In a pinch, hot pepper flakes can be substituted with a variety of ingredients including other spices or hot sauces. You can also make your own hot pepper flakes from dried chili peppers by giving them a quick grind to achieve the desired consistency. While there are several suitable hot pepper flake alternatives to choose from, consider the dish you are preparing before making a decision. Though cayenne pepper provides similar heat, it is more potent and heats uniformly throughout a dish rather than providing the pops of heat that hot pepper flakes provide.
Cayenne pepper is an excellent substitute because it approximates the heat of hot pepper flakes. However, since cayenne pepper is finely ground, a 1-to-1 substitution should be avoided, as cayenne pepper is more potent. Use 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper per 3/4 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes. Cayenne pepper is a great option if you are preparing a dish that won’t be affected by the absence of hot pepper flakes' texture, like soups, stews or rubs.
Chili powder can be a great alternative to hot pepper flakes, depending on the application. Chili powder often contains other spices such as cumin, oregano and garlic powder, which will affect the resulting flavor of your dish. Carefully read the label first to determine what ingredients it contains. Chili powder is a great option for soups and stews or dishes that would benefit from the addition of a blend of spices, such as Mexican dishes. Use an amount that is less than the amount of hot pepper flakes your recipe calls for and increase it to suit your tastes.
Ancho Chili Powder
If it’s not appropriate to use a spice blend like chili powder, opt for an ancho chili powder. Ancho chili powder is made from ground ancho, or poblano, peppers and has a smoky heat much like that of hot pepper flakes. For those who prefer milder heat, it’s a great choice, though if you’re hoping to replicate the heat, you will need to use a greater amount than what your recipe requires. Ancho chili powder is great for sprinkling on finished dishes as a topping or for seasoning meats, vegetables and stews.
If you don’t have hot pepper flakes on hand, you can easily make your own from dried chilies. Break out your mortar and pestle or give them a few pulses in a food processor to break down dried chilies into a coarse spice. Dried chile de árbol is your best bet to approximate the flavor and heat of hot pepper flakes, but Thai chilies also work well. You can also toss dried chilies into dishes like soups and stews whole so that they impart heat; simply remove the dried peppers when the dish is finished cooking.
Chili pastes come in a variety of heat levels, so read the label carefully before using them. Look for one that closely approximates the heat of hot pepper flakes. Your best bet is to use a modest amount initially, then taste and adjust as necessary to avoid adding too much heat to your dish. Chili paste is a great option for marinades, sauces and stews.
There are countless varieties of hot sauces, but your best bet for substitution is to stick with a basic one like Sriracha to replicate the heat but not complicate the flavor. A few drops is often enough to approximate the heat provided by a teaspoon of hot pepper flakes. Hot sauce is great for kicking up sauces and marinades, soups and stir-frys.
The heat of hot pepper flakes can vary greatly, as can the heat present in ingredients that can be used as substitutes, so always add less than a recipe calls for initially. You can always add more heat, if necessary, to suit your tastes.