I see the term "Red pepper flakes" used often by American chefs, but to the European mind this term is very confusing. It could mean flaked and dried:

  1. Red chilli (e.g. Kashmiri, Birds Eye etc.)
  2. Red pepper (Capsicum)
  3. Red pepper (Jalapeno)
  4. Other pepper variety (e.g. Aleppo, Spanish, Turkish etc.)

What exactly is meant by this term? Does it have a unique taste profile? Also, if the ingredient is difficult to source over here, what would be a good substitute?

(There is a generic US/UK/EU comparison for red pepper at Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ but this doesn't adequately cover some usage/recipe contexts. Revisiting one specific recipe, I realise now the chef probably meant Turkish/Aleppo pepper as the dish was Turkish/Moroccan in origin.)

  • 6
    I'm with you on the overall confusion, but it seems odd to consider kashmiri [one of the mildest] with bird's eye [one of the hottest… then separate out Jalapeño [kind of in the middle] as being a 'pepper' rather than a chilli. To me, it would be Aleppo… but I'm in the UK in an area with a lot of Turkish influence.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 17:39
  • 3
    @rumtscho Turkish and Korean pepper flakes are VERY different from American "red pepper flakes". They are not substitutable.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 19:18
  • 3
    Red pepper (USA usage) is in this list: Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ -as for substitution, cayenne should be readily available in most stores, Korean pepper flakes much hotter, dried bell pepper/capsicum mild to the point of no heat. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 1:43
  • 4
    Does red pepper flakes EVER mean jalepeno? Those wouldn't even be red.
    – spacetyper
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 4:16
  • 2
    There are red jalapenos: tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/278770480
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 15:25

4 Answers 4


Per commentary by the OP, apparently what's needed in the answers here is a catalog.

American Red Pepper Flakes: Dried and crumbled flakes of cayenne peppers per other answers. Used extensively in general American cuisine as well as Italian-American cuisine. In the US, often substituted for harder to find pepper flakes that would be more culturally appropriate to the dish (such as those below).

On the occasions that Italians in Italy use "red pepper flakes", they are more likely to be Calabrian Peperoncino.

Turkish/Syrian/Lebanese Red Pepper Flakes Most of the time the crumbled flakes of dried "Aleppo Pepper" (pul biber). However, the civil war in Syria has restricted supplies of this pepper, so often what is labeled "Aleppo Pepper" is actually Marash Pepper or Antebi pepper instead -- which are both tasty but hotter than Aleppo, so adjust accordingly. The Turkish also use Urfa Pepper flakes, so if your recipe is Turkish and doesn't specify, it could be any of these.

Korean Red Pepper Flakes: gochugaru, the flakes of the Korean red pepper, a medium hot pepper. Used liberally throughout Korean cooking, in flake, powder, and fermented paste form. Possible the best substitute for Aleppo pepper if you're completely unable to find any Turkish/Syrian pepper varieties.

Mexican Red Pepper Flakes: varies, and you really want to read the label. Frequently crumbled chile de arbol, which are screamingly spicy. But ... could also be flaked chipotles (dark and smoked) or ancho chile (medium-hot), or other peppers. Take nothing for granted. Ancho Chile is also the main chile used for American "chile powder".

Chinese Red Pepper Flakes: usually flakes of the Sichuan "jin tao" pepper, used in Sichuan and Hunan cuisine, but could be a different pepper if the recipe is from a different region. Spicy and fruity.

Indian or Thai Red Pepper Flakes: these two cuisines very rarely use peppers in flake form; they generally use whole peppers instead. As such, any mention of "pepper flakes" in an English-language Indian or Thai dish is likely to be a substitution for whole peppers, and as such probably means the American cayenne flakes. However, various Indian peppers are available in flake form in the US, so could also mean those.

Undoubtedly there are other cuisines that use something described as "red pepper flakes", but this should give you an idea of the breadth of ingredients that label could apply to. You need to depend on context -- or, ideally, a glossary in the cookbook -- to figure out what's actually meant.

Your case is an example of the problem with American-Ethnic recipes. A recipe for Turkish Meatballs written by an American could mean Aleppo pepper, but could also have been adjusted to use the common cayenne pepper flakes. Without specific information in the recipe, there's no way to know -- but it's also hard to fail by using Aleppo pepper.

  • 2
    Vote this up ;) Covers all the bases. I get through a lot of 'aleppo' & whilst there may be substitutions happening for various econo-political reasons, if it says 'pul biber' on the pack, it's 'close enough for jazz'. Personally, I'd never substitute urfa - if a chef knew they needed urfa, they'd be keen to point it out to their prospective audience, I feel. It's very 'raisiny' by comparison. As aleppo never has seeds & is never 'hot', I agree, you have to be prepared to adjust accordingly for anything not 'pul biber'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 18:52
  • That list was exactly what I was getting at. I doubt if chefs will be more concise in future recipes, but this guide at least allows you to work backwards as to the type of chilli/pepper. I should have considered the nationality of the recipe rather than fixating on the chef/terminology.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 2:23
  • 3
    One other thing with aleppo & Turkish food in general - if you make something mild enough for everyone, then those who like it hotter can feel free to just sprinkle more on the top of their food after serving. It's definitely the "done thing" & there will always be a little dish of pepper flakes on the dinner table. I'm not sure how far East this practise spreads, but it spreads West at least as far as Hungary, where my partner originates.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 7:05
  • Just to add, Korean fermented pepper paste is called "gochujang"
    – wjandrea
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 17:54

The Crushed Red Pepper (flakes) that I usually get at US grocery stores is often made by McCormick (there are other brands, some possibly more common in other areas).

Currently it does not specifically list what pepper it is made from, rather this is the sum total of its contents:

Our crushed red pepper is blended from optimal levels of seeds and pods delivering bold flavor and balanced heat.

I had to go to their website and click around to find that their Crushed Red Pepper is made from cayenne peppers.

I've lived in the midwest, southwest and currently eastern US and this product seems to have similar flavor and heat everywhere I have been, even those packets of red pepper flakes you get at pizza restaurants, seem to be the same thing and likely all at least start with or mimic cayenne.

  • 11
    Yes, cayenne: bonappetit.com/story/what-are-red-pepper-flakes
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 19:17
  • 3
    Yes, you can get other varieties of crushed peppers, usually labeled by origin (Aleppo, Turkish, Sicilian, Korean, etc), or occasionally by variety, but assume cayenne or something else in the 30k-50k scoville range
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 0:34
  • 1
    It's also available from various suppliers in ground form, and though sometimes labelled "Cayenne" in that form, the (U.S.) industry seems to be settling (have settled?) on "Red Pepper" there, too. Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 5:07
  • One thing i discovered about Cayenne is that, a little like basmati rice, it's really hard to be certain what you got is 'technically 100% cayenne' rather than something very, very similar. So, it becomes a bit of a legal 'CYA' to not specify. Presumably their buyers & blenders are good enough that the product tastes the same every time, but might not be 100% cayenne. I wouldn't let that worry me, the same way as supermarkets sell 'green finger chillies' with no indication of what actual cultivar they may be. "Close enough for jazz" again springs to mind.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 16:07

As a general rule, whether flakes or ground, when an American recipe calls for ‘red pepper’ as a spice, it means the Cayenne cultivar of Capsicum annuum. This is a moderately hot pepper, typically in the 30000 to 50000 range on the Scoville scale when fresh, similar to tabasco, hotter than aleppo or jalepeño, but less than bird's eye.

The flavor profile is pretty typical of most chilies, so substitution with a ‘normal’ chili from your area is generally good enough unless you’re really picky. If I had to substitute, I would probably go with either fresh serrano peppers (not quite as hot, but otherwise very similar flavor), fresh Calabrian chilies (somewhat hotter, but again with a very similar flavor), or possibly dried aleppo peppers (much milder, and not as close in terms of flavor, but much easier to obtain in some parts of the world). In my experience, if going with fresh peppers as a substitution for flakes or ground (not just in this case but in general), you typically want about twice as much by weight to get a similar flavor.

As a side note, you may run into similar issues with the term ‘chili powder’ in some American recopies. While this may mean ground dried chili peppers, in the US it may also refer to a seasoning blend used when making chili con carne (typically consisting of ground chili peppers, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground cumin).

  • 1
    Agree on the 'chilli peppers/chilli con carne blend' confusion, which is also prevalent in the UK.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 16:09

The red pepper flakes here in Canada and referred to by American Chefs would be your Cayenne red pepper flakes sold in the Spice Aisle at the local chain supermarkets. They are hot pepper, dried and crushed…more heat than flavour.

Depending on what your tastebuds like… If you like lots of heat with little flavour, then use the cayenne red pepper flakes. If you want more flavour and a bit less heat, then use the Aleppo (Turkish) variety. The only time I use regular grocery store red pepper flakes now is to put a pinch into green tea with a bit of honey, so that the tea bites back.

After sampling Turkish red pepper flakes (Pul Biber), while in Turkey in 2013, I use that variety in all my cooking where red pepper flakes are called for. (Only one place in Vancouver carries the product - Jasmine Foods on Main. Just an FYI for any locals that read this.) Pul Biber is not so dry, feels a bit oily rubbed between one’s fingers and has a hint of saltiness. Armenian pepper flakes are a little drier and a touch hotter than the Turkish Pul Biber, but run a close second.

Honestly, what do you need out of a red pepper flake? Ultimately you are the chef in your kitchen and you need to buy what you will use and what you like. Refer to the Scoville Scale to choose your “heat”.

  • 2
    All true but unless you know what the author of a recipe expects you to use, you can not substitute and expect a similar result to the recipe as written, which is what OP seems to be looking for.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 12:47
  • Pul biber is oily & salty because those are added as part of the manufacturing process - it's not just your imagination, you are absolutely correct.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 16:11

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