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Top 10 Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

Cayenne pepper is one of my favorite ingredients to add heat and a unique flavor to a dish. However, if you find yourself without cayenne pepper or just want to change up the heat of a recipe, here are 10 great cayenne pepper substitutes.

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What is Cayenne Pepper?

Cayenne pepper a spice that works well in a wide variety of dishes and cuisines.  It’s especially prevalent in Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisines. Cayenne is a versatile pepper that is used in powder form, fresh, or in a sauce.  This pepper has a bright red color that adds an earthy and spicy flavor to dishes. 

Cayenne powder is obtained from cayenne peppers that have been dried and ground. It ranges in heat from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville scale. Because of this, many alternative ingredients are not 1:1 replacements. For example, cayenne peppers are 12 times spicier than jalapeño peppers. If you want to come close to the heat called for in the recipe, you would need to use 2 to 3 times as many jalapeños as cayenne peppers.

Best Ground Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

Ground cayenne pepper is the most common form found in American kitchens. It is made from cayenne peppers that are dried and ground. Here are some great substitutes if you find yourself out or would like to change the flavor or heat of your recipe.

#1. Paprika

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Paprika has a very similar color and flavor to cayenne which is why I think it’s the best overall substitute for ground cayenne. It’s made from a variety of red chiles that have been dried, ground and sometimes smoked.

There are three main types of paprika. The paprika you find in the grocery store with just a “paprika” label is usually sweeter. There is also a smoked paprika and a hot paprika. The types of chiles used and whether or not they have been smoked determines the type of paprika. Generally, hot paprika serves as the closest substitute for cayenne, however, any type can be used.

Paprika is quite a bit milder than cayenne so I would double the amount of paprika in your recipe.

#2. Red Pepper Flakes

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Red pepper flakes also make a good substitute for cayenne pepper. It’s made from a variety of chiles such as the Anaheim and Fresno that have been dried and crushed. They are commonly used as a topping for pizza or salads and are common in most pizza restaurants.

Keep in mind that they have a different texture but usually when mixed into a recipe it’s not noticeable. If the texture is something that’s important another cayenne alternative may work better.

Red Pepper flakes are slightly milder than cayenne so I would use 1.5 times as many if you want to match the heat.

#3. Chili Powder

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Chili powder is a popular substitute for cayenne as it is common ingredient in most kitchens. It consists of a variety of different chili peppers that are first dried and then ground into the final product. As the chiles used in chili powder often vary and are sometimes smoked, I would make sure you give it a sniff and taste test before using in your recipe.

I would add an equal amount of chili powder to your recipe as you would cayenne.

#4. Gochugaru

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Gochugaru pepper is popular in Korean cuisine and is composed of a variety of red chiles that are dried and crushed. This cayenne alternative has a smoky-sweet flavor which could cause a slightly different taste when using as a substitute. It’s also a milder pepper but has a red color which looks similar to cayenne from a visual sense.

If you don’t mind the texture and slightly different flavor, this is a great alternative in a pinch. I would use the same amount of gochugaru in your recipe as you would cayenne.

#5. Hot Sauce

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Hot sauce is another good alternative to cayenne and something many people have on hand in their kitchen. I would choose a Louisiana style hot sauce such as Tabasco, Crystal or Franks RedHot sauce.

They all are made from either cayenne peppers or tabasco peppers, which are very similar in taste and heat to cayenne, but also contain salt and vinegar. This gives all three sauces similar heat and flavor but does give them a more vinegar taste than if you were just to use cayenne by itself.

It’s easy to overpower your recipe so I would be careful when using hot sauces making sure you taste as you add. The general rule of thumb would be to add 5-8 drops of hot sauce per 1/2 tsp of ground cayenne. However, this may be different depending on what type of sauce you use.

#6. Chipotle Powder

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Chipotle powder is probably the least like cayenne of the alternatives we discuss in both taste and appearance but if you are in a pinch it can work as a substitute. Chipotle powder is made of ripened jalapeños that are dried and smoked, giving it a mild smoky taste. This is frequently used in Mexican dishes, marinades, and barbecue sauces.

As jalapeños are considerably more mild than cayenne, chipotle powder is as well. As such, I would triple the amount of chipotle seasoning used in a recipe if using as a substitute for cayenne.

Best Fresh Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

When you run out of fresh cayenne peppers or just can’t find them at the grocery store, here are some good alternatives.

#7. Tabasco Peppers

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Tabasco Peppers are the most similar to Cayenne Peppers and, in my opinion, the best substitutes. Originating from Mexico, they have the same heat range of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units and have a very similar flavor.

I would use the exact same amount of tabasco peppers in your dish as you would cayenne peppers.

#8. Serrano Peppers

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If you want to reduce the heat level in your dish, serrano peppers would be a good alternative to cayenne. They are common a green color, but they are also available in red-brown orange or yellow colors. They are commonly used in salsas, sauces and relishes and are often roasted.

Serrano peppers have a similar taste to jalapeño peppers but have more heat. If you wish to match the heat of cayenne, I would double the amount of serrano peppers you add to your dish compared to the amount you would use for cayenne peppers.

#9. Thai Peppers

Crushed red pepper flakes make a great cayenne pepper substitute if texture is not important.
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Thai peppers are tiny in size but high in heat being twice as hot as cayenne peppers. They look very similar in color and shape to cayenne making them a good substitute visually.

To match the heat using this alternative, simply use half the amount of Thai peppers in your dish than you would cayenne.

#10. Jalapeño Peppers

Close up of jalapeño peppers both whole and sliced.  The sliced peppers show the seeds.
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Jalapeños are a common substitute for Cayenne peppers simply because they tend to be easier to find in your grocery store. Visually, jalapeños look quite a bit different being green in color which a considerably fleshier appearance. In addition, they are quite a bit milder as well being twelve times less spicy than cayenne.

Given the difference in heat, I would use two to three times the amount of jalapeños in your dish as you would cayenne. Depending on the recipe, I sometimes like to roast jalapeños to give them a more earthy flavor.

Final Words on Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

Whether you are looking to replace a missing ingredient or you want to intentionally change the heat or flavor profile of a dish, all of the above ingredients would be great alternatives to cayenne pepper. I hope you found this helpful!

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