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What Can You Substitute for Cayenne Pepper?

Cayenne pepper is known for its signature heat and spicy tones that add a bold flavor to your dish. It instantly livens up the taste of your food and adds more oomph to it.

Unfortunately, not everyone can handle the heat. Plus, sometimes, you may lack cayenne pepper in your local store.

So if you’re looking for something milder or a substitute that can provide similar heat and flavor, look no further. Here are 12 ground cayenne pepper substitutes you should consider.

Flavor Profile & Uses of Cayenne Pepper

Originally native to Central and South America, cayenne pepper is a hot chili that adds an intense hot flavor to your favorite meals. It has a moderate to hot spiciness, usually rated between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU [1] on the Scoville Scale.

Interestingly, some people mistake it for paprika spice, but cayenne pepper is way spicier.

cayenne pepper

Flavor Profiles

Cayenne pepper has a bright red color and a smokey flavor. It’s slightly bitter but predominantly pungent and spicy.

Its other flavor profiles include

  • Hot and a little fruity when fresh
  • Smokey and slightly sweet dried

Cayenne pepper also has an earthy, sharp, and herbal flavor sometimes.

Cayenne Pepper Uses

Seasoning: Cayenne pepper can be used to season various dishes, including soups, stews, tacos, and chili con carne.

Making Marinades and Sauces: Cayenne pepper makes a spicy and flavorful sauce that goes well with fried chicken, pizza, and other dishes.

Grilling and Roasting: Cayenne pepper is a critical ingredient for BBQ parties. You can use it to make dry rubs or spice mixes to give your grilled food an extra kick.

Medicinal Purpose: In addition to flavoring your dishes, cayenne pepper also has health benefits. For centuries regions like Mexico, the Caribbean, and Asia have used it to treat digestive disorders [2], thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

12 Amazing Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

While Cayenne is a favorite among many, some people get overwhelmed by its intense heat. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives that can provide similar flavors.

The trick is finding a substitute that will give you the same flavor as cayenne pepper without buying multiple ingredients. From ground & fresh peppers to sauces, here are 12 simple substitutes for cayenne pepper.

Ground Cayenne Pepper Substitute

Fresh Cayenne Pepper Substitute

Cayenne Pepper Sauce Substitute

Red Pepper Flakes

Jalapeno Pepper

Tabasco Sauce


Fresh Habanero Peppers

Hot Sauce


Serrano Peppers

Chipotle Powder

Fresh Thai Pepper

Chile Powder

Black Pepper

Red Pepper Flakes

red pepper and flakes

This ground cayenne pepper substitute is made from dried and crushed red chili peppers. While it’s not 100% hot, it’s pretty spicy and adds a nice kick to your meal.

Cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes have a lot in common. Aside from the texture, they’re also similar in flavor, color, and heat intensity.

How to Substitute

Even the usage ratio is pretty equal; you can replace one spoon of Cayenne with one spoon of red pepper flakes.

Crushed chili peppers are great as a garnish for pizzas, salads, and soups. You can also use red pepper flakes in stews and sauces for that extra spice. You should, however, note that the flakes pack some serious punch, so you need to use them with caution.

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Jalapeno Pepper

jalapeno peppers

Believed to be the same species as Cayenne, jalapeno pepper is a good fresh cayenne pepper substitute. Its heat is milder than cayenne pepper and is usually between 2,500 to 8,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. Sometimes, however, jalapeno peppers can reach up to 12,000 SHU rankings.

Due to its mild flavor, the jalapeno pepper is perfect for adding flavor to your dishes without overwhelming them with heat. You can add this spice to practically any dish, including casseroles, tacos, and omelets.

How to Substitute

When using jalapeno peppers as a substitute for cayenne pepper in a recipe, you may need to add more than usual to achieve the same flavor.

For instance, if you usually use one teaspoon of Cayenne, you’ll need to add two teaspoons of jalapeno pepper for the best results.

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what is paprika

If you’re not looking for spiciness and just want to add flavor, Paprika is a great Cayenne Pepper substitute.

Like Cayenne, this spice comes from a pepper plant that has been dried and ground into powder. It also has a flavor similar to Cayenne but lacks the extra heat.

This mild taste of Paprika is perfect when you want to balance the flavor of your dish without compromising its richness and color.

Paprika pairs well with chicken and pork and adds a nice touch to dishes such as deviled eggs, salsas, and chili.

Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Flakes)


Gochugaru is another ground Cayenne Pepper substitute that comes from Korean chili peppers. It’s made from dried and ground-red chili peppers and has a smoky flavor with moderate heat intensity.

Gochugaru is widely used in Korean cuisine, mainly kimchi and other fermented dishes.

How to Substitute

And since it has the same heat level as Cayenne, you can use it in the same ratio as cayenne pepper.

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Tabasco Sauce

tabasco sauce

Tabasco Sauce is often the go-to Cayenne Pepper sauce substitute. This Spanish-style hot sauce is made from vine-ripened chili peppers, which are mashed and blended with vinegar and salt.

Tabasco sauce has a consistent heat intensity and flavor, making it ideal for recipes that call for Cayenne Pepper sauce.

How to Substitute

You don’t need to replace the entire amount of cayenne pepper with Tabasco sauce; a pinch or two should do the trick.

You can use this vinegar-based hot sauce to season mashed potatoes, sandwiches, salads, french fries, cheese fries, burgers, and even pizza.

Fresh Habanero Peppers

fresh habanero peppers

Habanero Peppers are a great fresh Cayenne Pepper substitute. These fiery peppers are incredibly spicy and pack up to 4 or 5 times more heat than Cayenne, so you should use them sparingly.

Habanero peppers have a wide range of flavors, including fruity, smoky, and floral notes. Their colors also range from yellow to orange to red, so you can choose the one that best suits your dish.

These peppers are usually added to foods as a finishing touch. You can also use them in moderation in sauces, marinades, and stews.

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Chipotle Powder

chipotle powder

If you are looking for a fiery and flavorful substitute for Cayenne Pepper, Chipotle Powder is a great option. This spice has a smoky flavor coupled with an intense hot punch. It’s a very popular ingredient in most Mexican cooking.

Chipotle powder has a unique flavor that is similar to cayenne pepper but much deeper and smokier in taste. The heat level depends on the type of pepper used, so read the label before making a purchase.

You can use this chipotle powder to add a smoky depth to different BBQ recipes by marinating the meat or sprinkling it on the finished product.

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Serrano Peppers

serrano peppers

Serrano Peppers are another Fresh Cayenne Pepper substitute that come with a powerful spicy punch. These peppers are related to jalapeños, but they’re much hotter and spicier. They are usually green but can turn red and yellow when fully ripened.

Serrano Peppers have a bold, spicy flavor that works great in salsas, sauces, and soups.

How to Substitute

When substituting them for cayenne pepper, use less than you normally would since they are much hotter.

Fresh Thai Pepper

fresh thai pepper

Fresh Thai Pepper is twice as hot as cayenne pepper, so you should use it in moderation. It has a pleasant fruity flavor with a hint of heat, which accentuates other flavors in your dish.

How to Substitute

When using Fresh Thai Pepper as a substitute in any recipe, reduce the amount by half lest it overpowers the dish.

It is primarily used to make curries and soups but is also great for seasoning fish and stir-fries. You can also use it to make different Thai-style dipping sauces and marinades.

Hot Sauce

hot sauce

Although most hot sauces are derived from cayenne peppers, you can find some made from other fiery peppers like habanero, jalapeño, and even ghost peppers.

Hot sauces provide an intense flavor and plenty of heat, making them a great substitute for cayenne pepper. Just make sure to adjust the amount you use based on the sauce you buy.

The best part about hot sauces is that you don’t have to cook them. You can simply open up your favorite bottle and enjoy the fiery experience!

Chile Powder

chile powder

Chile powder is made from a blend of different spices, including cumin, garlic, oregano, and salt. It’s a great Cayenne Pepper substitute if you want to add some heat and flavor to your dishes.

The flavor of Chile Powder will depend on the type of peppers used, but typically, it has mild to medium heat. For a more intense flavor, you can use Ancho Chile or Chipotle Powder. You can also add other spices to kick up the heat, like red pepper flakes or Paprika.

Chile Powder is relatively mild, so you might want to use more for a bolder taste.

Black Pepper

black peppers

Although Black Pepper doesn’t have much heat, it does provide a nice flavor that makes it a perfect Ground Cayenne Pepper substitute.

This seasoning is often used in larger quantities since its flavor is mild and subtle. To get a more intense flavor you can mix it with other spices, such as red pepper flakes or paprika.

The best part is that black pepper is a versatile ingredient that works well in almost all recipes.

Final Thoughts

Cayenne peppers have distinct spiciness and fruitiness with a slender yet vibrant appearance. If it is unavailable, you can still bring up the heat in every dish using spice substitution.

These spices differ in heat factors and taste. It can be liquid, ground, or whole fruit, depending on your preference and recipe. When in doubt, start with a small quantity, then add more spice to your liking.

It’s not always easy to find substitutes for Cayenne Pepper, but with the right ingredients, you can easily achieve the same flavor and heat.

We hope the above list of Cayenne Pepper substitutes helps you. And that you will find the perfect one for your next dish!

I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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