Chile De Arbol Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are chile de àrbol?

Chile de arbol (a.ka. chile de àrbol, bird’s beak chile, or rat’s tail chile) may not be as popular as its close cousin cayenne pepper, but this slim chili will surprise you with its versatility. In fact, it’s one of our favorites for spicing things up because of its slim shape, short length, and potent but eatable heat (15,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units).

Not only is this pepper terrific as chili powder or in hot sauces, but it’s also skinny and tiny enough to flavor foods, olive oil, and beverages as a whole dried pod. And, unlike other peppers, these chili pods keep their beautiful reddish tint when dried. This adds some serious wow factor in a bottle or as a garnish to a meal or spicy cocktail.

Chile de Arbol

Table of Contents

Chile de arbol fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)15,000 – 30,000
Median heat (SHU)22,500
Jalapeño reference point2 to 15 times hotter
Capsicum speciesAnnuum
SizeApproximately 2 to 3 inches long, curved
FlavorNutty, Smoky

How hot are chile de arbol peppers?

These chilies contain a good medium heat pop, ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units (SHU) on the Scoville scale. That’s two to fifteen times hotter than our reference point – the jalapeño pepper, but it’s not quite the heat of the cayenne pepper (30,000 – 50,000 SHU), to which it is closely related.

There are reports of some chile de arbol peppers reaching heat in that cayenne range, but that’s not the norm. Yes, at its ceiling, it can be as hot as the mildest cayenne, but typically you’re going to get heat around a serrano pepper level.

The heat itself has a bite, a bit acidic and quick. But that’s tempered by its surprisingly good taste – there’s a lot of flavor here.

What do chile de arbol taste like?

Beyond the quick heat punch, there’s a lot to this chili in terms of taste. There’s an earthy flavor here, with a hint of nuttiness and smokiness, along with a light grassy undertone. For many, these chilies are tastier than the cayenne pepper (which are more neutral in taste.) And since the heat level is lower too, these chilies can be enjoyed by many more people, in many more ways.

Fresh chile de arbol

What do they look like?

The name chile de arbol covers both the fresh and the dried form of this hot pepper. It literally means “tree chili.” These hot peppers come from a bush, not a tree, but it’s the pepper stems themselves that make the name so fitting. They have woody stems that feel like branches.

A chile de arbol matures from green to a bright red, and in shape, it’s like a mini cayenne pepper. They are slim and curved, but short – only growing to two to three inches in length. It’s a shape that has brought on some other names for this pepper too. In Mexico, you may hear these hot peppers referred to as Bird’s Beak or Rat’s Tail chilies.

Do dried chile de arbol keep their red color?

Yes, unlike a lot of other chilies that turn a dark brown or black when drying, the de àrbol chili stays a red color, ranging from bright red to dark cherry in hue. This makes the dried form very popular, both for culinary and decorative uses. This dried chili just shows really well, and its size makes it perfect to use as a garnish. You’ll find it in this form more often than fresh.

Dried chile de arbol

What are some common chile de àrbol uses?

You’ll find the dried peppers commonly in chili ristras and chili wreaths, and they are also commonly used as ornamental kitchen decor as whole pods in decorative bowls.

But there are many amazing culinary uses too. This is a hot pepper that’s terrific as a crushed powder for soups and marinades. And its nutty, smoky flavor adds a terrific heat twist to salsas and hot sauces.

And its size, actually, gives the dried variety access to the world of infusions and garnishes. For instance, chile de àrbol is commonly used to infuse olive oil by placing the whole pods directly in the oil bottle (they are skinny and short enough) with garlic and other spices. You can do the same with iced teas, alcohol (try making a chile de àrbol infused vodka), and other beverages. These chilies are so slim and tiny that they make unique spicy cocktail and drink garnishes too.

They add a kick – and a flair – to your home bar concoctions, from margaritas to spicy lemonades.

Cooking with chile de arbol

When cooking with chile de árbol peppers, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Remember: you can use this dried chili as you would other dried peppers. Meaning, feel free to grind it into flakes or into a fine powder. From there, you have many options in the kitchen, like any ground spice. Flakes tend to sit atop food more, while powders permeate the dish. Consider that when deciding how much of your ground chile de àrbol to use.
  • Always wear gloves when handling chile de arbol, as the capsaicin can cause skin irritation. Don’t underestimate the spiciness here. Chile de arbol, whether fresh or dried, can near cayenne pepper level heat. Just because chili is dried doesn’t mean it’s less potent here. Take the precautions you should.
  • Know how to treat chili burn before handling chile de arbol, or any hot pepper. Milk is the best solution here, but there are others. See our post on treating chili burn to learn your best options.

Where can you buy chile de arbol?

It’s harder to find them fresh, but in dried form, this is an easy chili to find. They are quickly growing in popularity. You’ll find them in some supermarkets with strong international sections, and Mexican specialty stores will often carry them. They are also easily bought online as both whole pods and in powdered form.

  1. Whole Dried Chile de Arbol Chilies
    $7.70 ($1.92 / oz)

    As a dried chili, chile de àrbol can last for years when stored properly. Plus, it's easy to find them in bulk, like this option from Ole Rico.

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    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    02/18/2024 03:55 am GMT
  2. Smoke It Up Set: Chipotle and Chile De Arbol Powders

    Love smoky heat? This chili powder duo provides plenty of it. Both medium-heat: Ground chipotle (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units) and chile de arbol (15,000 to 30,000 SHU). They're perfect for dry rubs or finishing spices for BBQ and red meats.

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We’ve come to love these little chilies for infusions and as a garnish. If like us you think of your kitchen as a spicy culinary lab, it’s well worth keeping a bag of dried chile de àrbol at hand. They are a ton of fun to experiment with, and their nuttiness works very well with traditional salsas and soups too.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on July 23, 2022 to include new content.
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