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 for the fiery and fruity habanero pepper.
Your best option: The 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 both have a fruity flavor. The difference? The Scotch bonnet – with its Caribbean roots – tastes even sweeter, nearly tropical. Keep this in mind with the substitution. You might want to slightly decrease the amount used to balance the mild difference in fruitiness.
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, oftentimes instead of the habanero or as a substitute for when their inventory of habanero peppers run dry.
Your best supermarket substitute: Jalapeño pepper or serrano pepper
Yes, these are your best bets – the jalapeño especially is found at most every supermarket – but neither are truly a good fit. Both the serrano and jalapeño are much lower in heat, and their taste is more bright and grassy than fruity. Know going in that if you must make this substitution that you’ll want to double up on the quantities used to increase the heat, and that, in the process, the overall flavor may not be quite as anticipated. Still, if it’s what’s available, they’ll do in a pinch. There are few mild to medium chilies with a similar fruitiness that you’ll find that often in stores. For instance…
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.