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    9 Best Substitutes for Red Chili Pepper in Recipes

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    If you are trying to make a recipe that includes red chili peppers, but you don’t have any on hand or you can’t find any anywhere, you should consider using one of these substitutes. They won’t be exactly the same, but they can have a similar taste and texture to red chili peppers. 

    chili pepper substitute

    What are red chili peppers?

    Red chili peppers aren’t just one type of pepper, they encompass a variety of different kinds of peppers, all sharing a bright red color and long, skinny shape. In fact, many varieties of red chili peppers look almost identical. The difference lies in the flavor, level of spice and where they grow. Some varieties include:

    • African Bird’s Eye
    • Ancho Chiles
    • Aleppo
    • Cayenne
    • Chile de Arbol
    • Chimayo
    • Paprika
    • Red Amazon
    • Sonora
    • Thai Peppers
    • Tien Tsin

    These peppers come from all over the world from Northern China to Italy to South America. They are also used in a variety of traditional cuisine, especially Mexican cuisine and Chinese chinese. Wherever there is spicy food, there is often red chili peppers. 

    ​What recipes use red chili pepper?

    Red chili peppers are used in a variety of recipes from all over the world. Chinese red peppers or Tien Tsin peppers are used in Chinese dishes like kung pao chicken and general tso’s chicken. 

    They are also a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, in dishes such as chilaquiles, chili coronado and chipotle sofritas which use ancho chiles. 

    Thai cuisine also frequently uses Thai chili peppers in dishes like Thai basil, Thai red curry and drunken noodles. Since Thai cuisine is known for being very spicy, red chili peppers play a huge role in stir fries and sauces. 

    Red chili peppers are also used in cuisine from South America, Bhutan, India, Italy and Hungry to add spice and flavor to certain dishes. 

    chili pepper substitute

    Are red chili peppers hot?

    Yes, red chili peppers are known to be quite hot. The heat level depends on the kind of red chili peppers and fresh peppers will typically be spicy than dried chili peppers.

    Here is a list of a few red chili peppers and their spice level in scoville heat units:

    • Tabasco pepper: 50,000
    • Cayenne pepper: 50,000
    • Tien tsin chiles: 75,000
    • Thai chili pepper: 100,000
    • Bird’s eye chiles: 225,000

    If you want to avoid super intense heat, stick to peppers on the lower end of the scoville heat units. But if you love the taste of super hot peppers and don’t mind the spicyness, then you can try the ones higher on the scale. 

    Where to find red chili peppers

    You can find a variety of different red chili peppers at your local grocery store or online. Most grocery stores carry at least one variety, most commonly cayenne peppers or bird’s eye chiles. You may be able to find Thai chili peppers and tien tsin chiles at your local Asian grocery store, though these tend to be harder to find. 

    Here are a few places you can get dehydrated red chili peppers online:

    Can you grow your own red chili peppers?

    Yes, in fact red chili peppers are pretty easy to grow yourself in a home garden. It’s best to grow them in full sun, but partial sun will do if that’s all that is available. They should take anywhere from 60-150 days to fully grow and mature. 

    To start growing a red chili pepper plant from the seed, check out this guide. It provides a step by step approach. You can also follow the instructions on the packet of seeds. 

    Here are a few places you can purchase red chili pepper seeds:

    chili pepper substitute

    9 Best Substitutes for Red Chili Pepper

    If you are looking for the best option to use as a replacement for red chili peppers, this list is a great place to start. The best red chili pepper substitutes are listed down below with recommended applications and descriptions of flavor and texture. 

    #1: Red pepper flakes

    Red pepper flakes or red chili flakes are a great substitute for red chili peppers because they are shelf stable (easy to store) and add a nice kick to your dish. They won’t add the texture of a red chili pepper to your dish, but they will add a similar flavor and level of spice, which can be the next best thing. 

    1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    chili pepper substitute

    #2: Chili powder

    Chili powder can be another excellent substitute for red chili pepper. It’s quite literally dehydrated and powdered red chili peppers, so it will add a very similar flavor. Most chili powders do not clarify what variety of red chili pepper is used to make the powder, so if you are going for a specific flavor, maybe try cayenne or chipotle powder. 

    1/2 teaspoon of chili powder is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    #3: Ground cayenne pepper

    Ground cayenne pepper is made from dehydrated and powdered cayenne peppers, giving it a bright red color and bold flavor. It has a different taste compared to chili powder and is typically spicier. This ground pepper is great if you have a recipe that calls for cayenne peppers, just be sure to not go overboard.

    1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    chili pepper substitute

    #4: Hot paprika

    Hot paprika is another ground pepper that has a smoky flavor. This ingredient is actually made from dried sweet peppers as opposed to red chili peppers, so it won’t have a spicy bite to it like ground cayenne pepper or chili powder. It adds a nice flavor to the dish without any of the extra spice, which some prefer. 

    1/2 teaspoon of hot paprika is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    #5: Chipotle powder

    Chipotle powder is another ground pepper option that works great in a variety of dishes. It is made from chipotle peppers, giving it a unique flavor compared to paprika, cayenne pepper and chili powder. If you have a recipe that requires chipotle peppers, you can try using chipotle powder as a substitute. 

    1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    chili pepper substitute

    #6: Hot sauce

    Hot sauce can be another great option when you are trying to add some heat to a dish without any red chili peppers. It can be used in a variety of ways such as in a salad dressing, dip, marinade or just to add some flavor on top of any dish. Hot sauce is typically made from a variety of different chili peppers. 

    1 teaspoon of hot sauce is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    #7: Jalapeño peppers

    If you want to replace the red chili pepper with another pepper as opposed to a seasoning, jalapeño peppers, along with other green chiles, can be a good substitute. They add a nice spiciness to the dish and while the flavor is a bit different, it’s not far off. Plus, it has a similar texture to red chili peppers. 

    1 jalapeño pepper is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    chili pepper substitute

    #8: Serrano pepper

    Serrano peppers are another green chili that works well as a replacement for red chili peppers. It’s similar to a jalapeño pepper, but it’s a bit longer and more pointed near the end. Plus, it’s up to five times hotter than a jalapeño, meaning it’s a great replacement for red chili peppers if you really want to pack the heat. 

    1 serrano pepper is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    #9: Anaheim peppers

    Anaheim peppers are another good replacement for red chili peppers. They are also a green chili like jalapeño peppers and serrano peppers, but they are a bit larger and flatter than the other two. They are great if you want less spice in your dish, but you still want to get that chili texture. They are less spicy than jalapeño peppers and serrano peppers. 

    1 anaheim pepper is equivalent to 1 red chili pepper. 

    chili pepper substitute

    Other substitutes that may work

    Along with the above options, there are a few more alternatives that you can try out depending on the kind of dish you are trying to make. Here are a few of those options:

    • Gochugaru: These Korean red pepper flakes are used in a variety of Korean dishes like kimchi.
    • Dehydrated chilis: If you can’t buy fresh, dehydrated chilis can be a just as good or even better option. Plus they last longer in the pantry.
    • Red bell pepper: These could work if you want a similar texture to red chili peppers without any of the spicyness. 

    What alternative you use largely depends on the kind of dish you are making and how spicy you would like the dish. If you want to mimic a certain texture, any pepper variety will do. But if you want to mimic the flavor, dehydrated and powdered options may be the best. 

    Where do red chili peppers come from?

    Red chili peppers are known to grow in various regions across the world. But, they haven’t always grown all over the place. Originally red chili peppers are from Mexico, Central and South America. 

    Birds were actually responsible for the spread of red chili peppers throughout these regions. They don’t have any taste receptors that allow them to experience the “heat” from these peppers. Plus, the chili pepper seeds go through the bird’s digestive system unharmed.

    Eventually, chili peppers made their way over to Spain and have since spread around the world. Chili peppers were brought to China in the 16th century by Portuguese and Dutch navigators. Since then, chili peppers have become a staple in East and Southeast Asian cooking. 

    Final thoughts

    Red chili peppers are used in a variety of traditional cuisine ranging from Mexican to Italian to Chinese. If you can’t find any red chili peppers at your local grocery store or don’t have any on hand, it’s good to know what spices or peppers can be used as alternatives. Try out a few of these options and let me know in the comments below what you thought of them.

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    tia glover rd

    My name is Tia and I am a registered dietitian and content creator.

    My goal is to help young people learn how to eat a nutritious, balanced diet without restriction or giving up cultural foods. 💛

    Hapa/Japanese American 🇺🇸🇯🇵

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