I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of cayenne pepper substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Red pepper flakes are the easiest substitute for cayenne pepper and you probably already have some. Paprika is perfect if you want a milder alternative. Other options include fresh peppers like jalapeno or Thai chili peppers, your favorite hot sauce, or mustard.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made small batches of cheese sauce to test different cayenne pepper substitutes.
Cayenne pepper is most commonly used in its ground form. It’s spicy, with a rating of 30,000 to 50,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
But it has subtle fruity notes that help round out its flavor.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Red pepper flakes||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Hot sauce||Start with half the amount, adjust as needed||10/10|
|Chili powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Paprika||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Dried chili peppers||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Fresh peppers||1 tbsp of cayenne pepper = ⅓ ounce chopped fresh peppers (by weight)||8/10|
|Mustard powder||Replace with 1/2 the amount|
Common uses of cayenne pepper
Here are some common ways to use cayenne pepper and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For spice blends and rubs: Try using red pepper flakes ground-up dried chili peppers, or ready made chili powder. You can also use hot paprika to add mild heat.
- For sauces, glazes, and marinades: Try using red pepper flakes, paprika, hot sauce, or fresh peppers. You can also use chili powder, but be mindful of the other spics you’re using.
- For soups and stews: Try using red pepper flakes, paprika, hot sauce, or fresh peppers.
Chili flakes are an easy alternative to cayenne pepper that most people will already have to hand.
This versatile spice is a mixture of 3-4 different peppers, with cayenne making up the bulk of it.
The extra peppers can be far lower on the heat-scale, with things like ancho peppers and jalapenos regulary being included.
This dilutes the spice.
If love heat, then look for chili flakes as ‘extra hot’. These mixes will include things like ghost peppers.
One downside to flakes is that they won’t meld as well with the dish, and the heat wont be as well distributed. But you can always crush them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper in a 1:1 ratio with red pepper flakes.
Hot sauce is another pantry staple that’s a no-brainer substitute for cayenne pepper.
The flavor will largely depend on the brand you choose.
Louisiana-style hot sauces use cayenne peppers as the base so will be the most similar in flavor.
Popular Frank’s RedHot is a good option, but it won’t match cayenne pepper’s intense heat.
Crystal Hot and Tabasco spicier than Franks, but they still won’t reach cayenne pepper levels.
If you’re craving for a tongue-tingling hot sauce, you’ll have to check more niche brands like Dawson’s Original Hot sauce, which clocks in at a whopping 82,000 Scoville units.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper with half the amount of hot sauce, add more if needed.
Chili powder is a flavorful substitute for cayenne pepper that uses an blend of different chilies.
It’s a lot milder in terms of heat compared to cayenne pepper.
But it packs an extra savory punch because it’s also blended with classic spices like garlic powder, cumin, and onion powder.
Quick tip: if your recipe calls for any of these spices, dial them down them to keep the flavors balanced.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper in a 1:1 ratio with chili powder.
Paprika is the perfect cayenne pepper alternative if you don’t like spice.
It’s made from dried and ground peppers, just not spicy ones! There are a few varieties of paprika: sweet, smokey, and hot.
Sweet paprika has a fruity, sweet flavor with a bitter edge. Smokey paprika is also sweet, but with a smokey edge (I know i’m stating the obvious here).
And if you still fancy a bit of a kick? That’s where hot paprika comes in.
It’s mildly spicy, but 590 SHU rating nowhere near as hot as cayenne pepper.
Pssst… want a bit more spice try mixing hot paprika with ground-up chili flakes.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper in a 1:1 ratio with paprika.
Dried chili peppers
Whole-dried chili peppers are a wonderful substitute for ground cayenne pepper if you have them.
Simply blitz the peppers up, and you’ve got your very own spicy powder.
The type of dried chili pepper you choose will obviously affect the final flavor, just like with hot sauces.
You can go with Mexican chilis like ancho or chipotle peppers for a similar fruity bite to ground cayenne but with an added smoky note.
Or you can try dried habaneros – they’re fruitier than cayenne pepper, and they pack a fiery punch (130,000 – 150,000 SHU) that’s sure to set your taste buds on fire.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper in a 1:1 ratio with ground dried chili peppers.
You can also use fresh peppers as a substitute for ground cayenne pepper.
I used jalapeno peppers because they’re what I had in my fridge.
They’re milder than cayenne pepper and have a bright flavor which worked really well with my cheese sauce.
If you can find fresh cayenne peppers, use them.
And for those craving more heat, I recommend Thai chili peppers.
With a heat rating of 50,000 – 100,000 SHU, they can give cayenne a run for its money!
How to substitute: replace 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper with 1 ounce (by weight) of the chopped fresh peppers of your choice.
Dry mustard powder
Dried mustard powder is another non-pepper substitute for cayenne pepper.
If you’re preparing a dish where a sharp, rather than purely spicy, heat would complement the other flavors, dry mustard powder is an excellent substitute.
The heat is different from cayenne pepper.
It’s cleaner and doesn’t linger. Why? Because different substances are responsible for the spice.
In chili peppers, the heat comes from capsaicin while in mustard it comes from allyl isothiocyanate.
Quick tip: because the flavor of mustard is so different to cayenne peppers flavor, start by adding a small amount and then add more to taste.
How to substitute: replace cayenne pepper with 1/2 the amount of mustard powder.
Other alternatives to consider
The options above are my top picks for cayenne pepper substitutes, but they’re not the only options.
Here are some other ideas:
- Gochugaru – this is a coarsely ground Korean chili powder with milder flavor than cayenne pepper, plus a touch of smokiness.
- Carolina reaper pepper powder – if you’re preparing a dish where extreme heat is the goal, consider using Carolina reaper pepper powder. Be careful, though, as this substitute is far spicier than cayenne pepper, boasting a staggering 2.2 million SU rating.
- Chipotles in adobo sauce – these are very similar to dried chipotle peppers, but the adobo sauce adds an extra layer of earthy flavor. You can chop them up before adding them to your dish or blitz them with the sauce for a smooth texture.
Avoid these substitutes
Ginger powder came up a couple times during my research, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a substitute for cayenne pepper.
Ginger powder has no real heat but it’s a strong flavor that might not mesh well with the other ingredients in your dish. Or your dish might already call for it! In which case, you don’t want to add more.
I would also avoid using black pepper. Black pepper does has a little bit fo heat, but you’d have to add a lot of it to get any flavor from it and then your dish would probably end up too peppery!
11 Best Cayenne Pepper Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp hot sauce, add more to taste
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp dry mustard powder
- 1 tsp dried chili peppers, ground
- ⅓ oz chopped fresh chili peppers, by weight
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen cayenne pepper substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.