & FLAKES
- HOT PAPRIKA: Use 2x's the amount as a Cayenne swap. Notes: best ground Cayenne pepper substitute, similar flavor, color, not as spicy. Some Uses: sauces, baking, BBQ, chili, seafood
- CHILI POWDER: Use 1:1 amount as a Cayenne pepper substitute. Notes: Made from various peppers & spices - taste test first. Some Uses: chili, sauces, marinades, dry rubs, fajitas
- GOCHUGARU: Use equal amounts to replace Cayenne. Notes: Larger flakes, coarse texture, slightly sweet. Some Uses: kimchi, tofu bowls, seafood bowls, stir frys, red pepper pastes
- RED CHILI FLAKES: Use 1 to 1.5 times the amount of flakes for Cayenne pepper. Notes: Similar heat to Cayenne, but potentially milder or hotter. Some Uses: glazes, sauces, marinades, pastas, dry rubs
- Substituting fresh Cayenne peppers: Use equal amounts and adjust to taste. Replacing dried Cayenne powder: Use at least 3 times more fresh chili pepper. Some Uses: salsa, hot sauce, guacamole, condiments, pickled peppers
- TABASCO PEPPER (30,000 to 50,000 SHU). Notes: Best fresh Cayenne pepper substitute, same heat, juicier, and smokier flavor.
- SERRANO PEPPER (10,000 to 25,000 SHU). Notes: Green Cayenne pepper substitute, thicker walls, vegetal taste.
- JALAPENO PEPPER (2,500 to 8,000 SHU). Notes: Green Cayenne pepper alternative, juicy & grassy flavor. Red Jalapenos are spicier.
- THAI PEPPER (50,000 to 100,000 SHU). Notes: Thin skin, can be 2 times hotter than Cayenne. Use 1:1 ratio to replace fresh Cayenne & powders, then taste test.
- Taste your hot sauce for flavor and heat, then use 1 to 2 times the amount to replace Cayenne pepper. Some Uses: dips, marinades, cocktails, dressings, stir frys
- FRANK'S REDHOT SAUCE (450 SHU). Notes: Best Cayenne pepper sauce substitute, low heat, more Cayenne pepper taste & less vinegar.
- TABASCO SAUCE (2,500 to 5,000 SHU). Notes: Mild sauce, tangy taste, natural smoky flavor.
- CRYSTAL HOT SAUCE (~4,000 SHU). Notes: Medium heat, sharp taste, less tangy, more peppery.
- Cayenne peppers are 30,000 to 50,000 SHU
- Thai Pepper is also known as "Bird's Eye chili"
- Bottles labeled "Paprika" refer to sweet paprika. Use a hot paprika if you want heat.
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