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Cayenne Pepper Substitute: 5 Common Alternatives to Use

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Cayenne pepper is one of the most useful ingredients we can use to spice up our food. For that very reason, ingredients like paprika or jalapeno become essential when we run out of Cayenne, as they can serve as substitutes.

Cayenne pepper is a very common kitchen spice used mainly for adding some heat and a little bit of a kick to dishes. It comes from Cayenne chili peppers that grow on shrubs in Central and South America, and it’s often turned into a fine powder for easy cooking.

In addition to its versatile flavoring in various foods, Cayenne pepper has also been a successful solution to a wide range of health issues, including digestion, upset stomach, heart conditions, and poor circulation.

But when you’re running low on Cayenne pepper, it can be difficult to accomplish much of anything. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep in mind some useful Cayenne pepper substitutes – such as the top five we’ve selected below.

Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne Pepper

A Snippet of History

Cayenne pepper has a long history of serving as not only a plant, a vegetable, and a food-enhancer, but as a medical herb and a remedy to several common ailments.

For thousands of years, the plant has been used in Caribbean, Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and even Modern Western medicine.

Nothing is worse than coming home from a long day at work to make your favorite dinner, only to realize you’re missing one key ingredient. There’s no way you’re going back out to the store to get one thing.

Whether you’ve run out of Cayenne pepper or just want to try something a little different, it always helps to know what substitutes are available to you.

When you’re substituting any ingredient in a recipe, the results probably won’t be exactly the same. But when it comes to Cayenne pepper, you can get pretty darn close with these options. Give one of them a try the next time you run out of Cayenne and see what you can cook up.

1.    Red Pepper Flakes

 Red Pepper Flakes
Red Pepper Flakes

It’s always a good idea to keep red pepper flakes on hand in your kitchen. Although you may see them a lot on the tables of your local pizzeria, they have far more uses than on that sweet tomato pie.

Red pepper flakes are super similar to Cayenne pepper. In fact, they’re pretty much the same thing, save their texture. Think of it as using peppercorns instead of finely ground pepper.

The flavor of red pepper flakes can depend on how a particular kind is made and what peppers they come from, but in most cases, this spice is hotter than Cayenne. Red pepper flakes usually include the insides of the source pepper, including the seeds where much of the heat comes from.

In most cases, you can typically use a one-to-one ratio of red pepper flakes to Cayenne pepper. Because the flakes are larger than Cayenne powder, you should end up with around the same level of spiciness.

Be careful, though – red pepper flakes can sneak up on you and really pack a punch – especially when you’re cooking with them.

The biggest difference between these two options is the texture, and if that’s something that matters to you or the integrity of your recipe, you can always grind the flakes down to a powder. Use a food processor or a spice grinder to achieve a finer powder.

Red pepper flakes are super versatile; use them in seafood dishes, chicken meals, pasta, and more.

2.    Paprika


Paprika is another excellent Cayenne replacement. This spice is similar to Cayenne pepper, as it also comes from a type of pepper plant and is typically dried and ground into a fine powder for cooking.

But unlike Cayenne pepper, paprika comes from sweet red peppers – as opposed to the fiery peppers that Cayenne stems from.

That being said, paprika is a milder spice that isn’t nearly as hot. It tends to have a sweeter flavor similar to Cayenne, minus the heat. It also has the same texture as a Cayenne powder, so it won’t disrupt the appearance of your dish.

Most grocery stores will offer standard paprika and smoked paprika. If you truly want to try to mimic the taste of Cayenne, it’s best to go with a smoked paprika for more of a bite.

You can substitute paprika for Cayenne with a one-to-one ratio, using the amount that the recipe calls for. Paprika is perfect for chicken and meat and adds a nice finishing touch to recipes like deviled eggs, salsas, and chili.

And, as a bonus, paprika has many of the potential health benefits as Cayenne such as promoting healthy vision, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood sugar levels.

3.    Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce
Hot Sauce

So, you’ve dug through your whole pantry only to find that you’re completely out of Cayenne pepper, but you desperately need to add some heat to your dish.

What’s the logical next step for most of us when it comes to spicing things up?

That’s right: hot sauce.

The hot sauce usually has one main purpose: to make a dish hotter and spicier. While there are tons of different brands and flavors of hot sauce on the market, most of them have the same first ingredient, which is Cayenne pepper.

It doesn’t get much closer than that when you’re looking for a Cayenne pepper substitute.

The only downside to using a hot sauce in the place of Cayenne pepper is that you’re working with a totally different texture. One is a liquid, while the other is a dry powder.

For some recipes, this difference can mess with the consistency. But for the most part, it should be okay in a pinch.

Hot sauce is less concentrated than Cayenne pepper, so start with twice as much hot sauce as Cayenne needed and go from there. Taste your dish along the way and add as much hot sauce as you need to reach your desired heat.

The hot sauce works well not just as an ingredient in a recipe, but as a topping. While you can’t really sprinkle Cayenne pepper on top of dishes, you can top anything with hot sauce, from hot dogs and hamburgers to wings and chili.

Plus, check out the range of options in the hot sauce aisle at the grocery store; there are tons to choose from to mix things up a bit.

4.    Jalapeno


If you’re ever in the mood for some extra spiciness, you can’t go wrong with adding some jalapenos. In fact, this spicy pepper is known for its heat – especially if you use it with the seeds.

Because of the heat – and the fact that it’s another member of the pepper family – jalapenos make a fantastic substitute for Cayenne pepper.

Jalapenos are great because you can use them to sub out both whole Cayenne peppers and ground Cayenne pepper. Whole jalapenos are readily available at any grocery store in the produce aisle, and they’re incredibly affordable.

In fact, you can often purchase a handful of them for under one dollar.

If you’re using jalapenos to replace whole Cayenne peppers, you can use a solid one-to-one ratio. But you can also use this fresh vegetable as an alternative to ground Cayenne.

Use one or two teaspoons of diced jalapeno for every quarter-teaspoon of Cayenne pepper.

If you want a milder flavor, be sure to core out those seeds. They may be tiny, but they pack a punch. Leave them in for more heat.

You can also find jalapeno powder, which closely mimics both the flavor and the texture of Cayenne pepper. This option is ideal when you don’t want to add chunks of fresh jalapeno to a dish.

5.    Chili Powder

Chili Powder
Chili Powder

Last but not least, chili powder is one more great Cayenne substitute – and it’s a pretty common ingredient that you likely already have in your cabinet.

Chili powder has a very similar texture, makeup, and flavor to Cayenne pepper when in its powdered form. The reason the flavor is a close match is that chili powder uses a blend of various chili peppers and spices, so it hints at that same peppery taste.

However, chili powder isn’t going to be as pungent or powerful as Cayenne. It’s not going to deliver as much heat, but it’s a nice alternative if you’re sensitive to spicy flavors.

If you’re looking for more of a kick, try reaching for one of the other alternatives on this list or pairing chili powder with hot sauce.

And because chili powder has a milder taste, it’s best to use a two-to-one ratio when using it to replace Cayenne. Chili powder is perfect for chili (as its name suggests), but it also works well in tacos, meats, seasoned vegetables, fajitas, beans, and more.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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