Calabrian peppers are packed with flavor – smoky, fruity, and even a touch salty. Its depth is part of its culinary charm. So, where do you turn when you need a Calabrian pepper substitute? Which chilies match well in terms of flavor? Which are your best options if heat alone is your only need? Let’s review your options.
While your local grocer may not carry Calabrian peppers, they are easy to buy online. TuttoCalabria Calabrian peppers from Italy are jarred in oil and kept whole, so you can use them on sandwiches, in pasta recipes, as an appetizer, and more.
Table of Contents
- Your best fresh option: Fresno peppers
- Your top heat-only option: Cayenne peppers (fresh or dried)
- Your best dried alternative: Chipotle peppers
- Your best heat-bump substitute: Habanero peppers
- Other good alternatives
- Must-read related posts
Your best fresh option: Fresno peppers
As flavor matches go, Fresno peppers are about as close as you can get to Calabrian chilies. They share a fruity, smoky flavor, like those Calabrians, but without the salty undertone.
The key difference between Calabrian and Fresno peppers is the overall spiciness. Fresno peppers range from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) – a low-medium heat on par (just slightly hotter at its peak) to jalapeño peppers. Calabrian chilies range quite hotter, from 25,000 to 40,000 SHU, placing them solidly in the medium-heat range. You won’t get the same fiery punch with Fresnos, so if the heat is your sole consideration, consider the choice below.
Your top heat-only option: Cayenne peppers (fresh or dried)
Cayenne is your best bet if you need the heat of Calabrian peppers without any other flavor considerations. Cayenne clocks in at 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, just slightly hotter on average than Calabrian peppers, though there’s a lot of overlap here. The heat is comparable enough to deliver what you’d expect.
You won’t get much flavor, though. Fresh cayenne chilies have a neutral “peppery” taste, with little else behind them. Dried cayenne is even more neutral in overall flavor. So this is only valuable as a heat swap, but for many people, that’s plenty enough.
Your best dried alternative: Chipotle peppers
Chipotle peppers are dried smoked red jalapeño peppers. They have a delicious earthy and smoky sweetness (more smokiness than Calabrian chilies). If you’re looking for a dried Calabrian pepper substitute, chipotle is your best option.
Again, the key difference here is the spiciness. Chipotle peppers are jalapeños, sharing the same low-medium Scoville heat range, 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. That’s at minimum three times milder than Calabrian chilies.
Your best heat-bump substitute: Habanero peppers
Habaneros are more tropical-sweet than fruity-sweet, but it’s close enough in flavor to work. Some habs also have a light amount of smokiness that provides additional depth. But the story here is the increase in spiciness. Habaneros run from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units – firmly in the extra-hot zones of chili peppers and, at minimum, three times hotter than Calabrian chilies.
Other good alternatives
Anchos are very mild, only 1,000 to 1,500 SHU, but these dried chilies have a tasty earthy sweetness that maps reasonably well to the unique flavor of Calabrian chilies.
Red jalapeños work better here than green. Green jalapeños have a bitter, grassy flavor, but when they mature to red, they lose much of that bitterness and take on a sweet taste. Of course, green jalapeños are easier to find in stores, but they are only recommended if you’re in a pinch.
Guajillo peppers are a popular dried chili pepper in Mexico. They have a deep, rich flavor with hints of berry and tea. While they’re not as smoky as Calabrian peppers, they have a ton of flavor depth. So if your interest is in the unique tastes of the Calabrian, you’ll want to explore the guajillo as well.
Must-read related posts
- Our Hot Pepper List: Our list features over 150 different chilies. You can search by name, heat level, and flavor, so it’s easy to find options that will work as substitutes for Calabrian chili peppers even beyond those above.
- Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Yes, some hot sauces, could work as substitutes. Search hot sauces by our rankings (flavor, heat balance, usability, collectibility) or by the chili pepper used.
- Red Vs. Green Jalapeños: We mention the red jalapeño as an alternative here. Learn more how the green and red options compare.