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7 Pepper Substitute Options

This is a close look at various colorful types of pepper on a wooden table.

Pepper has been used for generations to improve the taste of food. Pepper is a wonderful addition to any meal. Decades ago, pepper was incredibly expensive and worth its weight in gold. While it is no longer that expensive, it is still one of the most popular spices found on the dinner table.

In the event you run out of pepper, you may need a pepper substitute. Keep reading to find out what you might be able to use when you do not have pepper. 

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

What is Black Pepper?

This is a bunch of black peppercorns in a wooden bowl.

Black pepper is a traditional spice that can be found just about anywhere. It is in every grocery store, people’s home, and restaurant. Black pepper is best known for its warm and sharp flavors. It also has a specific smell that you know immediately. Black pepper originally started in India. 

Black Pepper Substitutes

This is a close look at various types of peppercorns in different tones.

Best Substitute Option

The first option you want to try when substituting black pepper for your recipes is cayenne pepper and white pepper mixed together. White pepper is made from the same peppercorn as black pepper. It has a similar flavor but does not have the same complexity that you find with a whole black peppercorn.

Adding cayenne pepper to the ground white pepper gives you added complexity. When you combine 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper with 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, it equals 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. 

Second Substitute Option

Green peppercorn is a good substitute for black pepper. Both the green and black peppercorns come from the same vine. What separates them is when they are harvested. Green peppercorns are harvested and preserved before they are ripe. Black peppercorns, on the other hand, are left alone until they are mature.

Then they are harvested and dried. Green peppercorns are often brined to preserve their shelf life. When they are dried, they must be used right away because they are perishable. One ounce of brined green peppercorns can be used to replace one ounce of black peppercorns. 

Other Alternative Options


This is a close look at a couple of sliced ripe papayas.

If you happen to have the whole papaya in your kitchen, you can use its seeds. If you dry and grind the seeds, they have a similar flavor to black pepper. Once you scoop the seeds out of the papaya, you should soak them overnight and then bake them on low heat until they harden. Then you can grind the seeds and use them just as you would black pepper. 

Grains of Paradise

A bunch of Grains of Paradise with a wooden spoon.

Grains of paradise is a spice found in West Africa. It belongs to the ginger family and has a strong pepper flavor. It also has a hint of citrus and cardamom. 

Pink Peppercorn

This is a very close look at a bunch of pink peppercorns.

Pink peppercorn is not actually a pepper. These peppers do have a similar size and shape as black peppercorns. They taste like pepper, and you will not notice them as much in a sauce that has lighter color. 


This is a close look at a wooden bowl filled with powdered paprika.

Paprika, or smoked paprika, is another alternative to black pepper. Smoked paprika may add a bit of smokiness to your dish. You may want to add it a little at a time to make sure it is providing the right amount of flavor. You can always reverse it because black pepper is a great paprika substitute. 

Cayenne Pepper

A close look at cayenne pepper flakes on a wooden spoon.

Cayenne powder is a great alternative for black pepper. It will bring the heat, so you may want to use ground cayenne pepper sparingly. Cayenne pepper powder is part of the red chili pepper family. You may want to keep that in mind before you make your food too spicy. If you are worried about the spice, you may want a cayenne pepper alternative. 

What is Bell Pepper?

A close look at a red, green and yellow bell peppers.

Bell pepper is a great addition to your recipes. It is not spicy and has a lot of bright colors. You will find them in green, red, orange, and yellow. They can dramatically change the taste of your food. These peppers are larger-sized pepper and have a bell shape, hence the name. There are a number of alternative pepper options you can use as a bell pepper substitute. 

Bell Pepper Substitutes

Poblano Pepper

Quinoa-stuffed Poblano Peppers with corn and beans.

The poblano pepper is often considered the best substitute for bell pepper. Their earthy and rich flavor has a similar taste to that of green bell pepper. However, they are not as sweet as the bell peppers that are not green.

The poblanos have a bit of spice to them, but most people are not bothered by the heat. They are not as hot as a jalapeño pepper. The inside of the poblano has large cavities and thick walls similar to bell peppers. They are perfect for stuffed peppers. 

Anaheim Pepper

A close look at a bunch of green Anaheim peppers.

Anaheim peppers have thick walls making them ideal to be stuffed. They have the same crunch you expect from bell peppers with a slight fruit flavor. They are great for roasting. The Anaheim pepper is versatile and can be used in many recipes. The Anaheim is a spicy pepper. It has more spice than a poblano and not as much as a jalapeño. 

Jalapeno Pepper

A bunch of Jalapeno Peppers in an aluminum bowl.

Jalapeno is a spicy alternative to bell pepper. These are a chile pepper that is considered to be medium heat. Even though they are spicy, they have a fair amount of similarities with bell peppers. A jalapeno can be stuffed if they are big enough. If you remove the ribs and pith from this chili pepper, it cut the spiciness. 

Sichuan Pepper

A close look at a bunch of Sichuan Peppercorns with a wooden spoon.

Some people get indigestion, nauseous, or have a stomach ache from bell peppers. Some may be allergic to bell peppers. However, those people may be able to eat Sichuan pepper, especially if the heat of the pepper does not bother them. This pepper originated in China and had been used as medicine for abdominal pain. 

Pimento Pepper

Colorful bunch of pimento cherry ball peppers.

The pimento pepper has a heart shape and does not have any spice to them. Pimento peppers are not meant to be stuffed but can be used in place of chopped bell pepper. These peppers are most often found in jars but do not have a lot of crunches. If you want crunch with your pepper, do not use the ones in a jar. 

Cubanelle Pepper

A close look at a bunch of Cubanelle green peppers.

The cubanelle pepper is a great substitute for red bell pepper. This pepper does not have the bitter taste that some experience with green bell pepper. They are a great addition to pizza or salad.

You can slice them and substitute them for bell pepper in any recipe. Even though this pepper does not have thick walls, it can be stuffed. They have a slight amount of spice to them, but less than you will find in a poblano. When a poblano is not ripe, it is green or yellow but becomes red when fully ripened. 


This is a close look at a bunch of different onions.

It may be surprising that you can use onions as a replacement for bell pepper. Onions become sweeter when they are fried and lose the traditional onion flavor, making them a perfect substitute for bell peppers. They are crunchy like bell peppers, so you will not miss that, either. There are various types of onions, and each one is best for different types of recipes. 

Shallots are sweet when raw and versatile. You can fry and roast them to add crunch to your dish. 

Pearl onions are great as a side dish or an addition to the sauce. 

Sweet onions do not have a strong flavor. 

Red onion is a must-have if you want to add some kick to a salad or sauce. 

Yellow onion is for a recipe that requires a long cook time. They are a balance between red onions and sweet onions. 

White onions are best raw, such as in a salad or taco. They have a different flavor that is not overpowering.