If you like spicy food, you likely have both cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper flakes in your pantry. But are they really the same thing?
The short answer is no. While cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes come from similar chili peppers and add heat to dishes, they actually have some important differences.
Cayenne packs a stronger, more intense spicy punch. It also has a more pronounced smoky, earthy taste. Red pepper flakes are often a bit milder, with a simpler flavor.
In this article, we’ll explore all the ways cayenne and red pepper flakes are distinct. You’ll learn their unique flavor profiles, heat levels, uses in cooking, and more.
Understanding the nuances between these two popular spices will help you use them properly to make your food extra flavorful and fiery. So read on to become a cayenne vs. red pepper expert!
An Introduction to Cayenne Pepper and Red Pepper Flakes
Cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes both add a spicy kick of heat to foods. They come from the same species of chili peppers. But their nuanced differences mean chefs use them distinctly in various cuisines worldwide.
The main distinction is their level of spiciness. Cayenne packs more heat than typical crushed red pepper.
What is Cayenne Pepper?
Cayenne pepper comes from drying and grinding spicy chili peppers 2-5 inches long. The most common type is bright red. But you may also find purple and yellow varieties.
Cayenne pepper delivers a very hot, pungent flavor. It has earthy, smoky, and acidic notes. Studies show cayenne pepper boasts health benefits like:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Suppressing hunger
- Alleviating pain and psoriasis
- Aiding digestion
- Speeding up metabolism
- Reducing cancer risk
Its active chemical capsaicin improves circulation, digestion, and makes you sweat. Cayenne pepper works well in Cajun, Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisine. It adds heat and depth to meats, peppers, beans, eggs, seafood, and more.
What are Red Pepper Flakes?
Also called crushed red pepper, red pepper flakes come from drying and crushing red chili peppers. The main pepper used is cayenne, along with smaller amounts of others like serranos, Anaheims, and jalapeños.
Red pepper flakes register 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. They have an earthy, moderately spicy flavor. To make them, peppers get dried, crushed into flakes, and blended with seeds to intensify the heat.
Red pepper flakes commonly season soups, fried foods, pizza, pasta sauce, tacos, curries, sandwiches and salads. Their versatility makes them a staple in many pantries and restaurants.
Red Pepper Flakes vs. Cayenne: Heat Levels
When comparing cayenne vs. red pepper flakes, cayenne packs more punch. Cayenne rates between 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. Red pepper flakes use a blend of peppers, leaning heavily on cayenne. But milder varieties like ancho and jalapeño temper the heat.
So in most cases, cayenne delivers more intense
Other Differences Between Cayenne and Red Pepper
Although both originate from chili peppers, cayenne and crushed red pepper differ in these key ways:
Cayenne pepper integrates well into sauces, soups, and marinades. Its fine powder disperses evenly for a uniform spicy taste. Red pepper flakes work best as a finishing touch. Their texture stands out when sprinkled on pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, dips and more.
As the name indicates, red pepper flakes are mostly red. Cayenne peppers come in various shades like red, purple, and yellow.
Red pepper flakes provide a simple, mildly hot taste. But with different pepper varieties, their flavor is not very pronounced.
Cayenne packs signature heat along with smoky, earthy notes. It has a unique, acidic taste that amps up any dish.
Both contain capsaicin, which gives peppers their spicy edge. But cayenne consists of just one type of pepper. Red pepper flakes use a combination of peppers to create a more mellow, well-rounded heat.
When to Use Cayenne vs. Red Pepper Flakes
Cayenne integrates more easily into wet foods like chili, marinades and dressings. Its fine powder distributes mild but pervasive
Red pepper flakes are best as a finishing sprinkle. Their texture stands out on dry foods like pizza, pasta, eggs, sandwiches and salads. Red pepper gives concentrated heat and flavor in each bite.
- Made from ground, dried cayenne peppers
- Fine, powdery texture
- Adds mild, uniform heat
- Works well in sauces, soups, marinades
- Has fiery, smoky, earthy flavor
Red Pepper Flakes
- Made from blend of dried, crushed peppers
- Coarse, flaky texture
- Adds concentrated spikes of heat
- Topping for pizzas, pastas, salads, sandwiches
- Has simple, moderately spicy taste
Time to Give Your Meals a Spicy Spark
While cayenne and crushed red pepper share similarities, they each have unique uses. Cayenne blends seamlessly into wet foods, delivering even heat. Red pepper flakes are ideal for adding pops of
So next time your recipe calls for a spicy kick, consider which pepper suits it best. And don’t be afraid to get creative and use both in your cooking! A pinch of cayenne blended into a sauce, topped with red pepper flakes, can make for one fiery, flavorful meal.