Can you use them interchangeably?  

By Corey Williams
August 13, 2019
Helaine Weide/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of spicy foods, you’re likely able to discern the flavor nuances between ground cayenne pepper and chili powder. People who prefer milder flavors, however, might not know the difference. 

They’re both red, they’re both (kind of) hot, and they both are used to season spicy dishes—how different can they really be? Here’s what you need to know before you substitute cayenne pepper for chili powder or vice versa:  

Related: Can Eating Spicy Foods Make You Happy? 

What Is Ground Cayenne Pepper? 

Cayenne is a moderately hot chili pepper. Native to South America, cayenne peppers are generally skinny, red, and have somewhat rippled skin. Cayenne peppers, which are used whole or in the form of a finely milled powder, are found in a wide variety of cuisines, including Creole, Asian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Korean.

What Is Ground Red Pepper? 

Ground red pepper is usually made from cayenne peppers, but it can be made from a variety of ground chilis in the Capsicum family. While you should always try to stick as closely to the recipe as possible if you’re unfamiliar with what you’re cooking, cayenne pepper powder and ground red pepper can usually be used interchangeably

What Is Chili Powder? 

Ground cayenne pepper is technically a chili powder, but jars and bottles labeled “chili powder” are usually made from a blend of a variety of peppers. Most chili powders you find in stores also include spices like cumin, onion and garlic powder, and salt. 

Related: DIY Chili Seasoning Mix

WATCH: How to Make Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Can You Use Ground Cayenne Pepper and Chili Powder Interchangeably?

In a pinch, you can possibly get away with substituting cayenne pepper with chili powder and vice versa. However, there are a few things to take into consideration: 

  • Ground pepper is usually spicier than chili powder. The cayenne is about 10 times hotter than the jalapeno, while chili powder is typically made with peppers further down the Scoville scale. If you use ground cayenne instead of chili powder, you may end up with a much hotter meal than you bargained for. 
  • They taste different. All chili peppers don’t taste the same. While the cayenne is hot, pungent, and earthy, poblanos and other members of the Capsicum family are much milder. Since chili powder is usually made with a variety of peppers, it’s bound to have a different flavor than pure ground cayenne pepper. Also, it’s important to remember that chili powder is often made with other ingredients with easily detectable flavors like garlic and cumin. 
  • You may need to adjust your recipe. Again, chili powder isn’t made with just chili peppers. Ground cayenne is made with pure cayenne chili peppers. Since chili powder can include onion and garlic powder, cumin, and salt, it’s important to taste your dish as you cook—you’ll likely need to add other spices to achieve the desired taste if you’ve substituted cayenne for chili powder.
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