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The 7 Best Cayenne Pepper Substitutes in Your Pantry

Bring the heat without the fear of running out of cayenne pepper! If your pantry spice rack is the culinary equivalent of an artist’s palette, then cayenne pepper – that fiery red, rich-flavored spice – is pure pigmented passion.

But what if you run out? Lost in the swath of a new recipe, you might find yourself asking, “What else can I use?” Having a list of substitutes at hand can furnish you with the peace of mind in your kitchen when the cayenne shaker unexpectedly turns up empty.

For home cooks and spice enthusiasts navigating the dynamic landscape of culinary experiences, understanding the versatile world of cayenne pepper substitutes enhances not only your cooking but also your appreciation for the universal language of flavor.

Here we unravel the seven most sensational stand-ins for cayenne pepper, ensuring your dishes remain as vibrant and inviting as your culinary spirit.

Understanding Cayenne Peppers

Before delving into substitutes, it’s important to understand the unique qualities of cayenne pepper and how it is commonly used in recipes.

Cayenne pepper is made from dried and ground red chili peppers and has a distinctive bright red color, bold flavor, and intense heat. It adds a spicy kick to dishes without being overwhelmingly hot like other chili peppers.

Cayenne pepper holds a special place in our kitchens, especially when we whip up Mexican and Cajun dishes. We love to:

  • Sprinkle it on meats to bring out their flavor.
  • Add a touch of heat to sauces and marinades.
  • Give soups and stews a fiery kick with a dash or two.

Beyond its traditional uses, cayenne pepper is also a versatile ingredient in many international cuisines, including Thai, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes.

So how do we replace this fiery spice when it’s missing from our pantry? Keep reading to find out!

The 7 Best Cayenne Pepper Substitutes

Don’t panic if you run out of cayenne pepper – these seven substitutes will save the day (and your taste buds).

1 – Paprika

If you’re in search of a gentle, smoky alternative to the fiery heat of cayenne pepper, paprika presents itself as the ideal option. Crafted from dried and finely ground sweet bell peppers, paprika is celebrated for imparting a vibrant color and a rich, smoky flavor to dishes, all without the overwhelming spiciness associated with cayenne.

Whether you’re preparing a stew, a rub for meats, or simply seasoning vegetables, using an equal amount of paprika in place of cayenne pepper in your recipes ensures you’ll achieve a delightful depth of flavor without the intense heat.

In terms of ratio, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne equals 1 tablespoon of paprika for a mild substitute and up to 3 tablespoons for a spicier option.

2 – Chili Powder

Chili powder is a versatile and flavorful blend of various ground chili peppers mixed with select spices, including cumin, garlic powder, and oregano. Although the mix may include cayenne pepper, the presence of other ingredients typically results in a milder heat level when compared to using pure cayenne pepper alone.

This unique combination not only moderates the spiciness but also contributes a complex depth of flavor to a wide range of dishes. By carefully balancing the heat with aromatic spices, chili powder can significantly enhance the overall taste profile of meals, adding a rich, nuanced layer to both savory and some sweet recipes.

When substituting with chili powder, start with 1/4 teaspoon for every 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and adjust to your desired level of heat.

3 – Hot Sauce

For those who enjoy the tangy, vinegary taste of hot sauce, it can be a great substitute for cayenne pepper. Made from a blend of chili peppers, vinegar, and occasionally other ingredients such as garlic or herbs, hot sauce delivers similar heat levels to cayenne pepper while also contributing a unique flavor profile to dishes.

The liquid form of hot sauce also makes it easier to control the amount of heat added in recipes, as opposed to using dried spices like cayenne pepper. From marinades and dressings to dips and soups, hot sauce can be used in a variety of dishes as a substitute for cayenne pepper.

In terms of ratio, 1/8 teaspoon of hot sauce is equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, but adjust to your desired level of heat.

4 – Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes are a pantry staple for many spice lovers, and rightfully so. These dried and crushed red chili peppers pack a punch of heat similar to cayenne pepper, making them a convenient substitute that is easily found in most grocery stores. Red pepper flakes are often used as a finishing touch to sprinkle on top of dishes for an added kick, but they can also be used in cooking to add heat and flavor to sauces, marinades, and rubs.

When using red pepper flakes as a substitute, start with 1/4 teaspoon for every 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and adjust accordingly.

5 – Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Flakes)

Gochugaru, also known as Korean red pepper flakes, is a popular ingredient in Korean cuisine. These mild-flavored dried chili flakes are often used to add heat and depth of flavor to dishes like kimchi and bulgogi. While they have a similar appearance to red pepper flakes, gochugaru tends to have a slightly sweeter and smokier taste, making it a great substitute for cayenne pepper in recipes that call for a mild level of heat.

To substitute with gochugaru, use 1/2 teaspoon for every 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and adjust to your desired level of heat.

6 – Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers, giving it a unique smoky flavor that sets it apart from other chili powders. While chipotle powder has a similar heat level to cayenne pepper, its distinct smokiness adds a depth of flavor that may not be present in dishes where cayenne pepper is used. This makes it a great substitute for cayenne pepper in recipes that call for a bold, smoky taste.

In terms of texture, chipotle powder is finer than cayenne pepper, so using 1/4 teaspoon of chipotle powder for every 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper should provide a similar heat level.

7 – Serrano Pepper

For those who are familiar with the heat level of cayenne pepper and want an equally spicy substitute, serrano peppers are a great option. These green chili peppers have a similar heat level to cayenne pepper but also add a fresh, bright flavor to dishes. Serrano peppers can be found in most grocery stores and can easily be chopped or blended into sauces, marinades, and dishes that call for cayenne pepper.

Use 1/2 teaspoon of finely chopped or blended serrano pepper for every 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in recipes. Keep in mind that the heat level may vary depending on the individual peppers used.


Running out of cayenne pepper doesn’t have to be a disaster in the kitchen. With these seven substitutes, you can still achieve the desired level of heat and flavor in your dishes without having to make a trip to the grocery store.

Experiment with these alternatives and find your new favorite way to add some spice to your meals! So don’t worry if you run out of cayenne pepper, there are plenty of equally delicious and flavorful substitutes to choose from. Keep these options in mind next time you’re looking to add some heat to your recipes.