What’s A Good Jalapeño Substitute?

These days jalapeño peppers are everywhere. They are carried in most supermarkets, they flavor many hot sauces, and they even invade the snack aisle flavoring chips, pretzels, and more. It’s unlikely you’ll need a jalapeño substitute because you can’t find this extremely popular chili in your area, but maybe you’re just looking for a step-up in spiciness or a subtle difference in flavor? Something to add some flair? Here we outline a few of our favorites that follow the jalapeño’s lead, but provide a little extra something (or less, for one), whether in heat or flavor.

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The heat bump: Serrano pepper

Serrano peppers are the most obvious substitute for the jalapeño available. They have a similar taste profile (bright, grassy). And they even look alike, with the serrano being a little thinner around the exterior and the jalapeño being a little more thick-walled. The difference is really in the heat. The serrano ranges from 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units. That’s a significant upgrade from the 2,500 – 8,000 SHU that the jalapeño pepper packs. Serranos are up to nine times spicier.

If your goal is “more spice!” this is a good first step up the Scoville scale. The serrano is easy to work with, especially in salsas, but note this is not a good stuffed popper substitute. The walls of the serrano are just too thin and the cavity too narrow.

–> Learn More: Serrano Vs. Jalapeño

The flavor twist: Fresno pepper

The Fresno pepper and the jalapeño look a lot alike. In fact, it can be surprisingly tough to tell them apart. Their heat range is very similar, too, with the Fresno having the chance of being ever-so-slightly hotter (2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units.)

But it’s the taste that makes this an intriguing jalapeño substitute, especially for kitchen wizards who love culinary experimentation. Fresno peppers still have that bright crisp taste when green. But when they mature to their red hue, they take on a smoky, fruity flavor that hints at chilies that are a lot further up the Scoville scale. Red jalapeños take on a sweetness, too, but nothing quite like the Fresno.

Fresnos are excellent salsa chilies, and they can be stuffed, too. Their walls are slightly thinner than a jalapeño, but not so thin as a serrano, making them an excellent pepper alternative for popper recipes.

Moving down in spiciness: Anaheim pepper

Is the jalapeño a little too much heat for you? There are a few options in between it and the bell pepper that can make excellent alternatives, without diving all the way down to zero spice.

We recommend the Anaheim pepper. It gives a very mild kick (500 to 2,500 SHU), which is up to 16 times milder than the jalapeño. Though, the Anaheim’s heat ceiling does reach the jalapeños floor. It’s still much milder than most jalapeños you’ll experience. In terms of taste, the Anaheim is slightly sweeter, but there is still a crispness to it that makes it a decent alternative, especially when chopped fresh for salsas.

The Anaheim is a much larger chili than the jalapeño. In fact, it also makes a terrific poblano pepper substitute. It’s not an option for poppers (too big), but it is a terrific stuffed pepper entree alternative. Try roasting your Anaheims like you would a stuffed bell pepper.

Yes, chipotle are dried, smoked jalapeños, so it may seem like a viable alternative on paper. But chipotle, because of that smoking, take on a much bolder, earthier flavor. It’s strong enough that it can take over a dish’s flavor profile if not used in moderation. For most everyday uses, it’s not a good substitute for the bright, grassy bite you get from jalapeños. That said, if you were looking for a substitute for jalapeño for a BBQ recipe, you may want to consider if the chipotle’s smokiness could work.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 16, 2022 to include new content.
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What is the ratio to substitute chili pepper for jalapeño? My recipe calls for a jalapeño but I only have 2 chili peppers. Thanks!

JR Singh

I don’t have either of those peppers,and I don’t really like heat so can I use sweet peppers to make poppers?