10 Cayenne Pepper Substitutes (and How to Use Them!)

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Odette Modified: November 23, 2022
10 Cayenne Pepper Substitutes (and How to Use Them!)
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Known for its bright red color and smoky flavor, cayenne is a spice made with moderately hot chili pepper. You can add a dash of it to stews and soups, sprinkle on this delicious spinach quiche recipe, or mix it into hummus or salads. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can also use it as a garnish on a steaming mug of hot chocolate. And as it’s a truly versatile spice, it’s no wonder that you always run out of cayenne peppers. But before you completely give up on your recipe for the night, know that there are a few cayenne pepper substitute choices that you can use!

To help you get better acquainted with this ingredient, we will show you what it is, what substitutes you can use in its place, and some recipes that taste better when seasoned with this wonderful spice!

What Is Cayenne Pepper?

Along with bell peppers and jalapeños, the cayenne pepper belongs to the pepper species called Capsicum annuum. Generally, it is considered moderately spicy, measuring between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units or SHU. Using the Scoville Scale as a base, cayenne sits above the serrano and below chile de arbol in terms of heat.

Cayenne peppers have a somewhat skinny appearance and measure 10 to 25 centimeters in length. You won’t have a tough time differentiating it from other peppers with its bold red color, rippled skin, and slim, curved tip. To use as a flavor enhancer, these peppers are dried and then ground to powdered form which is generally easier to use than the fresh ones. Used in a variety of cuisines including Mexican and Asian cuisines, cayenne peppers can be added in spicy dishes as a whole, sliced into small pieces, or in powdered form.

10 Best Cayenne Pepper Substitutes To Use

different kinds of ground peppers

Found your bottle of cayenne empty just when you’re about to add a dash to this grilled cajun chicken? There’s no need to be flustered. Here are 10 best cayenne substitute options you can use, so you don’t have to go spice-free for dishes that need it!


Looking for a ground cayenne pepper substitute? Your best bet would be paprika made from a variety of mild red peppers including cayenne. However, it has three different types that are completely different from one another. Compared to its other types such as sweet and smoked paprika, hot paprika offers more heat that’s similar to cayenne. Add to that, they also closely resemble each other when it comes to color and texture. Even more, paprika isn’t as spicy. It only measures around 250 to 1,000 SHU. Since it’s not as spicy, remember to double the amount of this ingredient if you do use it as a substitute for cayenne.

If you don’t have it, you can also use smoked paprika. It is dried by (you guessed it) smoking peppers. Since the peppers are dried by way of smoking, using this substitute will give your dish a smoky, spicy taste and aroma. However, it is less intense compared to hot paprika. For that reason, it’s not as effective a substitute as the latter. Nevertheless, this alternative works as both smoked paprika and cayenne have a smoky flavor. If you’re planning to use it as a substitute, use it as you would hot paprika. Use this for spicy recipes that also have a smoky flavor such as tandoori chicken, kebab, and other barbecue recipes.

Chipotle Powder

Though cayenne is considerably spicier than chipotle powder, you can still use this ingredient as a substitute. After all, chipotle has a noticeable smoky and peppery taste that resembles cayenne. Overall, this backup ingredient only measures 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. For that reason, you may have to triple the amount when using it as an alternative. Another important thing to note is its peppery taste, so the key to using this spice is to add it slowly into your dishes and to adjust other seasonings if necessary. This replacement works great for spicy Mexican dishes with a strong peppery taste.

Chili Powder

Like cayenne pepper, chili powder is another versatile spice that can be used as a backup for other kinds of ground red pepper. However, some powder you’ll find at your local grocery store may contain other spices and seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. It’s also sometimes smoked. For an excellent substitute, check the ingredient list first and give it a quick taste before using it in recipes that call for cayenne. Use a 1:1 ratio to use this substitute.

Korean Gochugaru

Jumping from well-known spices in the culinary world to Korea’s favorite ingredient, we have gochugaru. It’s better known by its other names such as Korean chili flakes, Korean chili powder, Korean dried chili peppers, and is a type of ground pepper spice. Gochugaru has a vibrant red color that’s a great cayenne pepper substitute in a visual sense. Its flavor profile, however, is milder with a subtle nod of sweetness and smokiness that’s more suited to Asian and Korean recipes. In the Scoville Scale, it measures about 5,000 to 8,000 SHU.

Unlike our first three substitutes though, this backup ingredient has a coarse texture. However, you can always use a spice grinder to bring it closer to cayenne’s powdered form. To incorporate this substitute into your dish, you can use a 1:1 ratio.

Red Pepper Flakes

Despite their appearance, red pepper flakes are a good cayenne pepper substitute. The red pepper flakes’ coarse texture works as a garnish for pizza, salads, scrambled eggs, quiches, and more. Basically, you can use it more as a cayenne garnish substitute.

Made up of various red chiles such as Fresno and Anaheim which have 2,500 to 10,000 and 500 to 2,500 SHU respectively, this substitute can only offer mild to moderate heat to a dish. For this reason, you have to add a bit more to resemble cayenne’s heat level.

Tabasco Peppers

A chili pepper originating from Mexico, tabasco is known as a main ingredient for the famous Tabasco sauce along with vinegar and salt. Heat-wise and flavor-wise, tabasco is an exact match for cayenne, measuring 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. If you’re looking for a fresh substitute for cayenne pepper, your best pick is tabasco.

You may use this substitute for recipes that call for fresh cayenne pepper. Use it exactly as you would use cayenne in recipes.

Serrano Peppers

If you’re finicky with too much spice and you don’t want the same heat level as cayenne, then you may try this fresh substitute for cayenne pepper. Between serrano pepper and cayenne, serrano measures 8,000 to 22,000 SHU and sits below cayenne on the Scoville Scale. In terms of heat level, this pepper is also a step spicier than jalapeño. If you wish to use this substitute, you may double the amount of fresh serrano in recipes.

Jalapeño Peppers

Relatively milder than serrano, jalapeño peppers only measure between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. With that said, cayenne is easily 12 times spicier than jalapeño. Additionally, this pepper has a bright, green flavor.

To bring it closer to cayenne’s flavor profile, try roasting fresh jalapeño to give it a rich, earthy flavor. You may also double or even triple the amount you will use to make your end-product close to cayenne’s spicy heat.

Thai Peppers

While serrano and jalapeño peppers are less spicy than cayenne, Thai chili is twice as hot. It sits at 50,000 to 100,000 SHU. They do look similar, though, as both feature a bright red color and a slim appearance with a slightly curved tip. Both are also not fleshy like serrano and jalapeño. For that reason, it’s an excellent choice as a substitute that can be used for most recipes.

But since it’s twice as hot as cayenne, simply cut the amount in half or lessen in recipes that need ground or fresh cayenne. From here, do a taste test and build on the heat according to your preference.

Hot Sauce

Just as we provided powdered and fresh cayenne pepper substitutes, here also are hot sauces that work well as a substitute for some recipes:

Tabasco Sauce

Because this condiment is made from tabasco peppers (which offer the same heat as cayenne), it makes a great substitute for cayenne pepper. It does have a vinegary taste, however, so be mindful when adding it to your dish. To incorporate in some recipes, put a small amount first, adjusting as you go along. This substitute works best for stews and soups that need cayenne in them.

Crystal Hot Sauce

Made with aged cayenne pepper, Crystal Hot Sauce has a more concentrated dark chili flavor that’s moderately spicy. It also has a toned-down vinegar flavor compared to tabasco sauce. To use it as a substitute, you may need to add it in small batches first and build the flavor according to your taste.

Frank’s RedHot

Like Crystal Hot Sauce, Frank’s RedHot also includes aged cayenne in its ingredient list. However, compared to Crystal, it has less heat and spice. Overall, it tastes strongly of cayenne and mild vinegar. Use it as you would other sauces in this list.

Delicious Cayenne Pepper Recipes To Try

chef cooking using wok

Not afraid to taste some recipes that offer a little kick or maybe a bit more? Here are a few recipes that feature cayenne’s memorable flavor and heat:

  • Fried Pickles — Do you love snacking? Well, make it healthier by making this dish that features healthy ingredients like dill pickles. Coated with rice flour, cayenne, and onion powder, fried pickles are just as delicious as any finger snack.
  • Homemade Cajun Seasoning — Elevate your favorite New Orleans gumbo with this homemade Cajun seasoning. It features various peppers including cayenne, paprika, and red pepper flakes for a blend that’s spicy and full of herb flavors.
  • Air Fryer Rotisserie Chicken — This recipe makes use of your trusty air fryer for a recipe that’s fuss-free and easy. Perfectly seasoned with paprika, cayenne, thyme, and more, this rotisserie chicken comes out very juicy.
  • Grilled Snapper — This recipe combines all the flavors of smoked paprika, black pepper, cayenne, and oregano for a tasty dish that’s easy to put together. This grilled snapper recipe is incredibly aromatic and flavorful thanks to its ingredients and the smoky flavor courtesy of the grill.

Use These Flavorful Cayenne Pepper Substitutes For Your Dishes

The cayenne pepper offers more than just heat to your dishes. Just a few of these peppers boosts and elevates any dish! Now, if you find your cupboards bare of said spice, use these flavorful substitutes for cayenne pepper to save your dishes and ultimately, the day!

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Odette is a content writer and proofreader by day, and living her inner artist as a poet and singer by night. She's also a former member of a publication who she now mentors from time to time. She likes how sharing a tiny bit of her life and her journey can help others in return. And because she is a curl embassador, she finds joy in empowering fellow curlies to embrace their natural curls. She also loves doing random acts of service to people she loves by cooking for them during her free time. This girl loves anything pasta and French cuisine though she just went through her Japanese and Korean cuisine phase.