My wife does not like alternating textures, or "surprises" in sauces. Thus I need to make certain concessions when cooking for her.

She does not like crushed red pepper flakes, but will readily take cayenne in its place.

My question is: can this substitution be made in any situation? I will make it when I am flavoring my own dishes. But I have a new one I'd like to try, and I am not sure if I can do it.

I am going to make Bourbon Chicken, which calls for the pepper flakes. The flakes would be sauteing / reducing in the sauce. I've read this might be a situation where the substitution would not work.

Just wanted to hear what fellow chefs did.

  • 1
    IMO--I don't see a problem personally, I cant think of anything that could drastically be different, maybe presentation you will be able to see the pepper flakes, which in my opinion just adds character. A sieve is my best friend in the kitchen anyway when in doubt strain that...
    – Chef_Code
    Apr 13, 2015 at 7:39

5 Answers 5


Crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne come from the same types of peppers, and you can definitely substitute one for the other in terms of spiciness (most resources I've found say that you add about 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne for every 3/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, or vice versa).

However, beyond the spiciness level they may not give the same flavor to the dish. In the particular recipe that you're citing, since it calls for sauteing the flakes some of the spiciness will be drawn out of the flakes and carried with the sauce, while some of it would stay with the flakes and provide those bursts of heat that your wife doesn't seem to like. As Willem says, you can use fresh chile peppers, add them like you would the flakes, and then take them out before serving. That is probably the closest you can get to the same flavor without having those "surprise spicy" moments. (1 red chile per 3/4 teaspoon flakes).

Adding ground cayenne pepper towards the end of the sauce would allow the sauce to have a pretty uniform spiciness, without any surprises, but may not give it the same flavor. Cayenne pepper is usually just the ground up cayenne pepper (a specific variety). Red pepper flakes may consist of a couple different types of dried red peppers, and they often include the dried up seeds in addition to the the dried peppers themselves. So, the cayenne will add the spice, but probably not the same complexity.

My suggestion: Make half the sauce with cayenne and half with red pepper flakes and see what you think!


I think the issue here is more of a texture issue, where crushed red pepper might surprise a person now and again with a hot bite, while cayenne pepper is ground to a powder.

Really all you have to do is grind your red pepper flake if you wish to continue using those instead of cayenne.


For your particular case, as you're specifically making Bourbon Chicken ... you could replace some of the vinegar with hot sauce.

For other cases, I wouldn't actually use fresh chilies -- I'd use a a few dried cayenne peppers, or a similar heat & size pepper that I could easily remove from the dish before serving. As it dried, you can toast it and get some of the same qualities that you'd have gotten from toasting the pepper flakes. As it's a few inches long, it won't get lost as a thai bird chili might.

If you go this route, you'll typically need to increase the volume slightly -- the peppers won't necessaily leach as much heat into the dish, as the inside seed membranes where most of the capsicum is are on the inside can't come into direct contact with the sauce. I would not slice them open because then you have to go to the trouble of deseeding to make sure to avoid a 'surprise'.

  • Joe says to add after deglazing, but I believe this is incorrect. Spices "bloom" in hot fat and release more flavor. I would add to the pan BEFORE deglazing, stir well into the fat for a few seconds (all you need 'cause it's a powder) THEN deglaze. The cayenne powder shouldn't scorch if you don't "fry" it too long.
    – Lynne
    Jun 6, 2021 at 4:37
  • For those of you who look at my answer and wonder why there’s this comment about cayenne and deglazing, while I mentioned neither of those, it’s because a moderator attached it to my answer when they had poster their comment as an answer. It was zerobane who mentioned those, not me
    – Joe
    Jun 7, 2021 at 1:49

Just need to add after deglaze step and not before like you would normally. You will loose a little flavor as your not sauteing the flakes in oil.

maybe make a infused olive oil with the pepper flakes?


As an alternative, you could use fresh chili's. Cut them lengthwise in two halves, put them in like you would the flakes, and either fish them out in the end, or leave them in (or serve separately) for those that do like a bite.

They'll be easy to avoid for those that don't want them.

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