9 Spicy Substitutes for Cayenne Pepper

Substitutes for Cayenne Pepper
Photo by Artem Beliaikin

For those who love the heat and flavor of cayenne pepper, it can be frustrating to go without it when you’re cooking or you don’t have any on hand.

Fortunately, plenty of substitutes for cayenne pepper can give you the same level of spiciness.  This includes chile peppers, hot sauces, or common pantry ingredients like mustard and horseradish.

Here are spicy substitutes for cayenne pepper that you can use to make recipes such as chili and buffalo wings even more fiery and flavorful.

1. Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is made from smoked, dried jalapeño peppers. It has a rich, smoky flavor with moderate heat. You can use it in place of cayenne pepper to add depth of flavor to dishes. 

If you don’t have chipotle powder, you can substitute an equal amount of smoked paprika. Or, if you’re cooking Mexican food, try chili powder.

I’ve found that fresh chilies work better than canned ones for this substitution because they’re spicier and provide more flavor.

2. Red Curry Paste

Red curry paste is a crucial ingredient in many Thai dishes. It’s made with a blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. If you can’t find red curry paste, you can use this recipe to make your own.

Just be sure to adjust the number of chili peppers to suit your taste. You may also want to add sugar or honey if you don’t want it too spicy.

3. Paprika

Paprika is often used as substitutes for cayenne pepper in dishes like chili, barbecue sauce, hot dogs, and more. The spice has fruity and smoky flavors, making it versatile for cooking just about anything from Mexican cuisine to hearty stews. 

Just like cayenne, paprika is a powder made from dried peppers. The most common type of paprika is made from red bell peppers, but it can also be made with other chili peppers, like ancho, guajillo, or New Mexico chilies. 

Paprika has a milder heat than cayenne, so you may need to use more to get the same spice level. It’s also sweeter than cayenne, so that it can add an excellent depth of flavor to dishes.

To get a less spicy version of paprika, omit the cayenne pepper from your favorite recipes when using paprika instead.

4. Hot chili oil

A fiery oil made from crushed chili peppers, hot chili oil is a popular ingredient in Sichuan cuisine. Hot chili oil makes a great substitute if you can’t find cayenne pepper.

Just be careful – a little goes a long way! Here are some tips for using hot chili oil: 

  1. Drizzle over any dish that’s on the mild side and needs a kick of heat. 
  2. Mix with soy sauce and use as a dipping sauce or dressing. 
  3. Add to eggs, stir-fries, soups, and other dishes that need an extra kick of flavor.

5. Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes are also great substitutes for cayenne pepper. They have a similar heat level and can be used in many of the same dishes. Plus, they’re easy to find and usually cheaper than cayenne pepper. 

Here are some tips for using red pepper flakes as a substitute: 

  • Start with less than you think you need. Red pepper flakes are very potent, and a little goes a long way. 
  • Add them early in the cooking process so they have time to infuse their flavor into the dish. 
  • If you want more heat, add more red pepper flakes. If you want less heat, add them towards the end of the cooking process or reduce the amount you use.

6. Sriracha Sauce

If you’re looking for a spicy condiment to add to your meals, sriracha sauce is a great option. Sriracha sauce is made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt.

It has a bright red color and a smooth, slightly thick consistency. Sriracha sauce is often used as a dipping sauce or added to soups or noodle dishes.

The sauce gets its heat from the chili peppers, so if you want a milder version, you can remove the seeds from the peppers before adding them to the sauce. You can also adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe to taste.

7. Dried Chilies

Dried chilies are great substitutes for cayenne pepper. They can be found in most grocery stores and come in various heat levels. Remove the seeds and veins before using them, as they can be pretty spicy. 

Here are some of our favorite dried chilies to use as substitutes for cayenne pepper:

  • Ancho chili: The ancho chili is a milder option that offers rich flavor without being too spicy. It has a nice sweetness that makes it perfect for recipes like mole sauce. It also has lots of health benefits, such as being high in antioxidants and minerals. 
  • Pasilla chili: The pasilla chili is another milder option that works well in Mexican dishes because it has hints of chocolate or nuts. 

8. Fresh jalapeños

Fresh jalapeños are great substitutes for cayenne pepper. They have a similar heat level and can be used in many of the same dishes. Plus, they add a nice pop of color to your plate.

 Here are seven ways to use fresh jalapeños as substitutes for cayenne pepper:

  • Fresh jalapeños sliced into rounds or strips make a delicious topping for any meat dish. 
  • Sliced, fresh jalapeños are the perfect addition to eggs benedict or huevos rancheros. 
  • A little minced fresh jalapeno makes an excellent spicy salsa that pairs well with chips or on top of tacos. 
  • Toss some diced fresh jalapenos into cornbread batter, and you’ll have some deliciously spicy cornbread! 
  • Throw some chopped-up fresh jalapenos into black beans while cooking to spice them up!

9. Ginger powder (grated or ground)

When substituting ginger powder for cayenne, use about one-eighth to one-quarter as much ginger as you would cayenne.

In other words, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of cayenne, use between 1/8 and 1/4 teaspoon of ginger powder. You can always add more ginger to taste after cooking if needed. 

If you don’t have any ginger on hand, try one of these other spices as a substitute. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the different substitutes for cayenne pepper.

They’ll all give your dish a slightly different flavor profile that could make it perfect for a specific occasion or event.


Here are substitutes for cayenne pepper that will add some heat to your dishes. Some of these spices are more potent than cayenne, so use them sparingly. You’ll find the perfect spice to kick your meals with some experimentation.

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