The Best Chili Pepper Substitutes

Published Categorized as Ingredients

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If you love to add a kick to your food then you are probably pretty prone to using red chili peppers or green chili peppers. Red chili peppers are just green chilis that have aged more, and so although many people think the red color indicates a hotter taste, chilis only really tend to gain more sweetness over time.

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Because green and red chilis have a similar level of heat, red chili peppers are the best substitutes for green chilies, and vice versa.

However, if you find yourself without any red or green chili peppers and you can’t get ahold of them, then have no fear, there are plenty of other substitutes that work in place of your regular chili peppers and in some cases can even bring a more unique flavor to your food!

In this article I am going to tell you the top five substitutes you can use if you can’t get your hands on any red chilies and then some top tips on how to ensure you never go without the ingredients for that little spice kick again!

For the purpose of this article, I will be referring to your regular chili as red chili peppers, but the article applies to substituting the green chili as well – although not in terms of the color.


What is Red Chili Pepper?

If you have ever eaten a meal that feels as though it has set your tongue on fire, it is likely that your food contained red chili pepper. Red chili peppers are in no doubt the most commonly used across restaurants, but also the easiest to find in your local grocery stores.

You can often find red chili peppers chopped up in spicy food, but also thinly sliced and used as a garnish on the top. As mentioned, if red chili peppers are not available then green chilis are normally used in place.

Red chili peppers are the fruit of the capsicum pepper plant and although they are thought to have originally come from South America, they are now found growing across the globe and are used in a wide range of cuisines, from chili con carne to stir-fry, from curry to salad!

Red chili peppers are extremely versatile because they can add a lot of heat, or they can add a little kick. Cooking red chili peppers can slowly reduce some of the heat in them, however eating them fresh will be extremely hot, and adding the seeds would be inedible for most!

It is always best to start with less chili pepper than the recipe requires, and then build from there if you feel like it needs more spice. Chilies can end up a lot hotter than we expect!

Although red chili peppers are extremely versatile, there are a number of reasons as to why someone may want to replace them. You simply might not have access to a red chili pepper, or you may want to spice things up or add a different flavor to your usual recipes. So, now I am going to let you in on some of the best alternatives to red chili pepper, both for spice but also for some interesting and new flavors!

Serrano Peppers

The closest substitute to the red chili pepper is the serrano pepper. People enjoy the red chili pepper for its heat and flavor, and so the pepper that is closest to this is the serrano.

Serrano peppers have a very similar taste, but are actually slightly hotter than red chili peppers. This can be ideal for those who really love the spicy kick. It also gives you the opportunity to alter the quantities and to slightly reduce how much pepper you use in order to match the same heat as the chili or red pepper.

Similar to chili peppers, serrano peppers are harvested when green and are commonly found in the US. They are almost twice the heat of red chili peppers though and so whilst packing a real punch, these are not ideal for anyone with a low tolerance to spicy food.


Cayenne Peppers

Next up we have the cayenne pepper. For anyone who loves to cook with chilis, you will know that the cayenne pepper is the epitome of all chili peppers. With a long finger shape, pointed end, bright red color and fiery taste, cayenne peppers are a wonderful substitute for red chili peppers.

Cayenne peppers are extremely versatile. They come in a range of heat and so whilst some are very mild, others can really bring some heat to your food. This makes them a wonderful substitute because they can be used by just about anyone.

You can cook with fresh, but also dried cayenne peppers are very popular. They are easy to find and they still bring that wonderful red color to your food.

The only issue with the cayenne pepper is the diversity of heat, you may need to really increase the amount of pepper you are using if you ar trying to match the head of the red chili pepper. Likewise, if they are very hot then you may need to use less. Because of this they can be difficult to determine and so it is best to add them little by little until you reach the desired taste.

Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapeno peppers also have varying heat, from medium hot to very hot. They are extremely common in Mexican food, but also in restaurants in general. They are easy to get your hands on and you can find them in just about any supermarket.

Jalapeno peppers are usually quite mild in flavor and add a little kick to your meals without anything overpowering – they can be a great pepper for those trying to ease into enjoying heat.

Jalapeno peppers have a taste similar to bell peppers, but with much more of a kick than that found in bell peppers. The jalapeno pepper is usually dark green in color but red ones are available. This means that they can work as a good substitute for the green chili pepper, but in terms of appearance they are not the best alternative for red chilis.

Jalapenos commonly come jarred and preserved in vinegar and salt. These have a much milder taste than fresh jalapenos but can work delicious if used as a topping on nachos or pizza, or alternatively they add a lovely kick to a salad. If you are using the peppers to cook then you would be better to use fresh jalapenos in order to get that heat.

They have a sweet taste, and whilst they vary in heat they are usually not as hot as the red chili pepper. If using jalapenos as a substitute you may need to increase the amount you use in order to match the same level of heat.

Pequin Chilli Peppers

The pequin chili pepper is not as popular as the others mentioned above. It is a short, rectangular shape and red in color.

The pequin pepper has a unique flavor and it is usually smoked or used dried to really enhance its taste throughout the cooking. Pequin is more commonly used as a spice as it packs a similar level of heat to the cayenne pepper, but a sweeter, fruitier flavor.

Fresh pequin peppers are usually used in things like salas, to bring a fresh flavor. However, as they start to turn more red and develop a stronger taste, they are dried and ground down to form chili powder or chili flakes.


Chili Flakes

Chili flakes can be a great and easy substitute. Usually chili flakes will be a combination of many chilies, and due to the popularity they are not too hot so you may need to add extra. Chili flakes are dried and so they last a long time and are not too expensive to buy.

It is a great idea to keep some dried chili flakes to hand in case you need an extra kick or you can’t get ahold of any fresh chilies.

Tien Tsin Chili Peppers

Tien Tsin peppers originated in northern China and they have a shiny, bright red appearance. They are extremely hot, but work as a great substitute both in flavor and appearance.

As a typical ingredient in asian cuisines, they work as a great alternative if you are making typically asian meals. They are popular in dishes such as  Szechuan and Kung Pao chicken.

Be careful not to add too much, as they are very hot. Again, it is recommended to add them a little at a time. Similar to red chili peppers, they are great when cooked but also delicious when used raw!

Chili Powder

Similar to the flakes, chili powder can be a great substitute but can be made using a combination of peppers and so the heat may not be as strong.

It is easy to find red chili powder and again, it is made using dried chilis and therefore it lasts longer if stored correctly and is easy to mix into sauces and marinades.

You can make your own chili powder by drying out your chilis and grinding them down until they are powdery. You can learn more about that here.

The only downside to substituting fresh red chilis with chili powder is that it cannot be used to create chunks of pepper in a meal or to act as a garnish on the top of a meal.


Final Thoughts

There are many alternatives that you can use in place of chili peppers. If you are looking for an extra kick to your food, the cayenne pepper or pequin pepper can be a fantastic alternative.

For something slightly sweeter and as a delicious garnish, look no further than the jalapeno pepper, but for something with a similar appearance and texture, serrano peppers are the one for you!

Alternatively, you can use flakes or powder. This is a good, back up option as it is long-lasting and easy to find. You can create your own chili powder using red chili peppers and drying them out. This is a great way to preserve your peppers and to get use out of them for a longer time.

So, next time you are looking to spice things up then use any of the alternatives above and be sure to blow your guests away with your knowledge of flavors and heats!