Cayenne pepper is a popular addition to recipes to add a kick without making the spice heat unbearable. It comes in different forms, easily found as a dried, ground spice at grocery stores, or can be used as a fresh pepper.
Whether you want to add heat to scrambled eggs, are preparing soup, or making a spice rub, don’t change your meal just because you ran out of cayenne powder. There are lots of cayenne pepper alternatives to choose from. Use the following list of cayenne pepper replacements according to your preferences and the type of meal you are preparing.
Best Dry Substitutes for Ground Cayenne Pepper
Paprika and cayenne powder are often mistaken for one another. When dried and ground, they have a similar color and flavor. Paprika is however milder in its spiciness. Paprika comes in different varieties and it is a decent cayenne pepper substitute.
Regular paprika is the most readily available type and has a low spice level. Hungarian paprika is deep red and has a slightly sweet accent. Spanish paprika is made with smoked peppers which provides a mix of smokiness and heat.
Substitute quantity: Use twice the amount of paprika than cayenne pepper required in your recipe to achieve the same heat level.
Best for: spice rubs, sauces, marinades, sprinkling over eggs or vegetables, adding to any cooked dishes, stews, and soups.
Chili powder is a great option to add heat to your dish. Similar to cayenne pepper and paprika it is made from dried, ground chili peppers. These peppers are however darker and sometimes smoked which can change the flavor profile of your dish.
When using chili powder to replace cayenne pepper give it a taste before adding it to your dish to determine the flavor profile and level of heat.
Substitute quantity: Use the same amount of chili powder as cayenne pepper required in your recipe.
Best for: spice rubs, sauces, marinades, adding to cooked dishes, stews, chili, and soups.
Related: Chili powder substitute
Red Chili Flakes
Red chili flakes are dried and crushed chilies that are readily available in most grocery stores. The dried chilies are not ground which makes the texture coarser than cayenne or chili powder. In cooked recipes, the coarser texture does not make much of a difference.
Chili flakes aren’t always as hot as cayenne pepper. If you want a kick of heat, you will need to add slightly more chili flakes than the required amount of cayenne.
Substitute quantity: Use 1 to 1.5 times the amount of chili flakes as cayenne pepper required in your recipe.
Best for: sauces, pasta, stir-fry, stew, casseroles, and to top pizza.
Gochugaru is a blend of coarsely ground red pepper flakes used in Korean cooking. These sun-dried chili peppers have a smoky flavor that may slightly affect the taste of your dish. Powdered forms are available and the heat level may vary from mild to hot.
Substitute quantity: Use the same amount of gochugaru as cayenne pepper required in your recipe.
Best for: meat and seafood stews, kimchi, dipping sauces, dressings, and marinades.
Best Fresh Cayenne Pepper Substitutes
Fresh peppers can vary greatly in heat and are best used as a ground cayenne alternative if you can cook them into the dish you are preparing.
Substitute quantity: When using fresh peppers instead of cayenne powder in a dish you should use 1 ounce (30 grams) of fresh peppers to replace 1 tablespoon of cayenne powder.
Serrano peppers have a similar spice level to ground cayenne pepper making them the most suitable fresh pepper alternative.
These red or orange peppers may vary in heat, so make sure to give it a taste to determine how spicy it is before adding to your dish. They work best as a substitute for cayenne pepper when cooked into a dish or dehydrated and ground into a powder.
Tabasco peppers aren’t always easy to find but if you have some handy they are a good replacement with a similar heat profile to cayenne peppers. Since these peppers are somewhat juicy they are best used for salsas and hot sauces.
Thai peppers can be found fresh or dry and have a much higher heat level than cayenne. If you do not want a very spicy dish only use half the amount required in your recipe or opt for a milder pepper such as serrano or jalapeños.
Jalapeño’s come in different heat varieties and can be very mild. If you do not want your dish to be too spicy this can be a good option, although these peppers may add a marginally different flavor to your dish.
Best Sauce Substitute for Cayenne Powder
The best hot sauce to use as a cayenne pepper alternative is a Tabasco, Louisiana Style, or Crystal hot sauce. It is preferable to use a non-vinegar-based hot sauce. Add a few drops while cooking and you will likely not even notice that you are missing the cayenne in your dish.
Substitute quantity: Depending on the heat level of the sauce, use the same amount of hot sauce as cayenne pepper required in your recipe. Four drops of Tabasco sauce generally equals 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder.
Best for: adding to cooked dishes, stews, chili, soups, sauces, marinade, and sprinkling over eggs, or pizza.
Cayenne Pepper FAQ
Is ground cayenne powder the same as fresh cayenne pepper?
Store-bought ground cayenne pepper is made from a combination of dried and ground peppers without the seeds. Fresh Cayenne peppers are not as widely available and may vary in heat.
Use 1 ounce (30 grams) of fresh peppers interchangeably with 1 tablespoon of cayenne powder depending on which one you have available. If you are using fresh peppers, give them a taste before adding them to your dish as you might get an unexpected spicy surprise.
Can you eat fresh cayenne pepper?
Yes, fresh, green cayenne peppers can be diced and used in salsas, salads, dips, and hot sauces. In cooked applications they are great lightly stir-fried with vegetables, added to soups, stews, and curries. They can also be pickled and used as a taco topping.
Is there a difference between cayenne pepper and paprika?
Although they have a similar appearance when dried and ground, cayenne pepper and paprika are 2 different types of chili peppers. Paprika is slightly sweeter with a more subtle heat and has a brighter color than cayenne pepper.
Adding cayenne powder to a dish is an easy way to incorporate color and spice. The great thing about cayenne powder is that it is readily available and can be used in a variety of ways, from sprinkling over eggs to sauces, stews, and spice rubs.
If you run out of cayenne unexpectedly, don’t make a mad dash for the grocery store. There are a great variety of substitutes that pack a punch. Try different alternatives and you may even find you prefer the substitution in your recipe.
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