Red Chili Peppers

Spice It Up: Finding the Best Substitutes for Red Chili Peppers

Craving some heat but you’re out of red chili peppers? Don’t sweat it! You can still add a spicy kick to your dishes with these easy substitutes.

Red chili peppers are prized for their fiery burn and vibrant color. When a recipe calls for them but your pantry is bare, you need an alternative that offers similar heat and flavor.

The good news is, you have options! From dried peppers to hot sauces, this article will explore the best stand-ins for red chili peppers. You’ll learn:

  • Why red chilis are so popular and what gives them their signature spice
  • How to evaluate substitutes based on color, flavor, and level of heat
  • 10 excellent red chili replacements you likely have on hand

With the help of cayenne, paprika, jalapeños, and more, you can easily mimic that red chili taste you’re after. Keep reading to discover how to spice up meals without fresh red chilis!

An Introduction to Red Chili Peppers

First, let’s take a quick look at red chili peppers and why they’re so popular. Red chilis are simply ripe versions of the same peppers that start out green. As they mature, they turn red and develop their distinctive flavor.

Red chilis contain capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives all chili peppers their signature heat. They range from mild to very spicy depending on the variety. Some of the most common types are cayenne, cherry, and serrano.

In addition to heat, red chilis offer sweet, smoky, and slightly bitter flavors. They’re extremely versatile in recipes across countless cuisines. From Asian stir-fries to Mexican salsas to Cajun jambalaya, red chili peppers punch up both spice and color in dishes.

Factors to Consider When Substituting

When you need a red chili pepper substitute, consider these factors:

  • Heat level – Choose an option with a similar spice level so your dish doesn’t end up too mild or too fiery.
  • Flavor – Capture the red chili’s sweetness, smokiness, and other flavor notes as closely as possible.
  • Color – Find a vibrant red substitute to mimic the look of red chili peppers.
  • Texture – Fresh, dried, powdered, or puréed substitutions will work depending on the recipe.

With those criteria in mind, here are 10 delicious substitutes to give your food that red chili pepper magic.

10 Red Chili Pepper Substitutes to Spice Up Your Meals

1. Cayenne Pepper

how does cayenne pepper affect the liver

Cayenne pepper is made from dried and ground cayenne chili peppers. It comes in powdered form and provides the iconic red color.

Cayenne matches the heat level of many red chili varieties. It has a very similar spicy bite, making it an easy 1:1 substitute.

Use cayenne to season soups, stews, eggs, meat, and more. A little goes a long way due to its concentrated heat.

2. Jalapeño Peppers

Can You Substitute Jalapenos for Green Chilies

Fresh jalapeños are an excellent substitute thanks to their availability, affordability, and bright green color. They’re about half as hot as a red cayenne chili.

For a closer match, use 2 jalapeños for every 1 red chili pepper. Adjust the amount to your desired spiciness.

Use sliced or diced jalapeños in salsas, stir-fries, fajitas, and anywhere you want chili pepper flavor.

3. Serrano Peppers

Serrano Peppers

Similar in appearance to jalapeños, fresh serrano peppers pack more heat. They rate 10,000-25,000 SHU compared to red chili peppers which average 5,000-10,000 SHU.

For a milder serrano flavor, remove the seeds and white ribs before cooking. Then use serranos in any recipe requiring diced or chopped red chilis.

4. Dried Poblanos

Poblano Pepper

Also called ancho chilis, dried poblanos offer a sweet, smoky profile similar to red chili peppers. They have a mild, only slightly spicy kick.

Use dried poblanos in chili, taco meat, moles, and Mexican rice dishes. Rehydrate in broth for stews or soups.

5. Pequin Chili Peppers

Dry pequin

While tough to find fresh, dried pequin chili peppers pack major heat. The tiny pequin measures about 15 times hotter than a jalapeño.

Use extreme care when substituting pequins for red chilis. But they work well in very spicy salsas, hot sauces, and chili powders.

6. Paprika


Sweet paprika provides red chili’s color without much heat. Alternatively, hot paprika offers both vibrant color and a punch of spice.

Use it to season meat, stews, and vegetable dishes. Mix with salt and pepper for chicken, pork, fish, and more.

7. Gochujang


This Korean fermented red chili paste brings sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. It offers an instant red chili flavor boost to recipes.

Mix gochujang into sauces, marinades, broths, dressings, and meat glazes. A little goes a long way due to its strong taste.

8. Harissa Paste


Harissa contains puréed red chilis along with garlic, spices, and oil. It has intense heat balanced by complex flavor.

Add harissa to curries, tagines, rice dishes, and anywhere you want an extra chili pepper kick.

9. Sriracha

can i use hot sauce instead of sriracha

The thick, red sriracha sauce contains chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. It has a moderate heat level similar to red chili peppers.

Use sriracha anywhere you want bright, garlicky heat. It’s delicious in marinades, dressings, soups, noodle dishes, and more.

10. Chili Oil

Chili Oil

Infused with spicy dried chilis, chili oil offers concentrated heat and rich, red color. Drizzle over finished dishes in place of raw red chili peppers.

Try chili oil with dumplings, fried rice, ramen, eggs, or anytime you crave extra spice.

Make Your Meal Complete with a Red Chili Pepper Substitute

Part of the joy of cooking is experimenting with new flavors. Use this guide to find your perfect red chili pepper substitute when you need extra seasoning or heat.

From cayenne and paprika to serranos and sriracha, you have lots of options for mimicking red chili flavor. All it takes is a dash, sprinkle, or drizzle to add that essential chili kick.

So next time a recipe calls for red chili peppers but you’re fresh out, don’t sweat it. Reach for one of these flavorful and fiery substitutes instead to spice up your dish. Your tastebuds will thank you!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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