Recipes that want to add some heat often call for cayenne pepper — it's common in Cajun, Creole, Mexican and Asian dishes, and has been used as an ingredient (and also for medical treatment) for thousands of years, according to Mount Sinai. The spice gets its heat from capsaicin, a substance that acts as a pain reliever.
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If you find yourself without cayenne powder in the middle of cooking, there are several swaps you can turn to that will all help add some heat to your dish. And that's good news for your health: An August 2015 study published in BMJ found that eating spicy foods regularly is linked to a longer lifespan. Find your favorite cayenne pepper substitute and see how it plays out in your dishes.
1. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Those red pepper flakes that are ubiquitous at pizzerias can be repurposed when you've ran out of cayenne powder.
"Crushed red pepper is usually made with a mix of chili peppers and often includes some cayenne," says Stephanie McKercher, RDN and food blogger at Grateful Grazer. The flavor is similar, but it's a less spicy option, so McKercher recommends doubling the amount the recipe calls for if you want comparable heat.
"If you want the texture of crushed red pepper flakes to be more powdery, like cayenne pepper is, try grinding flakes in a spice grinder first," she says. No spice grinder available? Use the back of a spoon or a mortar and pestle to crush the flakes.
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2. Chili Powder
Make this replacement cautiously, since chili powder varies in heat from one manufacturer's blend to another. McKercher recommends checking the label for details on the heat level before adding chili powder (or give it a taste!). "You'll probably need to double or triple the amount of chili powder when you substitute it for cayenne," she says.
3. Black Pepper
While it's far milder than cayenne powder, black pepper is also a potential substitute, says McKercher. "It still has a nice little bite," she says.
And, it is accompanied by some potential health benefits. Black pepper can improve the absorption of beneficial phytonutrients in turmeric, such as the anti-inflammatory curcumin, according to a May 2016 study in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.
4. Hot Sauce
You can often turn to a hot sauce, such as Tabasco, in place of cayenne pepper. "Use about eight drops of hot sauce in place of a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper," says McKercher.
This substitution won't work well in recipes in which the cayenne powder is part of a dry mixture, such as a spice rub for meat or coating for air-popped popcorn. "I recommend adding it while you're incorporating other wet ingredients into your dish," says McKercher. Doing so will help the hot sauce meld well with the other flavors.
5. Spice Mixtures
Is your spice rack home to a taco seasoning mix? How about curry powder? Some of these may have cayenne pepper — or another chile pepper component — within them, says McKercher.
"Depending on what you're making, you may be able to swap in one of these seasoning mixes for all (or most) of the cayenne in the original recipe."