How To Add Spice To Food Without Peppers (Capsicum)

How To Add Spice To Food Without Peppers (Capsicum)

Chili peppers are the best ingredients for adding heat to any dish. But if you don’t have chili peppers on hand or simply want to try something different, there is life beyond capsicum. In this guide, we are outlining all the fantastic chili substitutes you can use to spice up your everyday dishes!

Why Use Chili Pepper Alternatives?

Chili peppers add intense heat to a dish without affecting its taste. Although fruity, chili peppers don’t contribute much to the taste of the food, which is why it’s such a popular ingredient in spicy dishes. But the thing is, not all people could take the heat. 

People who are sensitive to spicy foods, those with food allergies, and individuals with certain conditions can’t have chili peppers. Other times, there are no chili peppers on hand and worthy alternatives can be used in place of red/green chili peppers. If you’re wondering what chili peppers alternatives to try, here are some spices we highly recommend:


Horseradish lends eye-watering heat to your favorite stews and soups. The spiciness is sharp and intense. A chemical called isothiocyanate lends spiciness and "bite" to fresh horseradish. The effect is similar to that of wasabi's spiciness. The heat fades rather quickly, so it's a great alternative to anyone who cannot take the long-lasting spiciness of red chili peppers. Once grated, the spiciness of horseradish disappears.


Ginger is a popular herb/spice, especially in Asian cooking. It’s an excellent substitute for red chili pepper because of its warm, slow-burning heat. Ginger contains gingerol, which gives the gingerroot a peppery, pungent spiciness. Ground ginger isn't as spicy as fresh ginger. Unlike chili peppers, however, ginger has a strong flavor that alters the taste of the dish. When added to the dish, ginger gives off a distinct aroma.


Who doesn’t love the intoxicating aroma of freshly cracked peppercorns? Peppercorns aren’t as spicy as chili peppers, but they add mild spiciness + a smoky, earthy aroma. The spicy heat of peppercorns comes from a chemical called "piperine.

Peppercorns’ spiciness won’t hit you right away; it’s a slow-burning heat that starts creeping at the back of the palate and then all over the mouth.  

Black and green peppercorns are perfect for folks who cannot stomach super spicy dishes because these are kinder on the gut. White peppercorns are made from the grounded seeds of the peppercorn plant. It’s more potent than the black and green varieties, so a little goes a long way. 


Wasabi, the real one made from grated wasabi root, is a potent spice with a strong flavor. The spiciness hits you hard, like a slap on the face. Wasabi's heat comes from the chemical thioglucosides. Thioglucosides are sulfur-containing compounds that, when ingested, spicy enough to decongest the sinuses.

Just a teeny-tiny morsel of wasabi enough to make the eyes water and irritate the nose. That’s what’s unique about wasabi’s spiciness; it doesn’t affect the tongue as much as the nose and eyes! And get this, the cheap wasabi you get from your back-alley sushi bar is made with only 30% real wasabi root, the rest of the add-ons are chili peppers. You have to get the real stuff to taste the authentic spice and flavor of wasabi.

Curry Powder

Curry powder has a distinct flavor and earthy aroma that complement meat and poultry dishes. You can use the powder to season soups and stews. 

Curry powder is spicy because of the combination of ground ginger, peppercorns, and hot peppers. Traditionally, curry powder is made with a mixture of powdered turmeric, chili powder, cumin, ginger, coriander, and other spices. If, for some reason, you can't have chili peppers, you can make your curry powder without the peppers. Or, you can go to your local seller and get one that’s specifically made without hot peppers. 

Sichuan Pepper 

Did you know that Sichuan peppers are not a part of the capsicum genus? That’s right, these spicy peppers are part of the Rutaceae family of plants -- they belong to the citrus family! Here's the thing, Sichuan peppers aren't spicy. This "pepper" contains hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, a spicy chemical that triggers the same cell receptors on the tongue as capsaicin. 

The experience of eating Sichuan pepper is unique, nothing like eating a regular chili pepper. The mouth and tongue will tingle and a numbing sensation sets in. The effect is akin to how the mouth feels when drinking carbonated drinks. What’s even more interesting about Sichuan pepper is that it enhances the potency of other spices. The spices taste deeper, more intense when Sichuan is added to the dish. 

Sichuan peppers are hard to find, so if you found a pile at your local farmer’s market, we suggest hoarding these bad boys.

Mustard Seed

Mustard seeds have a sharp heat and deep, distinct flavors that complement a wide array of meat and seafood dishes. Mustard seeds are spicy thanks to sinigrin, a type of glucosinolate that's also found in other spices like horseradish. The spiciness of mustard seeds is on the mild side, slightly less spicy than crushed red pepper. You can use the seeds as is or ground them into a fine powder to season your favorite dishes. This spice pairs so well with rosemary and oregano. 

The potent heat and subtle flavors of chili peppers make the peppers an ideal ingredient for very spicy dishes. But if you can’t take a heat, there are great alternatives to red chili peppers too! Which ones will you try? Do you have a recipe in mind? Let us know in the comments section!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.