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Cayenne Pepper vs Red Pepper

This is a close look at a fresh pepper and a small jar of cayenne pepper flakes.

Determining which spices to use in your cooking can be a daunting and challenging task. This is even more so when it comes to pepper-based spices in your spice rack which can get very confusing. From cayenne pepper and paprika to red pepper flakes, black pepper, and peppercorns, it can be difficult to determine which ones you can safely substitute for each other and which ones may ruin your recipe if you substitute them.

Many people have a hard time determining the difference between red pepper and red pepper flakes versus cayenne pepper. Hopefully, this article, cayenne pepper vs red pepper, will help you out the next time you are using spices in a recipe in your own kitchen.

Related: What Goes with Chili | Types of Chili | How to Store Chili | Types of Spices | How to Preserve Pepper | Types of Pepper | Pepper Substitutes | Foods with Cayenne Pepper

Red Pepper vs. Cayenne Pepper

Both cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes pack some punch when it comes to adding some spice and extra heat to the dishes you are making. They both come from the same family of peppers so they are similar in that way. They are also both used throughout the world in a variety of cuisines, from Greek and Italian to Mexican and Asian.

They are, however, a little different from each other when it comes to the different ways they are used in cooking.

This is a close look at a bunch of ground cayenne pepper powder on a wooden table.

To make your bottle of cayenne pepper spice, dried cayenne peppers are ground down into a fine powder. It is a bright red in the color type of spice that is used in a variety of dishes because it will distribute heat evenly and will not change the texture of the food you are cooking.

This is a close look at a bowl of chili pepper flakes.

I have always been confused between crushed red pepper and red pepper flakes but actually, they are pretty much the same thing and both come from the process of crushing up dried chili peppers. Sometimes cayenne chilies are used to make the crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes and red pepper can actually be created from a variety of spicy chili peppers. There can even be more than one type in one bottle of red pepper or red pepper flakes.

A close look at a bowl of crushed and dried red chili flakes.

This is the reason that red pepper flakes are usually a little less spicy than cayenne pepper though some can actually be spicier and an example of this would be crushed ghost pepper flakes. Red pepper flakes are great to use on dishes, such as salads, sandwiches, and pizza and will make a meal taste better when it pops with heat.


If you are out of cayenne pepper when your recipe calls for it, you can usually use red pepper flakes instead and the same if the situation is reversed. You just need to remember that the two spices are a little different.

A close look at a bunch of red pepper chili flakes.

When you substitute red pepper flakes for cayenne pepper, you need to make sure that you distribute them very evenly in that the texture of the dish you are cooking will not be adversely affected by red pepper flakes. For example, if you’re cooking a very smooth type of soup or gravy, you would not want red pepper flakes mixed in it.

If you are swapping out fresh cayenne pepper for red pepper flakes, you need to remember that cayenne pepper can be hotter than crushed pepper and can affect the taste of the dish you are cooking. You will have to do some taste tests throughout the cooking process and possibly adjust the heat level accordingly.

The Differences Between Red Pepper and Black Pepper

When it comes to the differences between black pepper and red pepper, you need to know that black pepper actually comes from peppercorns which are small spicy dried fruit. Although the two spices are really very different, they both are used to add spice and heat to the dishes that you cook.

A close look at black peppercorn in a bowl and in a wooden spoon.

If you are in a situation in which you are cooking and cannot get to the store to buy the one you are out of, you can substitute one for the other but remember that cayenne pepper is much hotter than black pepper so you’ll want to use less of it in your dash.

Be very careful in remember to taste test as you move along in the cooking process. Also keep in mind that when it comes to either one, they are both dried pepper and fresh pepper is always better than the ones that have sat on the shelf for a period of time.

Cayenne Pepper vs Red Pepper vs Paprika, Oh My!

This is a close look at a red chili powder shaker spilled on the side.

You may, like me, have a bottle of paprika in your spice rack but are not always sure what you can do with it if it is not specifically called for in a recipe. Paprika is created from dried red bell peppers and is commonly used as a spice for casseroles, soups, and salads and can be used as a brightly colored garnish.

My mom uses a dash of paprika on each of her deviled eggs and they are delicious. Since bell peppers are not very spicy, paprika is not that spicy unless it is a specific kind that is made to be spicier. It will just add a milder red pepper flavor to the dish you are cooking.

There are a variety of different types of paprika but the main three types are hot paprika, smoked paprika, and sweet paprika, which is also known as Hungarian paprika. When it comes to substitutions for cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, you will only want to use the hot paprika since it is much spicier than the other two versions.

Remember that when it comes to actual peppers that are being called for in your recipe, there is a huge difference between red peppers and red bell peppers and if you use the wrong one, it may just ruin the dish you are cooking and it will not taste correct. Bell peppers, including green pepper, are sweet pepper while red pepper is hotter.

Swapping Fresh Peppers for Dried Pepper-Based Spices

A look at a bunch of chili drying on a woven bamboo basket tray.

If you are going to substitute fresh peppers in a recipe that calls for dried pepper spices comment you need to make sure the diced up fresh pepper will not change the texture of your dish too much making it not as good to the taste. You also, once again, need to remember the heat levels of the different types of peppers and do your taste testing throughout the cooking process to ensure you are getting the right level of heat.

Learn the Difference Between Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Red Chili Pepper, and Ground Red Pepper

Although these spices are all very similar in several ways, including how they appear and in their texture, they each boast unique amounts of spice levels, flavors, and uses.

This is a close look at a bunch of dried chili peppers and a bowl of chili powder.

Cayenne pepper is an extra super spicy chili that rates high on the Scoville scale. This scale is used to measure the heat levels of various types of peppers. Ground cayenne pepper, just like dried hot peppers, can even be used in creating the hot sauce, you know, the kind of sauce that will burn down to your toes when you taste it. It is a type of hot pepper, similar to a jalapeno pepper.

A wooden bowl filled with red chili powder.

Ground paprika is created when several peppers are ground down and can have a fiery flavor or a sweet flavor.

Pieces of fresh red peppers and a bowl chili powder.

Ground red pepper and red chili powder are actually just the general names for different spices, including cayenne and a variety of other red chili pepper-based spices.

FAQS About Peppers

What is capsaicin cream?

Capsaicin is a compound that is found in peppers and gives them their spicy punch. It is used to create capsaicin cream which can be used to treat pain as a topical lotion.

What is cumin?

Cumin comes from the dried seeds of a plant called the Cuminum cyminum which is part of the parsley family of plants. It gives different foods an earthy type of flavor and is used in many dishes, including salads, vegetable dishes, and soups. It brings a spicy and peppery flavor to your food.

Are banana peppers hot?

Banana pepper is actually a pretty mild chili pepper that has a tangy yet sweet flavor.