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15 Picante Substitute For Red Pepper Flakes In Your Spicy Food

Food connoisseurs all agree that nothing can heat and spice up food like chilies and peppers. Red pepper flakes are made from mixtures of peppers like cayenne, jalapenos, Anaheim, bell peppers, and Fresno.

They also retain the seeds after the drying and storage process. They are white (because of the seeds) and with a range of red hues. The spiciness level is intense, and can sometimes be intolerable. 

If you are considering testing out some other spicy alternatives, here are some you can consider.

  1. Cayenne Pepper Flakes
  2. Cayenne Powder
  3. Red Chili Flakes
  4. Chili Powder
  5. Serrano Peppers
  6. Chipotle Powder
  7. Jalapeno Pepper
  8. Hot Paprika Powder
  9. Fresno Pepper

Chilies and peppers are actually not the same. Peppers come from the genus Piper while Chilies are from the genus Capsicum. 

So, why are chilies referred to as chili peppers? When Christopher Columbus first encountered the plant capsicum, he called them peppers because of their similar pungent taste to peppers. 

In this discussion, the word pepper refers to the genus capsicum and not the genus piper. 

So what are the considerations when finding the best substitutes for red pepper flakes?

Best 15 Red Pepper Flakes Substitute

Substitute For Red Pepper Flakes

When choosing the best alternative for red pepper flakes, it is critical to note that the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) of red peppers ranges from 15,000 to 50,000 SHU.

So, your best substitutes should be within or slightly close to this range. If your chili substitute has a much higher SHU, you can just adjust the measurements.

If red pepper flakes are not available, the best substitute you can use is dried cayenne pepper. Cayenne is the most common base of red pepper flakes, and is almost the same in spiciness intensity.

Here is the full list of other alternatives to consider if you cannot find them both.

Cayenne Pepper Flakes


The best substitute you can use is Cayenne Pepper Flakes. These are ripe cayenne peppers, dried and crushed into small flakes. Cayenne is the usual base pepper in red pepper flakes. You can buy them at a store or pick them up fresh from the garden.

You can dry them in the oven or sun-dry them (a slower drying process). Afterward, crush the dried cayenne by hand or blend in the blender. Cayenne has maximum SHU of 30,000 to 50,000. It works well with pizza, salad, and other recipes.

Cayenne Powder

Cayenne Powder is made from cayenne pepper but in powder form. It has a strong flavor, is spicier, and is concentrated compared to cayenne flakes. Cayenne powder blends with the dish, unlike cayenne flakes, which tend to just float or stay on top.

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Cayenne powder is more likely to reach the highest SHU point than cayenne flakes, so it is advisable to use a lesser amount.

Red Chili Flakes


If red pepper flakes are produced by combining different peppers, red chili flakes are made from just one type of pepper. Chili flakes are made from chipotle, Urfa Biber, or Aleppo.

The color varies from dark, fiery red to light, blurry red.

Unlike red pepper flakes, the seeds are removed from chili flakes. It tastes milder than red pepper flakes, so it is perfect for beginners. 

Chili Powder

Chili powder is a mixture of two or more pepper types like paprika, Aleppo, cayenne, jalapenos, and ancho. The peppers are combined with other spices such as garlic powder, salt, onion powder, and cumin.

The spiciness ranges from mild to intense, depending on the measure of cayenne used. Chili powder works well with any recipe.

Serrano Peppers

Serrano Peppers

Serrano peppers are native to Mexico, specifically in the Puebla region. Serrano peppers are 2 to 4 inches long with a curved and elongated shape.

The walls are waxy, thin, and have less cavity space, making Serrano pepper not ideal for stuffing. The flavor is bright and grassy, and an SHU between 10,000 to 23,000 points.

As a point of reference, it is 9 times hotter than jalapenos. The best time to harvest Serrano peppers is when they are green in color. Serrano can be eaten raw, mixed with salsa, added to sandwiches, soups, salads, and stews.

Chipotle Powder

Chipotle powder is made from just one type of pepper; jalapenos peppers. The jalapenos are dried, smoked, and ground into powder. 

The chipotle powder has a spicy, smoky flavor, making it the best red pepper flake substitute in grilled recipes and sauces. The SHU range of Chipotle is 2,500 to 8,000 points.

Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeno peppers are not as spicy as red pepper flakes. It measures 2.5 to 3 inches long and has a pod-like shape. They tend to be stout, making them a good ingredient for stuffing.

The best time to harvest them is when they are still green in color. Green jalapenos have a bright, grassy, and bitter taste.

The Scoville heat unit of Jalapenos is between 2,500 and 8,000. It is a perfect blend for salsas, sandwiches, fresh salads, and vegetable medleys.

Hot Paprika Powder

There are 3 types of paprika – sweet, smoked, and hot. Hot paprika is a Hungarian variety of paprika. If you are looking for a paprika pepper with a kick, use Alma Paprika Pepper.

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Alma Paprika grows along the Danube River in Hungary. It has a Scoville scale of 1,000 to 3,000. Alma Paprika measures 5 to 7 cm in width and 7 to 10 cm in length to give it a small squat appearance.

You can add Alma Hot paprika to casseroles, stews, roasts, and chili recipes.

Fresno Pepper

Fresno Pepper

Fresno pepper is a type of pepper usually mixed with cayenne to make red pepper flakes. The appearance and taste of Fresno peppers are similar to Jalapeno peppers.

However, Fresno is spicier with a Scoville heat of 2,500 to 10,000. In its red-ripe form, it gives a smokier and fruitier taste.

This pepper is native to Fresno, California, hence its name. You can use Fresno for any recipe that calls for jalapenos and serrano as a substitute.

Tabasco Pepper

Tabasco is not just a brand name, but a pepper from the genus capsicum native to Mexico. Tabasco became popular as an ingredient of the famous hot sauce. The distinct juicy membrane of Tabasco makes it a perfect ingredient for hot sauce. 

Tabasco SHU points range between 30,000 and 50,000 like Cayenne pepper. The hot sauce is often used on pizza, hotdogs, and other ready-to-eat food items.



Gochugaru is a Korean coarsely ground chili pepper with a spicy, sweet, and smoky hint flavor. It is similar to red pepper flakes but without the seeds. It has a red, vibrant color and is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine.

There is no registered SHU for Gochugaru, but the hotness ranges from mild to hot. It is best used in soups, stews, kimchi, and cucumber salad.

Dried Chile de Arbol

Chile de Arbol has a long, slim shape and is as fiery as cayenne. Its Scoville Heat Unit registers between 15,000 and 30,000, and comes in fresh, dried, and powder form. You can grind the dried chili using a coffee grinder. It has a smoky, spicy, nutty flavor.

Chile de Arbol is often featured in condiments like chili oil and hot sauce. It’s great to use on stews, chili soups, salsa, and rubs.

Habanero Powder


Habanero powder is made from dried, ground habanero peppers. Habanero peppers have a pod-like shape and are 1 to 3 inches long. Habaneros are native to South America, specifically in the Amazon region of Peru.

Habaneros are one of the hottest chili peppers with a Scoville point range of 100,000 to 350,000. This chili pepper is popularly used in homemade sauces and salsas. It is a great choice to spice up cocktails and beverages.

Sichuan Chili Flakes

Sichuan chili peppers come from Sichuan Province in China. This pepper is moderately spicy with SHU of 50,000 to 75,000. It is often used to make kimchi and chili oil. It is hotter compared to red pepper flakes, so use it with caution.

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It’s a great ingredient if you want to spice up your pizza, tacos, curries, casseroles, stir-fries, and other meals. It is also a fantastic substitute for rubs, marinades, and barbecues that call for red pepper flakes.

Crushed Aleppo Pepper

Another moderately spicy pepper is Aleppo pepper. It has a semi-sweet, fruity, and earthy flavor with undertones of cumin.

The Scoville unit of Aleppo pepper is precise at 10,000 points. The mixture calls for dried, crushed Aleppo peppers, oil, and a pinch of salt.

Not All Peppers Are Created Equal

One of the main characteristics of choosing chili peppers is the strength of their sharpness and heat.

In 1912, scientist Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville Heat Unit to measure the concentration of capsaicin – the active ingredient that produces heat in chili peppers.[Source

Chili peppers may come from the same genus, but each has a different range of SHU. So, when using a replacement for red pepper flakes, the ratio is not automatically 1 is to 1.

Here are a few examples to determine the ratio when you want to use a substitute for every teaspoon of red pepper flakes:

  • 1 tsp dried cayenne pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • 2 tsp dried chile de Arbor
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan chili flakes
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp habanero powder
  • 1 tbsp hot paprika
  • 2 tsp chipotle powder
  • 3 tsp crushed Aleppo peppers
  • 2 to 3 tsp red chili flakes

Substitute For Red Pepper Flakes Related FAQs

Can I use chili paste as substitute?

Yes, you can!

Chili paste is often made from chili peppers and used as a flavoring agent, sauce base, dipping sauce, and as an ingredient to meals. However, chili paste have different ranges of hotness so use them in a smaller amount, then add as necessary.

Can I make my own red pepper flakes?

You most certainly can!

Gather 2 to 3 types of peppers like cayenne, Anaheim, and jalapenos then dry them using a dehydrator or an oven. Once dry, crush them using your hands until they form into flake. Store in an airtight jar.

Can I use bell pepper as substitute?


Although Bell peppers are chili peppers, they have no spice. In the Scoville Heat Unit, bell peppers register zero points. Bell peppers contains a recessive gene that prevents capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the chemical component that gives the pepper spice. Without it, the pepper will not have any spice.