What is the Best Substitute for Ground Red Pepper?

by Charlie

Ground red pepper consists of dried and crushed red chili peppers. It is mostly produced from cayenne peppers (an extremely spicy chili that measures high on the Scoville scale).

No one and nothing is irreplaceable – definitely not ground red pepper. Any situation might demand that you quickly improvise and provide an alternate spice when ground red pepper isn’t available.

So, what is the best substitute for ground red pepper? The best substitute for ground red pepper is cayenne pepper. Well, if ground red peppers comprise about 80% cayenne pepper with other spices, it may be easy to imagine that the best replacement for ground red pepper should be cayenne pepper.

An Overview of Ground Red Pepper

Also known as crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes, ground red pepper, is a very common spice and is one of those ingredients you can always find a way to squeeze into any meal you’re preparing. Sauce, noodles, eggs and omelets, pizza… You name it!

It is ideally made from about three or four (sometimes, even 5) chilies. Cayenne takes dominance, with the faint presence of chilies like jalapeño and ancho. Hence, while hot and spicy, these peppers’ heat doesn’t come close to that of raw cayenne.

Ground red peppers have a flaky appearance. It is important to note that they are not powders and are best for introducing heat and not spice. This is because still being visible, these flakes will not meld into the dish. It’s why you find ground red peppers as pizza, sandwich, and salad toppings.

It is also easier to prevent over-spiced conditions with ground red peppers since the flakes are considerably more visible than the powdery cayenne.

We spoke about the Scoville scale earlier, and we figured we might have lost you there. The Scoville scale is a standardized measurement of the heat levels of spices like ground red pepper. Red pepper flakes measure about 30 000 – 50 000 SHUs. This might seem high, but it falls incredibly low compared to Carolina Pepper’s 1 569 300 SHU (the world’s hottest pepper).

This, however, does not in any way undermine ground red Pepper’s hotness.

Fun Fact: In 2018, some 34-year old dude ate Carolina Reaper for some chili-eating contest and landed in the hospital with a thunderclap headache. The case was so severe and so novel, it was published in BMJ Case Reports. 

Why Replace Ground Red Pepper?

  • Non-availability: What happens if, for some reason, there are no ground red peppers available? You still have to cook, don’t you? 
  • Preference: Some people might find other peppers tastier or more convenient than others due to personal preference. This is where alternatives like these come in very handy. 
  • Needs: For particular dishes where you might need less heat and more spice, you might consider any of the substitutes we’ve listed below. 

Top Recommended Substitute for Ground Red Pepper: Ground Cayenne 

Unlike flaked ground red pepper, ground cayenne is a powder. Because red pepper flakes are usually ‘diluted’ with other peppers, ground cayenne is considerably hotter. 

Therefore, it is important to note that cayenne shouldn’t be added in the same quantity as you would pepper flakes. Because they’re spicier, hotter, and easily over-spiced (they’re powders), add them in small amounts before gradually increasing quantity. 

Nonetheless, if you’re looking to choose spice overheat, the cayenne powder is your go-to. It melds better into sauces and soups since it is in powder form, totally emptying all its spiciness. 

If it’s the heat you need, we suggest that you add ground red pepper in more amounts.

Additional Substitutes for Ground Red Pepper

Chilli Powder 

Chilli powder isn’t nearly as hot as either cayenne or ground red pepper. You may need to double (or sometimes triple) the quantity to get the job done and achieve the same effect. And you don’t even need to worry about spicing. It isn’t so spicy either. 

Hot Sauce 

If you’re preparing a meal for family and friends who most likely have varied tolerance thresholds for pepper heat levels, we recommend that you use hot sauce instead. This is because each person can always add more sauce to his plate to reach desired heat levels. As a general rule, start with small amounts and gradually increase. 

Dried Pepper

If you run out of ground red pepper and you happen to have dried pepper in your pantry, how does making yours sound? 

All you need to do is pluck the stems and whirl for a few minutes in your food processor. Viola! Ready to use. 

As stress-free as we’ve made this look,  we must admit that It’s not the most accessible alternative. Today, everybody wants ready-made spices and needing to prepare them yourself can be a tedious chore (we millennials can be a tad lazy). 

Nonetheless, it is a valid alternative. Get your hands to work! 

Quick advice: Please use gloves when handling raw pepper like this. And do a bit of research on the peppers’ heat levels you’d be processing (especially if they’re a mixture of different peppers). You don’t want too much pepper in your meal, neither do you want to end up in the hospital with a thunderclap headache. 

When an urgent need arises to replace ground red pepper, or maybe you’re just tired of the norm and out for adventure… 

You know where to look. And what to try.

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