Red pepper flakes — also known as chili flakes — are dried and crushed peppers stored in containers and used to spice food. Red pepper flakes are made mostly from hot chili peppers, such as cayenne peppers, in the Capsicum genus.
Red pepper flakes add heat and color to dishes, but many ingredients can be substituted for red pepper flakes to provide similar heat levels and flavors. Dried peppers, ground cayenne pepper, chili powder, and hot sauce are all good substitutes for red pepper flakes.
Best Red Pepper Flakes Substitute: Dried Peppers
The best substitute for red pepper flakes is dried peppers because red pepper flakes are actually ground dried peppers. Any dried peppers can be placed in a blender or food processor and ground to form red pepper flakes. Depending on the type, dried peppers are usually the closest in flavor to red pepper flakes.
When substituting with dried peppers, choose peppers that have a heat level close to cayenne peppers for the closest substitute. However, any mix of dried peppers can be used. Cut off the stems of the peppers before placing the peppers in a blender and blending until a coarse powder forms.
Substitute dried peppers for red pepper flakes at a 1:1 ratio, unless peppers that are significantly hotter than cayenne peppers are used — in that case, reduce the amount of dried pepper added to the dish.
Other Red Pepper Flakes Substitutes, Alternatives, and Replacements
The following red pepper flake substitutes add flavor and heat to dishes.
Dry Red Pepper Flakes Substitutes
Red pepper flakes is a dry ingredient, so other dry ingredients make the best replacements for red pepper flakes because they don’t change the consistency of the dish. As mentioned, dried peppers is the best substitute, but there are other dry ingredients that also make good substitutes for red pepper flakes.
Ground Cayenne Pepper
Ground cayenne pepper is a finely ground powder that makes a great substitute for red pepper flakes because of the two ingredients’ similar heat levels. Most red pepper flakes contain cayenne peppers along with a mix of other peppers.
Ground cayenne pepper is hotter than red pepper flakes because the cayenne pepper powder is more concentrated. Substitute cayenne pepper for red pepper flakes at a 1:2 ratio to achieve a similar heat level.
Ground cayenne pepper is suitable for stews, curries, spice rubs, and soups because the powder’s slightly different consistency won’t make much difference in these dishes.
Chili powder is made from a variety of ground dried chiles and makes a good substitute for red pepper flakes because chili powder also adds heat to a dish. However, most chili powders contain less heat than red pepper flakes.
Substitute regular chili powder, which is mild, for red pepper flakes at a 2:1 ratio to match the heat level of red pepper flakes. Note that chili powder is available in various heat levels — so a hot chili powder will need to be reduced to a 1:1 ratio to match the heat level of red pepper flakes.
Chili powder can be used in bean dishes, soups, stews, chile, marinades, and as a rub.
Ground Habañero Pepper
Ground habañero pepper powder is made by grinding entire habañero peppers into powder form. Ground habañero pepper is a good substitute for red pepper flakes because ground habañero pepper also adds heat to dishes.
However, ground habañero pepper has a distinct fruity flavor and is hotter than red pepper flakes. To achieve a similar heat level, substitute ground habañero pepper for red pepper flakes at a 1:2 ratio, but consider slightly reducing the amount of habañero pepper when using hotter varieties. Note that ground habañero pepper has a more powdery consistency than red pepper flakes.
Ground habañero pepper is good for curries, salsa, sauces, and chili con carne (chili with meat).
Hot Paprika Powder
Paprika powder is made from a variety of mild peppers ground into a fine powder. Paprika powder is available in a variety of heat levels. To achieve a heat level similar to red pepper flakes, substitute hot paprika for red pepper flakes, as hot paprika powder is made from spicier peppers than regular paprika powder.
Hot paprika powder adds a unique flavor to dishes similar to the flavor that red pepper flakes add. Use hot paprika powder as a 1:1 substitute for red pepper flakes, adjusting to the desired heat level.
Hot paprika powder is best used in rubs, spice mixes, stews, and on eggs.
Chipotle powder, made from dried and ground chipotle peppers, adds heat and a smoky flavor to dishes. Chipotle powder is a good substitute for red pepper flakes because chipotle powder adds a similar heat and reddish color to dishes.
Since chipotle powder isn’t as hot as red pepper flakes, use chipotle powder as a 2:1 substitute for red pepper flakes.
Chipotle powder is best used in salsa, refried beans, guacamole, and sauces.
Dried Chile de Árbol Peppers
Dried chile de árbol peppers are not a common household food, but they offer a similar heat level to cayenne peppers, which makes chile de árbol a good substitute for red pepper flakes. However, chile de árbol peppers have an earthy and nutty flavor, so they may change the flavor of the dish.
To use dried chile de árbol peppers, crush the peppers in a blender or food processor until a medium-fine powder is formed, or buy the powder form from the store. Substitute chile de árbol powder for red pepper flakes using a 1:1½ ratio, so use ½ teaspoon of chile de árbol per each ¾ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
Chile de árbol powder is best used in stews, soups, salsa, and spice rubs.
Gochugaru is made from Korean dried red chili peppers and adds a sweet and spicy flavor to dishes, along with a slightly smoky taste. Gochugaru flakes are a good substitute for red pepper flakes because the two ingredients have similar heat levels.
Substitute Gochuragu flakes for red pepper flakes at a 1:1 ratio. Gochuragu is well suited for dressings, sauces, Korean kimchi, and stews.
DIY Red Pepper Flakes
If only regular — not dried — chili peppers are available, these can still be used to make a homemade jar of dried red pepper flakes. Homemade red pepper flakes will take 12 hours to make, including the drying process.
To make homemade red pepper flakes, select a handful of peppers that have the desired heat level. The peppers can range from bell peppers for a heat-free version, to cayenne peppers to match most store-bought red pepper flakes.
- Use gloves whenever handling the peppers to prevent burning your skin. Start making the homemade flakes by washing the peppers and cutting off the stems
- Cut the peppers in half lengthways to create small flakes, or cut the peppers into rings for thicker flakes
- Add the cut peppers to a food dehydrator and dehydrate at 130ºF for 12 hours or until the peppers are dry and brittle
- Alternatively, spread the pepper pieces on a baking tray and dry them in the oven at 120ºF for 8 hours. If the temperature of the oven can’t be set that low, set the temperature to the lowest setting possible and leave the oven door slightly open to let moisture escape
- Once the peppers are brittle enough to snap when bent, remove the peppers from the dehydrator or oven and leave them to cool
- When the peppers are cool, put on gloves before placing them in a plastic bag and crushing the dried peppers through the bag
- Store the flakes in a glass jar for up to one year and use them as needed
Homemade red pepper flakes can be used as a 1:1 substitute for red pepper flakes if cayenne peppers were used. Otherwise, adjust the ratio depending on the heat level of the peppers used.
Wet Red Pepper Flakes Substitutes
If there are no dry alternatives for red pepper flakes, certain pastes and sauces can be used, although the wet alternatives will alter the consistency of the dish.
Chili paste is a paste made by grinding up whole chili peppers to create a thick and pasty sauce.
Chili paste can substitute red pepper flakes when no dry alternatives are available because chili paste adds a similar heat to the dish. However, chili paste will change the consistency of the dish.
Chili paste comes in a variety of heat levels and flavors. Read the label on the chili paste to choose a chili paste that will add the right flavor and heat level, depending on the dish. Chili paste’s wet consistency is best for soups, stews, and sauces because the paste will dissolve into the dish.
Chili sauce is a sauce made from chili peppers with sugar, vinegar, and water added to create a thin consistency. Chili sauce adds a heat level similar to red pepper flakes, and is best used in watery dishes due to its wet consistency.
Chili sauce is available in a variety of heat levels and flavors, which should be chosen depending on the dish. To prevent the dish from becoming too hot, add chili sauce slowly to taste.
Chili sauce can be used in stews, soups, pasta sauce, on grilled meats, and on pizza.
Sriracha Hot Sauce
Sriracha hot sauce is a condiment made from red jalapeños peppers, sugar, vinegar, salt, and garlic. Sriracha has a distinct flavor but can be used as a substitute for red pepper flakes to add heat to dishes.
Add a few drops of sriracha sauce into the dish as a substitute for red pepper flakes or use sriracha as a dipping sauce. Sriracha works well in soups, stews, sauces, and broths.
Other Hot Sauces
Hot sauces are made from various types of chili peppers with a mix of vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and other flavors. Each hot sauce has its own flavor and heat level and can be used as a substitute for red pepper flakes to add flavor and heat to dishes.
Choose the right hot sauce based on the flavor of the dish and how much heat needs to be added. To prevent the dish from becoming too hot, add a few drops of hot sauce at a time to increase the heat slowly.
Hot sauces can be used as a dipping sauce or in stews, sauces, and soups.
Whole chili peppers are a good substitute for red pepper flakes when nothing else is available. Chili peppers are grown in a variety of flavors and heat levels.
Use one small chili pepper as a substitute for red pepper flakes by cutting the pepper into small pieces and removing the seeds to reduce the heat level if needed.
Chili peppers can be used in stews, soups, sauces, and as a garnish.
Non-Spicy Red Pepper Flakes Substitutes
Use non-spicy pepper alternatives to reduce the heat level of the dish while still adding flavor.
Sweet Paprika Spice
Sweet paprika, made from sweet red peppers, is often labeled simply as paprika. Sweet paprika can be used to add color and a fruity flavor to dishes without adding any heat.
Use sweet paprika as a 1:1 substitute for red pepper flakes to add color but not heat to dishes. Sweet paprika will add a bold red color and a sweet pepper flavor to the dish.
Sweet paprika can be used in curries, stews, meat rubs, and on eggs and salads.
Dehydrated Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are sweet peppers that add flavor to a dish without increasing the heat level. Dehydrated bell peppers are a good substitute for red pepper flakes to create a mild version of a dish.
Dehydrated or dried peppers can be placed in a blender or food processor to create a flaky powder to be used in place of red pepper flakes. Substitute dried bell pepper flakes for red pepper flakes at a 1:1 ratio to add flavor without heat.
Dehydrated bell peppers are suitable for stews, soups, dips, salsa, and pasta.
Kashmiri Red Chili Flakes
Kashmiri red chili flakes are a type of dried chili pepper that adds flavor and color to food without adding much spice. Kashmiri red chili flakes are a good substitute for red pepper flakes when the dish requires flavor but not heat.
Use red chili flakes as a 1:1 substitute for red pepper flakes. Kashmiri red chili flakes will add a dark red color to dishes, but no heat.
Use Kashmiri red chili flakes in stews, soups, curries, chili pastes, vegetables, and sauces.