Oh, no! Are your crushed red pepper flakes missing in action?
Whether you already used all of them in your previous recipes, or you forget to include the spice in your grocery list, having an empty bottle of chili flakes in your pantry is truly worrisome.
Though it’s essential to make use of the original ingredient for your recipe, it’s also good to know what are the possible substitutions for red pepper flakes, especially when you’re in the middle of making a recipe.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ve revealed six good substitutes for chili flakes (yes, chili flakes are the same as crushed red pepper flakes!)—ground cayenne pepper, ground habanero pepper, paprika, chile de Arbol, chili powder, and Thai chile.
What are red pepper flakes?
Also dubbed as crushed red pepper, red pepper flakes are a seasoning that’s made from chili pepper varieties like red cayenne, jalapeños, anaheim, and yellow or red chili peppers.
These peppers then undergo a drying process before being crushed or pulverized by hand or using kitchen helpers, such as a blender or coffee grinder.
Once done, they’re stored into spice jars or plastic containers to retain their quality and flavor.
Because of their versatility and balanced spiciness, red pepper flakes have become a staple in the culinary world.
They’re a go-to condiment for a variety of savory dishes (or even sweet treats like this decadent cake from Ozlem Warren).
Red pepper flakes can be used to create a spicy base for escarole and can offer heat to recipes like eggs, pasta sauces, soups, burgers, tacos, and salad dressings.
Apart from its distinctive flavor profile, the spice can also bring a pop of color to broth-based dishes like noodles, ramen, and curries.
What do red pepper flakes taste like
If you’re new to this red pepper flakes game and wonder what they taste like, they actually have a sharp and biting flavor with heat ranges from 30,000 to 35,000 Scoville heat units.
But red pepper flakes lose flavor and heat over time just like any other dried spice.
To check if your flakes are still in good condition—simply use your senses. If you happen to see them duller instead of bright orange and their smell isn’t as strong and pungent as it used to be, then it may be time to replace it.
I’ve had a jar of crushed red pepper in my pantry for a decade when I realized I may as well just not have added anything. The new bottle I bought was WOW, so fresh.
How are red pepper flakes made?
Red pepper flakes are made from chili pepper varieties like red cayenne, jalapeños, anaheim, and yellow or red chili.
The peppers are dried before being crushed into flakes and then kept in an airtight container to preserve their quality and flavor.
When shopping for red pepper flakes, look for the cost per ounce.
Substitutions for red pepper flakes
It could be a big problem if you find yourself out of red pepper flakes while in the middle of cooking. Luckily, there are a few good substitutes for red pepper flakes—look carefully as you might already have these options in your pantry!
1. Ground cayenne pepper
Since red pepper flakes are made from a combination of peppers including cayenne pepper, this is enough reason that the ground version of the solo ingredient would be a great red pepper flakes substitute.
But take note that ground cayenne pepper is a bit spicier than the flakes AND more concentrated (cayenne often comes in a powder, so it packs more punch).
We recommend using 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder for every 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
Also, you won’t get the same texture as that of chili flakes as this product is powdered.
Ground cayenne pepper is best used for stews, soups, and curries.
2. Ground habañero pepper
Another good crushed red pepper flakes substitute that might be sitting in your pantry is ground habañero pepper.
This spice is made from habanero chile peppers, one of the hottest peppers in the culinary world. It’s known for its fruity flavor and heat, which ranges from 150,000 to 300,000 Scoville heat units.
Like ground cayenne pepper, the spice doesn’t possess the texture that can imitate the red pepper flakes, however, it’s still a good candidate for substitutions—thanks to its heat!
To use it as an alternative for red pepper flakes, the amount of habanero powder you should add needs to be ½ or less of what’s called for in your chili flakes recipe.
Got a bottle of paprika on hand? Use it as a substitute for your red pepper flakes!
Paprika and red pepper flakes might be different in texture, but the spice is actually one of the best alternatives because of its unique flavor and bright color.
Paprika doesn’t have much heat, though, so you may want to combine this with another substitute for the heat that’s missing.
It’s easy to find and create at home too! Simply slice the fresh red bell pepper and make sure to remove the seeds and all-white parts from the inside.
Dry them in an oven, food dehydrator, or using a hang-dry method.
Once dried, place the peppers in a spice grinder and then grind them into a fine powder—that’s it!
When substituting paprika for chili flakes, use 1 tablespoon of paprika for every 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes your recipe calls for.
Note that there is also Smoked Paprika but it has a pungent smoky flavor and aroma. If you don’t want your dish to have a smoked element, avoid this type of paprika.
4. Chile de Árbol powder
Chile de Arbol powder might not be a common kitchen condiment but in case you have one in your spice rack, then why not use it as an alternative for crushed red pepper flakes.
It has an earthy pepper flavor, bright red color, and heat that ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units—the spice is a little milder than cayenne pepper. Chile de Arbol powder offers a nice heat to sauces, stews, rubs, salsa, and chili soups.
For substitution, use 1/2 teaspoon Chile de Arbol powder for every 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes called in your recipe.
5. Hot sauce
Hot sauces like Tabasco or Sriracha are also fantastic substitutes for red pepper flakes.
Note, though, that these condiments are only great for wet dishes such as sauces, soups, broths, and stews. Don’t use it for your dry rubs!
To use it as a substitute for red pepper flakes, a generous dash of Tabasco or Sriracha should work well for your recipes.
6. Chili powder
Versability and availability in the kitchen are some of the characteristics of a good substitute, and chili powder has it all!
Who doesn’t have a jar of chili powder on their counter?
For people who aren’t aware, red pepper flakes are hotter than chili powder but it’s okay. When using it as a substitute, it’s better to use the 2:1 ratio or double the amount of chili powder you use to replace the flakes.
How to use red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are a versatile spice that goes well with a variety of meats but works particularly well with beef, steak, lamb, and chicken.
In addition to its use on meat dishes, the condiment can also offer heat to recipes like escarole, eggs, soups, burgers, tacos, salad dressings and give a nice color to broth-based dishes like noodles, ramen, and curries.
Red pepper flakes are also a great addition to pasta sauces alongside Italian seasoning, parsley, basil, and garlic.
The bottom line
Whether you want to incorporate heat into your favorite soups or simply include them in your homemade pizza, red pepper flakes tend to come in handy.
And as a cook, it’s always essential to know what possible red pepper flakes substitute you can use, especially when you have already started cooking.
My all-time favorite among the list is the ground cayenne powder as the flakes contain a large amount of cayenne in the mix. How about yours?
- Ground cayenne pepper
- Use 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder for every 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes called in your recipes.