What’s The Best Fresno Pepper Substitute?

The Fresno pepper is a darling chili among foodies for its very eatable medium heat and, when red, subtle smokiness. More recipes than ever are calling for this chili. But say your local store doesn’t carry them fresh, what options do you have? What’s the best Fresno pepper substitute to save your culinary masterpiece? The good news is some of the most popular chilies in the world can help you fill these shoes.

Your best Fresno pepper alternative: Jalapeño pepper

Yes, the ubiquitous jalapeño is your go-to here. In fact, these chilies look so much alike that grocers often mislabel the two in stores. In terms of taste, when they are young and green, the Fresno and the jalapeño have a comparable bright crisp taste and medium heat. The differences come with aging.

Fresno peppers tend to become a little hotter, fruitier, and smokier as they turn red. Those are the tastes that some recipes are seeking, so while the jalapeño is your best alternative, it isn’t always perfect. Still, it’s available nearly everywhere produce is sold and the flavors are close enough to cover if time is of the essence.

A smoky Fresno pepper substitute: Chipotle chilies

Chipotle is dried, smoked jalapeño, so it has a condensed smoky flavor that’s much greater than what you get from fresh Fresno. If you’re on the lookout for something smoky with a similar heat profile and dried chilies aren’t an issue for the recipe, the chipotle is an excellent choice. To balance the smokiness, you may want to lessen the amount used by half, then add in to taste.

A heat jump: Serrano pepper

Serrano chilies and jalapeños have a similar bright crispness, so really the choice to jump to serrano is all about availability and your spice tolerance. Serrano chilies range from 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units. Ripe red Fresno peppers tap out in heat near the serrano’s basement – around 10,000 SHU maximum, so you could be doubling your meal’s heat by jumping to the serrano. For some, that’s a very good thing; for others, the jalapeño is likely your best choice. These chilies are becoming more popular in grocery stores, so if you have the option and you like spicy foods, it may be worth the experiment.

In a pinch: Crushed red pepper

This solution only works, of course, if your need doesn’t rely on using a fresh chili. If you’re simply looking for a heat source as a Fresno pepper substitute, crushed red pepper works well. The typical chili used as flakes in CRP is cayenne pepper, so it’ll be hotter than what you’d typically get from Fresno chilies. Jus keep that in mind.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 31, 2022 to include new content.
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