What is the difference between cayenne pepper, chilli powder, and paprika powder? They seem pretty similar. Are they interchangeable in recipes? Will it be a big difference if I substitute one for another?

  • I regularly make chili (the stew) using paprika, cumin, oregano, and garlic for the seasonings. It tastes different from the canned stuff, but this is primarily due to different salt and heat levels, not to the specific cultivar of capsicum annuum. I could achieve something very like a restaurant chili if I added more salt and used a hot paprika instead of sweet. – JPmiaou Oct 24 at 16:47
up vote 55 down vote accepted
  • Cayenne pepper powder comes from the cayenne pepper. It is hot/spicy, registering 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.

  • Chilli powder, depending where you live, can mean anything between pure powdered chilli pepper (location would determine the specific type of pepper) to a spice blend of chillies with cumin, oregano, and/or other spices. Depending on the brand (or if you make it yourself) the heat and flavor can vary.

  • Paprika is the dried and ground pepper capsicum annuum, the species of pepper that includes a wide variety of shapes and sizes, such as sweet bell pepper, jalapeno, New Mexico chili and cayenne. It appears that the tomato pepper is the most commonly used variety for the production of paprika. Of course, there are also smoked varieties (sweet, bittersweet, and hot).

I would say that they are generally not interchangeable. Just a little bit of cayenne, for example, will bring quite a bit of heat to your final dish. Chili powder will bring more flavor/spices than paprika.

It really depends on the final result you are looking for, but simple substitutions will result in very different outcomes.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this hot debate has been moved to chat. – Stephie Oct 22 at 14:19
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    The moved comments were mostly a discussion about whether chilli powder in the UK is/was/is understood to be just powdered chilli or a spice blend containing other things too. I've posted a question to try to clear this up: Chilli powder in the UK. – David Richerby Oct 22 at 15:10
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    Smoked paprika is widely available in the US as well. – Todd Wilcox Oct 22 at 16:21
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    Most of the peppers for paprika that I see available to home gardeners aren't bell peppers, but they're still sweet (or nearly sweet). – Shule Oct 23 at 2:15
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    Uh, yeah, absolutely nobody makes paprika out of bell peppers. – Marti Oct 23 at 15:26

They give a similar range of flavours, but in quite different proportions. They’re all made from ground roasted or dried red peppers of some kind, so all of them involve some amounts of spiciness (chilli heat), fruitiness, earthiness, and other aspects of the flavour of roasted peppers. Cayenne typically has much more of the hotter and sharper flavours among these. Paprika typically is much less hot, and more fruity and earthy (though there’s a wide range of varieties of paprika). A very wide range of different styles are sold as “chilli powder” depending where you are, but typically they’re quite hot and a bit earthy, less sweet than paprika and less sharp than cayenne.

(“Chilli powder” can also mean a spice blend from Mexican/US cooking, which besides pure chilli powder may typically contain cumin, dried onion/garlic, oregano, salt, and other herbs/spices. I’m assuming that you’re talking about pure chilli powder, not the blend.)

Since they have such closely related flavour profiles, you can usefully exchange them for each other in many recipes — it will change the result a bit, but will usually still work well. E.g. if a recipe calls for cayenne but if you or your guests don’t like too much chilli heat, you can subsitute paprika to reduce the heat without losing the other aspects of the pepper flavour.

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    Upvoted, great answer. I think it is worth elaborating on what one can do with the wide variation in brands/species/regions of chilli powder, as well as smoked varieties. So, it could be useful to sniff and taste a variety of products, labeling them appropriately for use in your recipes. – Douglas Held Oct 21 at 18:57
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    You do not roast peppers for making paprika. You dry them, not cook them. – Marti Oct 23 at 15:28
  • I like to note that there is a different spelling in American English for this- chili (one L), which in my experience is the name of a bean-based stew, and the name given to a powdered blend of spices that usually includes, but is not completely made up of powdered capsicum that is called 'chilli' in UK English. – Jennifer S Oct 24 at 15:22
  • @Marti: Thanks for the correction, fixed! – PLL Oct 25 at 7:36
  • @JenniferS: The spelling difference is good to note, but in my experience it’s just US vs UK difference, not specifically about the stew/spice distinction. That is, in the US, chili (one L) is the most widely used spelling for everything — the stew, the spice blend, the pure ground spice, the original fruit — while similarly in the UK, chilli is the main spelling for all of them. – PLL Oct 25 at 7:42

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