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Best Chili Flakes Substitute (8 Alternatives)

\When it comes to adding flavor and heat to my meals, nothing beats the convenient and easy-to-use chili flakes. They’re perfect for my spicy chicken sauce recipes and various Asian sauces. But I do occasionally run out, so I’ve made sure to always have some quick and simple alternatives to chili flakes on hand.

You can substitute chili flakes with chili powder, cayenne peppers, chili paste, sriracha, and paprika. But this isn’t all, so let me show you the very best of my chili flake swaps!

🤷 What Are Chili Flakes?

Chili flakes are small pieces of dried chili peppers commonly used in cuisines worldwide, such as Mexican, Italian, and Thai. They’re quite concentrated regarding heat and flavor. Apart from adding heat, chili flakes have unique flavors like smoky or earthy, while others have a more fruity or floral taste. You can also easily adjust the level of spiciness in any dish by adding more or less chili flakes.

🆚 Chili Flakes vs Red Pepper Flakes

Chili flakes and red pepper flakes are often used interchangeably, both referring to dried and crushed red chili peppers. But while the term ‘chili flakes’ is broader, potentially encompassing various chili pepper colors, ‘red pepper flakes’ specifically refers to flakes made from red chili peppers. The heat intensity can also vary depending on the type of chili used, making the spiciness of either flakes dependent on the type used.

🧑‍🍳 When is Chili Flakes Used in Cooking?

Chili flakes are mainly used in Italian, Mexican, and Asian dishes. Italian cuisine uses them in pasta dishes and pizzas. Mexican cuisine uses chili flakes in dishes such as tacos, burritos, and salsas to add a spicy kick. Asian cuisine uses the flakes in stir-fries, noodle dishes, curries, and tons of Asian sauces. Chili flakes are also prominent in Mediterranean dishes like souvlaki, gyros, Greek salads, kebabs, mezes, lahmacun (Turkish pizza), shawarma, tabbouleh, and falafel.

A bowl of spicy red chili flakes.

💡 Best Chili Flakes Substitute

Cayenne Pepper

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1/2 teaspoon of chopped cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper can be an excellent alternative for chili flakes when you want a similar level of spiciness. It imparts a fiery, pungent flavor with a subtle sweetness and earthy undertones. It also packs some health benefits, such as boosting metabolism and aiding digestion. You can use some cayenne pepper substitutes if you can’t find any or want a different taste.

Chili Powder

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1 teaspoon of chili powder

Chili powder can be a great substitute for chili flakes when you need a quick and easy splash of heat and spice to your dish. It’s made from a blend of spices that typically includes chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and oregano. You can use some chili powder substitutes for an equal or better flavor to suit you.

Chili Paste

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 3 teaspoons of chili paste 

Chili paste is a versatile paste form that can be perfect for adding a richer and smoother texture to your dish. One way to incorporate chili paste is by adding a dollop on top of your food. This method can be especially effective for dishes like pizza, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats. You can even use different chili paste substitutes for varying flavors, consistencies, and availability.

Sriracha/Hot Sauce

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1 teaspoon of sriracha or hot sauce

Sriracha and hot sauce are great, cost-friendly swaps for chili flakes. They add a delicious spice to sandwiches, stir-fries, and even soups using its spicy heat and tangy sweetness. One benefit they have is they’re a liquid seasoning, making them easy to drizzle over your food. Many brands of hot sauce and sriracha do differ in heat, but you can use different sriracha substitutes to remedy this.

A bottle of sriracha sauce and Kikkoman soy sauce.

Chipotle Powder

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder

Chipotle powder is a fantastic and delicious spice that can add a delicious smoky and spicy flavor to your recipes. Made from smoked and dried jalapeño peppers, it ranges in spiciness but generally offers a moderate to hot kick. It can be picked up in many grocery stores, and its smoky profile pairs beautifully with meats, spicy chicken sauce recipes, and vegetables.


1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1 teaspoon of paprika

Paprika is a vibrant spice derived from dried and ground peppers. Varieties like sweet, smoked, and hot offer diverse flavors and colors, from red to orange. It adds a subtly sweet, smoky, and mildly spicy flavor to dishes like goulash and chorizo. One way to use paprika as a topping is by sprinkling it over dishes like roasted potatoes, grilled meats, or deviled eggs. If you can’t find any or want something more similar to chili flakes, you can use paprika substitutes.

A spoon of paprika powder with some dried peppers in the back.

Chile De Arbol

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1/2 teaspoon of chopped chile de arbol

Chile de arbol is a tasty and versatile dried chili pepper that can be used as a topping for a more spicy touch to your dish. These peppers are perfect for sprinkling on top of dishes like pizza, roasted vegetables, and soups. They can also be used as a finishing touch for dishes like ceviche or grilled meats, where their bright red color and medium to high level of spiciness can add a tasty and perfect kick to your food.

Dried Peppers

1 teaspoon of chili flakes = 1/2 teaspoon of chopped dried peppers

Dried peppers are a fantastic substitute for chili flakes if you’re after a similar flavor and spicy. Depending on the type of dried pepper you choose, you can add anything from a mild to an extremely hot flavor. Some popular types of dried peppers include ancho, guajillo, and pasilla. They can be used to make a variety of salsas, like salsa roja or salsa verde and green enchilada sauce. You can also use some ancho chili powder substitutes for a wider variety of choices.

🧐 FAQs

Are chili flakes same as red pepper flakes?

Yes, in most cases, the terms “chili flakes” and “red pepper flakes” are used interchangeably and refer to the same thing, dried and crushed red chili peppers.

How spicy are chili flakes?

This depends on the chili used. Different chili varieties have different levels of capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in chili peppers. Some chili flakes may be milder, while others can be quite hot.

Are chili flakes and chili powder interchangeable?

Yes, chili flakes and chili powder, both derived from chili peppers, have distinct characteristics influencing their interchangeability.

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