What’s A Good Habanero Pepper Substitute?

When you start reaching the hotter levels of the Scoville scale, finding the perfect chili substitutions starts to get a little trickier. Fewer chilies carry this level of heat and they are typically harder to find in stores. Finding the best habanero pepper substitute suffers from this…but only slightly. There are actually a few chilies with similar levels of spiciness and comparable tastes which can be used as a substitute for habanero, but most will be tougher to find. We touch on these, as well as your best supermarket substitute.

Your best option: Scotch bonnet pepper

The scotch bonnet and the habanero are near identical twins. They share the same Scoville heat range (100,000 to 325,000 SHU), a similarity in appearance (the scotch bonnet a little more squashed), and a similar fruity flavor. The difference? The scotch bonnet – with its Caribbean roots – tastes even sweeter, even more tropical, in its fruitiness. It’s such a minimal flavor nuance that won’t get in the way of using the scotch bonnet as a habanero alternative in most recipes and use cases.

–> Learn More: Scotch Bonnet Vs. Habanero

Note that the scotch bonnet may be harder to come across outside of the Caribbean, South Florida, and urban areas with Caribbean roots. You’ll likely see the popular habanero more often beyond those areas, but we’ve been surprised by how quickly the scotch bonnet is growing in prominence. They are being carried by supermarkets more and more often, so be sure to check the produce section for this chili if no habs are present.

Your best common supermarket substitute: Jalapeño or serrano pepper

Yes, these are your best bets. There are few mild to medium chilies (what’s common at stores) with a similar fruitiness to the habanero.

The jalapeño especially is found at most every supermarket, but neither are truly a perfect fit, especially when green. Both the serrano and jalapeño are much lower in heat, and their taste, when green (how they are commonly sold) is more bright and grassy than fruity. If you’re looking to match flavor as closely as possible, see if either red jalapeños or serranos are available. When red, they take on a sweeter flavor. They’re nowhere near as fruity as a habanero, but they certainly aren’t as grassy in flavor as the green options.

–> Learn More: Red Jalapeño Vs. Green

On the heat: If you must make this substitution, and the extra-hot spiciness is critical to your recipe, you may be tempted to double-up on the quantities used to increase the heat. That, in the process (especially if you’re using green chilies) will impact the overall flavor, making your dish not quite what you anticipated. A better option may be to add cayenne pepper powder to increase the heat. Cayenne powder is more neutral in flavor, so all it will supply is fieriness.

The good fit mild alternative: The rocotillo pepper

The rocotillo is an excellent mild substitute for the habanero pepper. It shares a similar shape and a similar amount of fruitiness, but it’s barely hotter than the very mild poblano pepper. They are, though, tough to find – some grocery and specialty stores carry them, especially in regions with Puerto Rican influence. For those that are looking for those fruity tropical undertones without the sinful heat, this is definitely the habanero substitute to keep on your radar.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 28, 2022 to include new content.
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