Substitutes for cayenne – what can I use instead?
Cayenne is a massively popular spice that is known and used the world over. Made by grinding up 100% dried cayenne peppers, the spice is most associated with its raw and unadulterated heat. It doesn’t particularly have a complex flavor or earthiness to it, it just brings that little extra bit of heat that your dish might be lacking. As such, it is a really useful spice to have around when you want to add just a little bit of punch to your recipe, without compromising the other notes of flavor.
Keeping it simple
One would think that the simplicity of the humble cayenne pepper would make it simple to replace, but in fact the opposite holds true. Many other spices will be made using a more complex set of ingredients. For example, even the seemingly basic chili powder has other ingredients in it that affect the outcome of the dish. Generally, these extra elements are spices like garlic and cumin.
When used in any great quantity, these hidden elements can add unwelcome notes to a dish you may have perfected over the years. So, when selecting a replacement, it is important to first consider its impact on the dish. In that regard, each of the listed substitutes will have its own set of strengths and weaknesses to consider. We will endeavor to help you pick the one that best suits your purposes.
Cayenne pepper ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale. Though this may sound like an absurdly high number, it is nowhere near as hot as many other chili products on the market. So, if you’re struggling to think of something that might pack the same heat, don’t worry too much. The chances are that you may already have something in your spice rack or fridge that can hit the mark.
How to tone down the spice level
It may also be a possibility that you are seeking out a replacement that merely substitutes for the color without adding the heat. After all, not all of us are spice fanatics. Most children are not; that is for sure! If this is the situation you have found yourself in, the most straightforward replacement we can suggest is paprika. Paprika is remarkably mild, will color your dish nicely, and will add some nice earthy tones.
For most of us though, we will still want a little bit of kick in our dish. The replacements we have selected will each generate that. So, without further ado, here are our best top 4 substitutes for cayenne pepper.
1. Chili Powder
I’m sure that our first substitute won’t come as a surprise to many of you. However, it has to be said that sometimes the simplest solution is also the most effective. Sometimes, it is easy to fall into the trap of overthinking flavors, to the point where we can end up adding something into the dish that could totally alter its unique character. That is pretty tough to do with chili powder. Its flavor is inherently mild for a chili powder and quite well-rounded too. This is in no small part due to the fact that your average chili powder will contain cumin and garlic too.
An ideal substitute for use in Mexican dishes
So, though chili powder won’t quite have the same instant and intense kick that cayenne does, it can still make for a great substitute in Mexican-style dishes. Though the same heat won’t quite be there as with the cayenne, there is no real reason that you can’t simply add more. But, this isn’t to say that the use of chili powder should be limited to only Mexican dishes. It is a bit more versatile than that.
Versatile and readily available
Due to the cumin and garlic content in most chili powder blends, it can step into pretty much any recipe without too much shoehorning. Another reason that it makes our list is that it is just so readily available. Pretty much everyone who keeps a well-stocked spice rack will have this at their disposal. If not, the chances are really high that your local store will stock some. Essentially, this is the perfect substitute for when you’ve found yourself in a tight spot.
2. Hot Sauce
Okay, so we do realize that this might sound like a very caveman-like approach to substituting for cayenne, but don’t rule it out just yet! There is a huge variety of flavors out there in the hot sauce realm. Some will have additional elements like blueberry or mango. Others will have a heavy smokiness. Others will have none of these flavor notes and will pretty much only provide heat. Generally, these are the cheapest of the bunch too! And the good news is that it’s these cheap hot sauces that work best as a cayenne substitute!
Steady as she goes!
There are some crazy-hot hot sauces out there, some of which are over one million on the Scoville scale! When it comes to these, the best tip we can give you is to go very gently. Put literally one drop in at a time and taste your dish as you go. Better yet, opt for a Louisiana style hot sauce. These still pack enough punch to replace cayenne but won’t blow the face off of your guests. Tabasco and Crystal brand hot sauces are pretty much perfect for the task.
3. Chili Flakes
Chili flakes are a quick and easy fix for a lack of cayenne pepper. They don’t particularly need to be any special variety. Even the chili flakes that you get at your local pizzeria will suffice for this purpose. Like cayenne pepper, chili flakes won’t introduce any extra complex flavors into your dish that could overwhelm the more subtle flavors in the recipe. Admittedly, chili flakes are a little tame when compared to cayenne, but this isn’t necessarily a reason to rule them out. After all, you can always add a few more! Naturally, the texture of chili flakes is going to be different from a powder, but in cooked dishes, you shouldn’t notice any difference.
4. Serrano Peppers
Serrano peppers aren’t as easy to come across as the other substitutes on this list, which is unfortunate considering they pack roughly the exact same amount of heat as the average cayenne. Generally, when you find serrano peppers in a store, they will be in their whole state. Naturally, this makes it considerably less likely that you will happen to have some in your spice rack. However, if you are one of the lucky few who can source these peppers in your locale, simply substitute 1 teaspoon of chopped serrano pepper for every teaspoon of cayenne. Nice and simple!
Cayenne is pretty easy to substitute for in most cases. When using either chili flakes or chili powder, the rule of thumb is to begin by using double the amount when compared to cayenne. For some, this won’t quite be spicy enough, but it is best to start slow and add as you go rather than to instantly overshoot the mark. After all, it is much easier to put in extra spice than it is to remove it after the fact. When using a milder hot sauce, the rule of thumb should be an even 1:1 ratio. However, if you are using an incredibly hot sauce, like Da Bomb, for example, it is best to add only a drop in at a time and taste it as you go along. Serrano is really the closest you will get to replicating cayenne, and it is used in exactly the same quantities.