We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of a recipe and as you reach for the cayenne pepper, you discover that you’re almost out. Or, maybe you just prefer a cayenne pepper substitute to adjust the heat level.
Cayenne pepper is such a popular seasoning that it’s easily one of the spices I commonly replace. Even when I have it on hand, I stock up on other ingredients just in case I run out during my next culinary adventure. 😉
So if you ever wonder, What can I substitute for cayenne pepper in a recipe, this post is for you. Here are 11 fresh, dry and hot sauce options that work well as cayenne pepper alternatives.
List Of Cayenne Pepper Substitutions
To replace cayenne pepper, you can use fresh peppers and chili pepper products that contain similar heat levels and flavors to cayenne. For instance, you can use a fresh cayenne pepper substitute like tabasco peppers, a cayenne powder substitute like paprika or a hot sauce such as Frank’s RedHot, depending on the needs of your dish.
The following chart lists a variety of fresh, dry and hot sauce options that you can use.
You’ll learn more about each of these cayenne substitutes so you know when and how to use them.
Fresh Cayenne Pepper Options
When you run out of fresh cayenne peppers, you can replace them with other types of chilies. Some of these alternatives are easier to find than others. The following chili pepper varieties have different heat levels, but they all make good cayenne replacements.
(As a reference, the cayenne pepper rates at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units [SHU].)
Red Chili Alternatives
- Tabasco Pepper: Tabasco is the closest match (heat-wise) to the cayenne pepper. It’s also similar in flavor.
- Serrano Pepper: Use serrano chilies when you don’t want the same spicy heat as cayenne, but you prefer something hotter than a jalapeno.
- Jalapeno Pepper: Jalapenos are milder than cayenne and rank between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. For comparison, cayenne peppers are about 12 times hotter than jalapeno peppers. Jalapenos are usually the easiest to find in stores, or you can grow your own!
- Thai Pepper: The thai chili can be twice as hot as the cayenne pepper at 50,000 to 100,000 SHU. Like the cayenne pepper, the skin isn’t as fleshy and it’s an ideal substitute if you want the extra heat.
When using these chilies as a whole cayenne pepper substitute, you may need to use more or less to get to the spicy level you want. If replacing cayenne pepper powder, for instance, you can start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh pepper for approximately 1 tablespoon of powder and taste test from there.
Finally, when using a fleshy fresh pepper like 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.)
Green Cayenne Pepper Substitute
The green cayenne is the immature version of the red cayenne pepper. You might use this chile because it’s milder than the red pepper and it has a grassy flavor.
The green version of these peppers can be harder to find. Instead, you can opt for a jalapeno because it’s more likely to be available. Keep in mind that jalapenos are more fleshy, which might affect the overall result.
Lastly, if heat is an important factor, you may need to add more jalapeno peppers to get to the spice level you want.
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Cayenne Pepper Powder Alternatives
You have several choices when it comes to replacing ground cayenne pepper. Here are some common options that are easier to find in stores.
Is cayenne pepper and paprika the same? Although they do have a lot of similarities, the answer is no. The biggest difference is that paprika and cayenne come from their respective chilies, and paprika isn’t as spicy as cayenne. Even more, you can find different versions of paprika.
Sweet paprika, as an example, is a common version that is often labeled as just “paprika” in stores. This spice comes from dried sweeter red chilies, such as bell pepper, which provide a fruity flavor and vibrant red color. This is a milder form of paprika that can replace cayenne powder if heat isn’t as important.
Hot paprika, on the other hand, offers more heat. This version of paprika is made up of a combination of dried red chilies including the cayenne pepper. Hot paprika is closer to the cayenne pepper heat level.
When substituting paprika, use twice the amount that you would use for cayenne. A paprika substitute is milder, but an ideal choice if you want the closest color and flavor match to cayenne pepper powder.
Chile powder is another versatile option for replacing cayenne pepper. This type of powder comes from different varieties of ground peppers. For example, you can choose something mild like pasilla powder, or opt for a Chiles de Arbol powder that has a similar heat to cayenne.
(Note: Chile powder is sometimes labeled as “chili” powder. Check that your powder only includes peppers and not additional spices like garlic powder and oregano. These additives can alter the flavor.)
If you enjoy a smoky flavor, a chile powder substitute is a good replacement for cayenne pepper. You can use equal amounts of chile powder in place of cayenne pepper.
Found in Korean cuisine, gochugaru is comprised of a variety of dried red peppers that are ground into flakes rather than powder. This cayenne pepper substitute has an earthy, slightly smoky taste. If you don’t mind the coarse texture and the potential to add smokiness to your dish, you can replace cayenne pepper with equal measures of gochugaru substitute.
TIP: To get closer to the texture of cayenne pepper, you can use a grinder like the magic bullet on Amazon to break down coarse spices like gochugaru and red chili flakes (below).
Cayenne Pepper vs Red Pepper Flakes
Cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes both offer heat to a dish. It helps to know the differences between the two when using chili flakes in place of cayenne.
For one thing, red pepper flakes are made up of various red chiles, such as the Fresno pepper and Anaheim, that have been dehydrated and crushed. Cayenne comes from the cayenne chile, which is generally thought of as a medium-hot chile pepper. Crushed red pepper flakes aren’t quite as hot.
Another consideration is the texture difference between the two. Red chili flakes are just that — flakes — and cayenne pepper is powder. It makes a difference when deciding how to use them in a dish. Flakes are much better for topping foods, like pizza, while cayenne powder is incorporated into the whole dish to give it flavor and heat.
So, can you substitute red pepper flakes for cayenne pepper? Yep! You can do this by using about 1 to 1.5 times the amount for cayenne pepper.
Cayenne Pepper Sauce Substitutes
A Louisiana-type hot sauce is another cayenne pepper alternative. Here are two sauce examples that work well as a substitute.
- Tabasco Sauce: Tabasco hot sauce is made from tabasco peppers, which are a similar heat level to cayenne. You’ll get a more vinegar taste with this sauce, but it’s easier to find in stores.
- Frank’s RedHot: The first ingredient listed in this sauce is “aged cayenne red peppers.” Although Frank’s RedHot sauce doesn’t contain the same heat, you’ll get more of the cayenne pepper taste and a less intense vinegar flavor.
You can generally replace cayenne pepper with a few drops of hot sauce. For instance, use roughly eight drops of sauce as a substitute for ½ tsp cayenne pepper. Continue to taste your dish and adjust this measurement to your liking.
Common Cayenne Pepper Substitute FAQs
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.
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.
No. Cayenne pepper is made up the dried and ground cayenne chile, while curry powder is a blend of herbs and spices such as turmeric and cardamon.
I hope this gives you plenty of ideas for cayenne pepper substitutes. It helps to have a heat level and flavor profile in mind so you can pick the best option 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.)
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