Black pepper and cayenne pepper both have pepper in their names, implying similarity. While they have one common factor, they are two very different spices. They each have their own unique qualities and, as a result, some recipes may require you to use both. If you are trying to choose between one and the other, you will need to know what each brings to the table. Let’s compare the two on heat and taste.
Table of Contents
- Video quick take: Black pepper vs. cayenne
- How does black pepper differ from cayenne pepper?
- Can black pepper and cayenne pepper serve as substitutes for each other?
- When should you use black pepper? And when should you use cayenne pepper?
- Must-read related posts
Video quick take: Black pepper vs. cayenne
How does black pepper differ from cayenne pepper?
The name black pepper refers to the ground, processed drupes of the Piper nigrum plant called black peppercorns. The source of heat in black peppercorns is a compound called piperine, which differs from the source of heat in chili peppers like cayenne pepper.
Chili peppers get their heat from another compound called capsaicin. The heat from piperine is much milder than the heat from chili peppers and does not linger for as long. The exterior of black peppercorns is mostly black, while the interior is an off-white. The result of the whole peppercorns being ground is that black pepper has a mottled black and off-white appearance, which differs from the red color of cayenne pepper.
Cayenne pepper refers to the fruit of the Capsicum annuum (the same species as jalapeño pepper.) This fruit is usually dried and ground to a powder that may be referred to as cayenne powder. Red pepper flakes also typically have cayenne as a base (along with other chilies present.) And chili powder seasoning may also use cayenne as part of the spice blend.
The Scoville scale is a system for measuring the heat of chili peppers like cayenne peppers. According to this scale, cayenne pepper is medium-hot, with a heat rating of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units.
Can black pepper and cayenne pepper serve as substitutes for each other?
Given that the main functions of both black pepper and cayenne pepper involve providing heat, both can sometimes serve as replacements for each other. However, they are not equally effective in this respect. The drastic difference in heat and appearance means that you may have to be careful about which dishes you use them in when making a substitution. Consider the fact that because black pepper is much milder, you will have to use much more of it when replacing cayenne pepper.
You will have to do so carefully since too much black pepper can result in a bitter dish and may also be visually unappealing. Cayenne pepper can be an effective black pepper substitute since it doesn’t have a strong flavor aside from the heat but you will have to use much less of it; too much can result in an overly spicy dish.
When should you use black pepper? And when should you use cayenne pepper?
Use black pepper as an all-purpose seasoning for savory dishes. Its woodsy, piney notes allow it to work well in meat-based dishes and with many vegetables. Its gentle heat makes it ideal for providing a spicy touch in European-style dishes that are supposed to have relatively subtle flavors. It’s very versatile – most recipes call for it, from soups and stews to full entrees.
Cayenne pepper is effective for providing a more aggressive heat and a red color if you add enough of it. Add it to dishes like chili con carne or to some curries if you want to increase the heat. Its powdered form makes it easy to control the level of heat. You can also use it in small amounts if you want a low level of heat without the black specks of ground peppercorns. Pizza is also a popular use case.