What’s A Good Chile De Àrbol Substitute?

More and more recipes are calling for the increasingly popular chile de àrbol. Its nutty taste and medium heat adds a unique earthy punch to dishes; while its slender profile provides extra value as a garnish and infusion ingredient. But what if you can’t find them in stores, or you’re simply (and surprisingly) out of them at your home? Where can you turn on the Scoville scale for the best chile de àrbol substitute for your need? Let’s break it down, so you can go on cooking amazing things.

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Best option for similar heat: Japones pepper

The japones chili looks a lot like the chile de àrbol: just a little wider in the middle and flatter in appearance when dried. It has the exact same heat profile as the àrbol chili – 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units, but in terms of flavor, it’s a little less complex. There’s a clean bite, but not that nutty undertone.

But, of course, if you can’t find chile de àrbol, finding japones chilies may be even harder. In this case, one of the easier-to-find options below will work best.

The easiest supermarket solution: Crushed red pepper

If all you are looking for is a similar level of spiciness, look no further than your spice rack. Crushed red pepper typically has a cayenne pepper base cut with lesser heat peppers. This lowers the heat profile to around the chile de àrbol level. This is a definite trade-off, though. Sure you get the heat, but not the flavor chile de àrbol or the creative presentation possible with a dried pepper.

The “step up” option: Dried cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper (30,000 to 50,000 SHU) is typically double in heat to the chile de àrbol, so if you’re happy with a little extra kick, here’s your answer. It, too, doesn’t share the same nutty flavor, but its slim profile makes the cayenne a good infusion chili pepper. it’s easy to fit into bottles of olive oil or liquor to spice up the flavor.

The “giant leap” option (but easier to find in a pinch): Thai chilies

Most supermarkets carry Thai chilies (a.k.a. bird’s eye chilies) in their international sections, so if you need a fast chile de àrbol substitute, this is your “in a pinch” option. But beware: It’s a big jump in heat between the two. Thai chilies are typically three to four times hotter (50,000 to 30,000 SHU) than chile de àrbol. They may be tiny, but they pack a wallop. Consider your recipe before using. Use only a quarter of what’s called for and add more to taste. Thai chilies with their slim shape are also excellent for chili infusions.

The nutty alternative: Cascabel pepper

The cascabel chili (1,000 to 3,000 SHU) is nowhere near the spiciness of the chile de àrbol, But what it lacks in heat, it makes up for in taste. It has its own unique nutty and earthy flavor that can add something special to dishes. If you’re looking for a flavor replacement, the cascabel is a terrific substitute for chile de àrbol.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 20, 2022 to include new content.
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