What’s A Good Jalapeño Substitute?

Want a twist on the favorite?

These days jalapeño peppers are everywhere. They are carried in most supermarkets, they flavor many hot sauces, and they have even invaded the snack aisle flavoring chips, pretzels, and a whole lot 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 heat or a subtle difference in flavor? Something to add some flair.

The good new is that you have options to “spice up” the spicy. Here we outline a few of our favorites that follow the jalapeño’s lead, but provide a little extra something, whether in heat or flavor.

The heat bump: Serrano pepper

The serrano chili is the most obvious substitute for the jalapeño available. They have a similar taste profile 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 brings 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units to the table. That’s a significant upgrade from the 2,500 – 8,000 SHU that the jalapeño pepper packs. That’s up to nine times spicier.

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

The flavor twist: Fresno pepper

The Fresno pepper and the jalapeño look a lot alike; 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.

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, but they layer in a smoky, fruity flavor when in their red ripened state that hints at chilies that are a lot further up the Scoville scale. It makes one mean salsa, and they can be stuffed too. Their walls are slightly thinner than a jalapeño, but not so thin as a serrano. This is an excellent chili alternative for poppers.

Moving down in spice: 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 substitutes for the jalapeño, without diving all the way down to zero spice. We recommend the Anaheim pepper. It gives a very mild kick, up to 16 times milder than the jalapeño, though, every so often they can kick it up to near equal strength. 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, but it is a terrific stuffed pepper entree alternative. Try roasting it like you would a stuffed bell pepper.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content. It was originally published on December 8, 2014.
    • You can use most peppers to make poppers (or stuffed peppers), though some will be better fits for it than others. Consider the size of the cavity and the thickness of the pepper walls. You want enough space to provide good stuffing opportunity and walls thick enough not to easily rip.

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