Cayenne Pepper vs. Black Pepper

When it comes to the world of peppers, one thing is clear. Not all peppers are created equal.

This much is evidently true if you ever ask someone who accidentally mixed up cayenne pepper and black pepper when seasoning some scrambled eggs. While the two share the surname pepper, there is actually a great deal of difference between cayenne pepper and black pepper.

Cayenne pepper is the dried and crushed form of a chili pepper. Black pepper comes from a flowering vine and is the dried version of that vine’s fruits called peppercorns. Cayenne pepper is red and provides heat while black pepper is, well, black and has an aromatic spice.

Same Name, Different Plants

Cayenne pepper and black pepper, as well as dozens of other species bearing the name pepper, get confused all the time. The main difficulty with telling them apart is that they share the same name but come from different plants.

Cayenne peppers come from the capsicum genus as do other peppers like jalapenos, poblanos, and bell peppers. Cayennes can be identified by their red color and rippled skin. The peppers grow hanging from the pepper plant.

Black peppers are small fruits called peppercorns from the plant piper negrum. They are removed from the vine and dried to create the black pepper on store shelves and in grinders across America. Other colors of peppercorn like white, green, and red are from the same plant put processed differently and at varying levels of ripeness.

Different Chemicals, Different Heats

Peppers of both varieties are used for the same reason: heat. Both black and cayenne pepper provide satisfying heat that can season everything from steaks to soups, but the heat they produce comes from different sources.

Cayenne pepper and peppers in the capsicum genus get their heat from a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that produces a burning effect on the tongue thought to evolutionarily deter mammals, like humans, from eating the plants that produce it.

Black pepper’s pleasant spiciness has made it one of the most popular flavorings around the world. This flavor comes from a chemical called piperine which exudes a mild heat but an aromatic spiciness.

The capsaicin in cayenne pepper makes the plant moderately hot on the tongue. Black pepper’s heat however is much milder on the tongue and more fragrant in the nose.

When to use which pepper

These chemical and species differences mean that despite their names, cayenne and black pepper are far from similar and thus have very different uses.

Cayenne pepper has little distinct flavor in and of itself, but it has a characteristic heat. This makes it a perfect accompaniment with foods that already have their own distinct flavors but could use a pleasant burning heat to elevate the palette.

Add cayenne to chilis, stews, or casseroles to add a heat-filled punch to your final dish. Season proteins with a pinch of cayenne to enhance their flavors. Or, top a slice of pizza with some crushed red pepper flakes, a form of cayenne pepper.

Black pepper’s pleasant spice and mild heat make it a great addition to almost any food item. Freshly grind it into oils when cooking pasta dishes like cacio e pepe. Or, finish almost any dish with a table grinder of pepper.

Higher-quality black peppers will have fruity and floral notes, especially when freshly ground.


Even though they share a name, cayenne and black peppers come from different plants. Black pepper is a dried fruit from a vine that has an aromatic spice to it. Cayenne pepper is dried and crushed chili pepper which adds a strong heat to dishes.

Related Questions

Can you substitute cayenne pepper for black pepper?

Generally, no. If the recipe uses the pepper in question for a mild heat, one can be swapped out for the other. But, cayenne and black pepper have totally separate flavor profiles and should not be mistaken for one another in a recipe.

Is cayenne pepper good for health?

Cayenne peppers have been shown to have a number of health benefits. Cayenne may boost metabolism, reduce hunger, lower blood pressure, and aid digestion. Because it’s so easy to add a pinch to your food, it’s a great addition to any diet.

Is black pepper good for you?

Despite being overlooked as a common table seasoning, black pepper is full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Black pepper was used in ancient times for its healing properties and has anti-inflammatory properties.