Ground from dried red chile peppers, cayenne has been used to spice up meals for at least 9,000 years. Cayenne gets its heat from capsaicin, a substance that acts as a pain reliever. Cayenne is a common ingredient in many Cajun and Creole recipes, as well as Asian and Mexican foods. If you find yourself without cayenne in the middle of cooking, there are several easy substitutions from which to choose.
There are many types of paprika available, some spicier than others. Spanish and Hungarian paprika in particular are hotter than common American paprika. Made from dried red peppers, paprika is a good substitute for cayenne pepper, although paprika's taste is smokier than that of cayenne powder. Hotter types of paprika can be substituted at a one-to-one ratio for cayenne powder. To use regular, mild paprika, the University of Missouri Extension service recommends a mix of half paprika and half chili powder.
Red Chile Powder
The Kitchen Dictionary at Food.com recommends replacing cayenne pepper with red chile powder. The spelling can be confusing, so don't mistake red chile powder, which is ground dried chile peppers, for chili powder, a spice mixture. Chili powder mixtures vary among manufacturers, and they all have a different, more complex taste than red chile powder.
Red Pepper Flakes
If you have red pepper flakes on hand to top pizzas, they make a fine substitute for cayenne powder with just a little effort. Grind the pepper flakes into a powder with an old coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle, or crush the flakes with the back of a spoon. The heat of cayenne powder and red pepper flakes is about equal, so use a one-to-one substitution ratio.
In recipes where the cayenne powder is mixed into liquid ingredients, you can use instead four drops of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco sauce, for each 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne powder called for in the recipe. This substitution won't work well in recipes where the cayenne is part of a dry mixture, such as a spice rub for meat or coating for popcorn.
Chipotles are roasted jalapeno peppers. The roasting process mellows out the heat of the jalapenos and gives dishes a distinctive smoky but spicy flavor. Dried chipotles, which are available whole or ground into a powder, are commonly available in the ethnic food aisles of many large grocery stores and in Hispanic markets. Since the heat of jalapenos is quite variable, start with half the amount called for in the recipe and add more, if needed, after tasting your dish.