One of the most important areas of distinction for anyone looking to become a hot spice aficionado is the difference between chili flakes and red pepper flakes. Because believe it or not they are not the same!
The main difference between Chili Flakes and Red Pepper Flakes is that Chili flakes are made from one kind of pepper, the (you guessed it) chili peppers. Whereas Red Pepper Flakes is more of an umbrella term for multiple types of peppers which have been combined together.
What are Chili Flakes?
Chili flakes are probably the most common types of spice we use in cooking and are the spice of choice for many popular restaurants and fast-food chains such as Chipotle and Aleppo.
The main appeal is that they are made from just a single type of chili pepper. This gives them a distinct and focused taste, as well as a uniformed heat and color that can only be achieved by sticking to a single type of spice.
They’re reasonably mild and flavorful making them a quick and easy ‘go-to’ spice that’s not going to offend anyone even if they’re not too into spicy food.
Types of chili peppers
It’s estimated there are over 4,000 different types of chilis that have been cultivated around the world. Which makes summarizing them quite difficult.
Fortunately, especially in western cooking, we tend to stick to a few classics to see us through. Here are a few of the most common you will encounter day-to-day:
- Chipotle: ignoring its obvious association with the popular fast-food chain, these are basically jalapenos that have been smoked and let ripen. But there isn’t just one type of jalapeno, so chipotle peppers can also vary greatly, they have a medium heat and deep-red color.
- Cayenne Pepper: the spice you’ll no doubt have on your spice rack anyway. It’s well known for being a simple and easy way to add ‘heat’ to any dish that you cook. It doesn’t have too strong of a flavor so you can use it without overly distorting the flavor palette.
- Bell pepper: one of the mildest types of pepper out there, and as such you will seldom see it be rendered into flake form and used as a spice. You will commonly see it chopped up and fried in large chunks as it has a delicious taste with nearly no perceptible heat.
- Habanero: while probably as equally well-known as the jalapeno, the habanero is definitely on the hotter side of things, sitting between 150,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville heat scale. And as such you will only see it used and consumed by the staunchest of spicy food lovers.
The process of making Chili Flakes is actually very easy! You can do it at home with just a dehydrator or even an oven.
You can just wash, slice, and dry them. Once they are completely dehydrated and very brittle you can place them in a baggie and crush them with your hands and hey presto! Your very own homemade chili flakes.
When should I pick chili flakes over red pepper flakes?
Generally speaking, red pepper flakes are hotter than chili flakes.
So chili flakes are a great choice when you just need to add a mild amount of heat and flavor to a dish without turning it into a distinctly ‘spicy’ meal.
What are Red Pepper Flakes?
If you ever eat pizza you’ve probably had a little sachet of these to sprinkle over, or at restaurants, they’ll often be in little glass jars.
Their big distinction comes in the fact they are comprised of multiple types of chili pepper, primarily from the ‘capsicum annum’ family.
They are your bell peppers, jalapenos, and cayenne.
Because of how many different pepper types vary in heat, flavor, and fragrance you can massively augment your dish with one of the thousands of red pepper varieties out there.
The simplest way to think about this is Chili Flakes are a one-note choice, whereas Red Pepper Flakes can contain many flavors and degrees of heat.
When should I pick red pepper flakes over chili flakes?
Red Pepper Flakes should be treated more liberally than Chili Flakes and used as a more general seasoning.
This can be used when you’re not gunning for an overly spicy flavor and need something more generic and versatile.
What are the differences between chili flakes and red pepper flakes?
The difference between Chili Flakes and Red Pepper Flakes is that Chili flakes are made from a singular chili species which has been dried and crushed up.
Whereas Red Pepper Flakes are the same thing but are comprised of multiple types of peppers.
Let’s take a look at other fields in which these two products differ slightly.
Chili Flakes will have a more uniform color as they are made from a single type of pepper, whereas Red Pepper Flakes may have multiple colors and even some ground seeds.
Chili peppers usually start out green, but between harvesting, ripening, and also cooking they will usually turn red.
We generally associate the deepness of the red with how spicy it is, but this is not always the case as some of the hotter chili peppers such as the habanero range from green, to yellow to quite deep red.
There are even white peppers out that still pack a punch!
The common theme amongst these is you will stick to one specific type of chili to make chili flakes. So if you’re using a red habanero, that’s all you’ll use, you won’t then go mix that with a green jalapeno.
Because they are comprised of multiple types of pepper, red pepper flakes will often have various shades of red and perhaps even some brighter yellow/white seeds. This makes them easy to tell apart from regular Chili Flakes as they will have a more uniform color scheme.
Spiciness depends on the particular strain you are dealing with. We usually measure chili’s heat using what is called the ‘Scoville’ scale’.
This ranges from 100 which probably equates to a very water-vinegar taste, all the way up to 2 million which is your ‘we should probably call an ambulance’ level of heat.
The most common types of peppers we use in day-to-day cooking are things like the jalapeno and cayenne pepper which sit between 5,000-25,000. With something like the popular Tabasco sauce sitting at the 100,000 mark.
This is a fairly reliable metric to use when dealing with chili flakes as you’ll usually be informed about which pepper was used to make it.
However, this gets more complicated when you deal with red pepper flakes as these can be a concoction of numerous pepper types.
Although you could potentially combine habanero with ghost pepper and call it red pepper flakes, generally speaking, it’s pretty mild and sits between 15,000-30,000 SHU (half that of cayenne pepper). So don’t be afraid to put it on anything when you get the chance.
The Chili pepper first originated in Bolivia and was then taken to Mexico where it started to be cultivated. But as its popularity grew both in food and medicinal application it quickly spread around the world and many new kinds of chili were bred.
All the common types of chili you know and love technically fall in this category, from weaker strains such as the bell pepper to the hotter ones such as the jalapeno, habanero, and tabasco.
Because of its variety and distinct taste, it has become the most widely consumed type of spice in the world, with China producing over 16 million tons of them each year.
Red pepper flakes are simply dehydrated peppers that have been crushed.
Any meal that benefits from a little spice will benefit greatly from chili flakes. The nice thing about it is you can choose how strong you want to be, from just a very slight tickle to fiery red hot, just use more or less of the chili flakes as desired.
Red pepper flakes can be used for pretty much all the same applications as chili flakes, it’s broad and generic enough to work on anything from pizza, soups, or even as a meat rub!
It’s not designed to flavor the food in an extremely distinct way, but be considerate of the amount you’re using.
For chili flakes, it is largely dependent on what breed of chili was used to make them.
All the popular ones like jalapeno, chipotle, and habanero have their own unique flavor palette and amounts of heat. So there are a ton of options out there no matter your preference.
On the other hand, generic red pepper flakes don’t actually have much flavor, they are really there as a broad enhancement of the dish. It’s just a nice, slightly spicy seasoning to add a little extra kick to your meal.
Red Pepper Flakes vs Chili Flakes: are they the same?
The reason why they are very similar in that they are both made from chili peppers that have been dehydrated and crushed.
They differ in that Chili Flakes are made from just a single type of chili pepper, whereas Red Pepper Flakes are made from multiple types of chili peppers that have been combined, therefore they contain a large variety of flavors and degrees of heat.