Bell peppers are everywhere, of course, but that doesn’t mean that trying an alternative from time to time isn’t worth the culinary adventure! Whether you’re looking for an alternative to the grassy bright flavor of the bell or you’re simply ready to explore peppers with a little more oomph, there are many options on the low end of the Scoville scale that make excellent alternatives to bell peppers.
Table of Contents
- Your best bet: Poblano pepper
- A close second: pimento peppers
- Two other great fresh chili choices: Anaheim or cubanelle chilies
- Want more heat? Jalapeño pepper
- The doppelganger alternative: Colored bell peppers
- Must-read related posts
Note: We explore chili pepper substitutions here, not alternative non-pepper vegetables for a recipe. Vegetable substitutions are highly dependent on the recipe at hand. Only context will tell whether tomatoes, grassy leaves, cabbage, bok choy, shallots, onions, or broccoli (to name a few) would be the best bell pepper substitute outside of the Capsicum genus. But chili pepper substitutions can work more often than not.
Your best bet: Poblano pepper
This is about as big of a bell pepper substitute slam dunk as you can get. Poblano chilies share many similar physical qualities to bell peppers. They have thick meaty walls and large cavities, making them excellent for stuffing, just like bell peppers. Plus, poblanos are becoming easier and easier to find. Many supermarkets now carry poblano peppers next to the bells in the fresh produce section.
The big differences? Taste, spiciness, and mouth-feel. Poblanos have a richer, earthier flavor that’s much different than the bright grassiness of green bell peppers or the sweetness of most of the colored bell varieties. It’s a flavor profile that many people prefer. There is a simmering heat here, too, but only a dash of it.
Poblano chilies range from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units which place them two to eight times milder than a jalapeño pepper. Yes, it’s obviously hotter than a bell pepper, but this is a spice the whole family can handle.
On mouthfeel – poblano chilies have a waxy texture to its skin. Some don’t mind it (or even notice it), but some do. If it is an issue, you can always roast the poblanos and peel the skin off before using this chili.
A close second: pimento peppers
Pimentos (also called pimiento peppers) are extremely mild (100 to 500 Scoville heat units) and have a lovely round shape reminiscent of a bell. They have a delicious sweet flavor, sweeter than even a red bell pepper. And in use cases where you’re simply looking for a chopped bell pepper alternative (pizzas, stir-fries, etc.)
Why aren’t they the #1 choice? Their size and availability. Pimentos are much smaller than a bell, roughly two inches wide or less. That limits their use cases for stuffing. They also aren’t always available fresh, though you can often find them in other products (like pimento-stuffed olives and pimento cheese.)
Two other great fresh chili choices: Anaheim or cubanelle chilies
Both of these chilies tend to be sweeter than the poblano. So if you’re looking for an alternative to red bells (or another color other than green), the Anaheim and cubanelle peppers can both work. They both have relatively thick walls (Anaheims are a little thicker) and a large cavity, too. If you’re looking for a replacement for the bell to act like a frying pepper, opt for the cubanelle. It’s also known as the Italian frying pepper, as it’s built perfectly for the role.
Both chilies fall under the mild chili pepper range. so they are very family-friendly. Anaheim peppers can reach the lowest end of jalapeño heat, while cubanelles are milder than even the poblano.
Want more heat? Jalapeño pepper
This is a jump up the pepper scale, no doubt. Jalapeño peppers fall into the low end of medium-heat chilies, so be ready for the spice. But beyond the spice difference, there are a lot of similarities. While they are different sizes, jalapeños have thick walls, making them great for stuffed pepper recipes. And the flavor shares a comparable grassy brightness when the jalapeño is green in color. They work quite well, too, with everything from sauces to stews. And they are tasty pizza topping.
And if the spiciness is of concern, you can always remove the white pith and seeds before cooking. That white membrane contains quite a bit of capsaicin which creates the heat sensation you feel.
The doppelganger alternative: Colored bell peppers
Sure, it’s the most obvious of them all – simply opting for a color variant of this sweet pepper. Bell peppers come in many colors, yellow, orange, and red are all common. And it’s the easiest alternative to find by far.
–> Learn More: Why Do Bell Peppers Come In Different Colors?
However, there are some things still to consider for your recipe here. First – on flavor: there are nuances with colored bells that green bells simply don’t share. Green bell peppers are grassy and bright in taste, while colored bells (especially red bell peppers) tend to have a sweet flavor that’s less bitter. This can reflect in a recipe, but the same is true for any of the substitutions above.
And then there’s the color consideration. For those into culinary aesthetics, opting for a different color completely may not be an option for the dishes you are making. Sure it can work in salads easily, but more complex recipes can have color clashes. You may want to consider your other ingredients and the overall look before going red or yellow when the recipe calls for green.
Must-read related posts
- Are Bell Peppers Spicy, Ever? Are there times when heat can sneak into this sweet pepper?
- How Healthy Are Bell Peppers? We dive into the nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and more. Spoiler – Bells are chock-full of vitamin C.
- The Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 peppers, covering heat, flavor, original, and more.