Chile de Arbol Vs. Cayenne – How Do They Compare?

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Chile de arbol and cayenne peppers share some characteristics but aren’t exactly alike. How can you tell them apart? Which is hotter? Which will you be able to find more easily? Let’s compare.

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Where did each pepper originate?

The chile de arbol is believed to have originated in the Los Altos part of Jalisco, the Mexican state. It is an ancient pepper that was first documented by a European named Francisco Hernandez in the 1500s. Via Spanish colonists, the chile de arbol pepper was exported from the Americas and introduced to other parts of the world including countries in Asia. Today, it is grown all over Mexico and in parts of Asia and Africa.

The cayenne pepper is named for the capital of French Guiana. The name is believed to be the European version of a Tupi Indian word; the Tupi Indians are a native South American community. Cayenne peppers were grown in South America and used for their supposed medicinal benefits long before the arrival of Europeans.

Today, cayenne peppers are among the more famous and popular hot peppers. They are widely cultivated in Asia and Africa and used in many North American dishes.

Which is hotter, chiles de arbol or cayennes?

Chile de arbol peppers and cayennes are far from the hottest chilies but they aren’t mild either. Both offer medium level spiciness, though cayenne peppers are nearly always hotter than chile de arbol.

Chile de Arbol peppers have heat levels that lie in the 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat unit (SHU) range. Cayenne peppers start where chile de arbol ends, 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. So the cayenne pepper’s floor is chile de arbol’s ceiling.

Both, of course, eclipse the low-medium spiciness of jalapeño peppers (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), so this is a heat level (for both) that goes beyond a level of family-friendliness when used in higher quantities.

Let’s compare these two chilies in terms of how often each is searched for online. Both the cayenne and chile de arbol are popular peppers, but the cayenne, as mentioned, is among the most common chilies on the planet. “Cayenne pepper” is searched over 236,000 times globally each month, while “chile de arbol” is searched only 73,000 times.

How do their shapes and colors differ?

Cayenne peppers are long, skinny, and finger-like with pointy ends. The peppers also tend to curl and twist. The typical cayenne pepper length is three to five inches and they are usually only about 1/2 an inch across.

Chile de arbol peppers are usually between two and three inches long and can be between 1/4 of an inch to about 1/3 of an inch across. These narrow peppers grow to a point — usually with a slight curl — and they ripen red. They sort of look like mini cayenne peppers.

While both of these chilies are eaten fresh, they are among the most common peppers you find in dried form. They are both dried when in mature red form and take on a wrinkled appearance.

How does each pepper taste?

The chile de arbol pepper is considered a flavorful chili that is usually consumed ripe; it contributes a fruity, smoky flavor to food along with its heat.

Cayennes are mildly flavored peppers that are usually dried and powdered or coarsely ground to convert them to flakes. Fresh cayennes have a little grassy, vegetal flavor when green and a subtle sweetness when ripe but the dried version lacks flavor notes aside from heat.

–> Learn More: What’s A Good Cayenne Pepper Substitute?

Which is easier to find fresh?

You may be able to find fresh chile de arbol pepper in some Latin grocery stores, but you probably won’t see them in a mainstream grocery store’s produce section.

Similarly, you also won’t find fresh cayennes in many stores, but you might see them in a farmer’s market or another kind of open-air market if you live outside of the United States.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

Cayenne pepper is more common in commercial products since it is used in many hot sauces and sold as cayenne powder. Chile de arbol is known for being one of the peppers in the famous Cholula hot sauce (read our review) and is also widely sold as a dried pepper.

  1. Whole Dried Chile de Arbol Chilies
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    02/18/2024 03:55 am GMT
  2. Whole Dried Cayenne Pepper (8 ounces)
    $11.99 ($1.50 / Ounce)
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    02/18/2024 04:59 pm GMT
  3. Smoke It Up Set: Chipotle and Chile De Arbol Powders
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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 25, 2023 to include new content.
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Just bought the Trinity and Smoke sets. Quick service, excellent products. Also subscribed to your newsletter. This article is timely, as the Arbol is new to me (also Pasilla and Guajillo), while Cayenne is all too common. I like the Arbol very much. Los Altos de Jalisco is also the name of a local restaurant.