Ever found yourself in the middle of whipping up a mouthwatering recipe only to realize you're out of jalapeño peppers? The struggle is real. Well, fear not, culinary warrior! By the end of this read, you'll be armed with the best jalapenos substitutes to save your day (and your dish).
What is a Jalapeño?
Ah, the jalapeno pepper. This spicy bad boy, hailing from Mexico, is a staple in many dishes across the globe. Its vibrant green color, distinct spicy and tangy flavor, and crunchy texture make it hard to resist. And did I mention how versatile they are? From being the star in jalapeño poppers to playing a supportive role in salsas, these peppers are a force to be reckoned with.
Jalapeno peppers are a staple of Mexican cuisine and many other savory dishes. With their thick walls and distinctive flavor, these peppers add a punch of heat and tangy taste to salsas, curries, soups, sandwiches, and more. Their Scoville heat range lands around 2,500 to 10,000 units, meaning they pack a nice spicy punch but aren't SUPER hot.
6 Reasons to Substitute Jalapeños
Why might someone play switcheroo with these zesty delights?
- Cost: Fresh jalapeno peppers can be expensive when out of season. Substitutes are wallet-friendly.
- Availability: Jalapeños may be hard to find year-round, depending on your location. Substitutes can be sourced more easily.
- Heat preference: Some jalapeno pepper swaps let you dial up or down the spiciness.
- Allergies: Some substitutes avoid nightshade allergies or other ingredients someone may be sensitive to.
- Canned vs. fresh: Canned or jarred jalapeno peppers work in a pinch but taste different.
- No jalapeno pepper flavor: Finding that perfect blend of heat and flavor can require subbing with a couple of peppers.
15 Best Substitutes for Jalapeños
If you are in a bind without fresh jalapeno peppers for your recipe, fear not! Here are some of the top replacements to get that quintessential jalapeño zing.
1. Serrano peppers
Why it works: With a similar shape, thin walls, and spicy kick ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 Scoville units, serrano peppers mimic both the look and flavor of jalapeno peppers nicely.
Example dishes: Salsas, ceviches, sauces, stews
Measurement guidance: Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting fresh serranos for jalapeño peppers.
2. Cayenne peppers
Why it works: Long, curved cayenne peppers also provide a similar heat level of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. They bring a very comparable spicy flavor.
Example dishes: Hot sauces, curries, chili, marinades
Measurement guidance: Use 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne for every jalapeño called for.
3. Fresno peppers
Why it works: Nearly identical in shape and heat (2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units) to jalapeños, Fresno peppers make an easy 1:1 swap while providing more fruitiness.
Example dishes: Salsas, ceviches, sandwiches, nachos
Measurement guidance: Substitute Fresno peppers 1:1 for jalapeños.
4. Red pepper flakes
Why it works: Dried and crushed into flakes, these smoked red peppers bring instant heat. Start with 1/4 teaspoon per jalapeño and adjust to taste.
Example dishes: Pizza, pasta, chili
Measurement guidance: First, use 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes per jalapeño, adjusting up or down.
5. Bell peppers
Why it works: For those wanting just the fresh pepper flavor without much heat, mild green, red, orange or yellow bell peppers are the perfect sub.
Example dishes: Fajitas, salsa, stir fry
Example dishes: Eggs, chili, tacos
Measurement guidance: Use 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika powder for every 2-3 jalapeños.
7. Habanero peppers
Why it works: To bring the fiery heat, habaneros rate 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units. Use just 1/4 of a habanero to equal 1 jalapeño.
Example dishes: Hot sauces, chili oil, jerk chicken
Measurement guidance: Replace 1 jalapeño with just 1/4 of a habanero for intense heat.
8. Canned or pickled jalapeños
Why it works: Pickled jalapeños pack lots of flavors and can be easier to find. Use an equal amount to fresh jalapeños.
Example dishes: Nachos, tacos, sandwiches, chili
Measurement guidance: Replace jalapeños 1:1 with canned or pickled jalapeños.
9. Chipotle peppers
Why it works: Smoked jalapeños dried into chipotle peppers give a unique deep, earthy flavor and impart subtle smokiness.
Example dishes: Chili, tacos, soups, stews
Measurement guidance: 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder replaces about 1 jalapeño.
10. Poblano peppers
Why it works: Ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville units, poblanos offer mild heat and a thicker wall like jalapeños.
Example dishes: Chiles rellenos, mole sauce, chili
Measurement guidance: Replace jalapeños 1:1 with poblano peppers. Add other heat elements as needed.
11. Anaheim peppers
Why it works: At 500 to 2,500 Scoville units, Anaheims offer milder heat closer to bell peppers but with great flavor.
Example dishes: Stuffed peppers, chili
Measurement guidance: Substitute 1 Anaheim pepper for 1 jalapeño.
12. Cubanelle peppers
Why it works: At 0 Scoville heat units, cubanelles provide zero spice but similar crunch and flavor.
Example dishes: Fajitas, poppers, salsa
Measurement guidance: Replace jalapeños 1:1 with cubanelles. Add cayenne pepper or other heat element.
13. Wax or Banana pepper
Why it works: Banana peppers rate 100 to 500 Scoville units, bringing mild heat and tanginess.
Example dishes: Pizza, sandwiches, antipasto
Measurement guidance: Use a 1:1 ratio when swapping jalapeños for banana peppers.
14. Cayenne pepper powder
Why it works: This dried, ground spice hits a heat level of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units, adding back the spice element.
Example dishes: Hot sauce, eggs, pasta, pizza
Measurement guidance: Use 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder per jalapeño in the recipe.
15. Thai chilies
Why it works: Tiny but mighty Thai chili peppers pack up to 100,000 Scoville units of intense heat. Use a 1:4 ratio of Thai to jalapeño.
Example dishes: Curries, stir fry, dipping sauces
Measurement guidance: Substitute 1/4 of a Thai chili pepper for every jalapeño.
Common Culinary Uses of Jalapeño
Jalapeños are often core ingredients in tomato or fruit-based salsas. They provide spicy heat and flavor.
Substitutes: Fresno, serrano pepper, or habanero peppers are excellent substitutes for salsa.
Jalapeno peppers give guacamole its signature spicy kick. They bring fresh flavor when minced small.
Jalapeno substitutes: Serrano pepper or Fresnos perfectly replicate guacamole's jalapeño taste and heat.
The lime-cooked fish and vegetables in ceviche get a perfect hit of heat and crunch from fresh jalapeños.
Jalapeno substitutes: For ceviche, go with Fresno or serrano peppers as close jalapeño doppelgangers.
Sliced pickled jalapeños lend tangy heat and crunch tucked into melted cheese quesadillas.
Pico de gallo
This fresh salsa wouldn't be complete without the flavor and heat fresh diced jalapeños bring.
Substitutes: For pico, swap in Fresno, serrano, or habanero peppers for that jalapeño profile. Green peppers will lend a decent crunch to the dish.
Chili con carne
No traditional chili would be complete without the distinct flavor and mild heat jalapeños bring.
This Mexican pork stew is defined by tomatillos and green chile peppers like jalapeños and poblanos.
Street taco stands always offer minced raw jalapeños as a fiery topping.
Substitutes: Fresnos, serranos, habaneros, or pickled jalapeños mirror that taco truck flavor.
Jalapeños get finely chopped or sliced into strips to mix into tamale masa dough for a kick of heat.
Substitutes: For tamales, swap in Fresno, serrano, or habanero peppers instead of jalapeños.
No nacho platter would be complete without sliced pickled jalapeños on top.
Substitutes: Pickled slices of Fresno or serrano peppers make the perfect jalapeño nacho sub.
Slow cooked Mexican pulled pork gets served with a fresh minced jalapeno pepper for heat.
Substitutes: Use fresh serranos, Fresnos, or habaneros in carnitas instead of jalapeños.
These stuffed peppers can be made with jalapeños for a spicy kick.
Substitutes: For chiles rellenos, poblanos are the most common substitute. Or stuff Fresnos for more heat.
This dish simulates Tortilla chips in salsa and topped with sliced pickled jalapeños.
Substitutes: Pickled serranos or Fresnos make the ideal stand-in here.
Jalapeño poppers are stuffed breaded jalapeños, often with cream cheese.
Minced or sliced jalapeños add heat to enchilada sauce and fillings.
Substitutes: For enchiladas, swap in serrano, Fresno, or habanero peppers.
Jalapeños provide spice, crunch, and flavor when chopped into cheesy queso dips.
Substitutes: For queso, swap in pickled Fresno, serrano, or fresh habanero peppers.
Slices of spicy pickled jalapeño are typical pizza toppings.
Substitutes: A pickled Fresno pepper or serrano slices make great jalapeño replacements here.
Sandwiches and burgers
Fresh raw jalapeño slices are famous spicy sandwich and burger toppings.
Substitutes: For sandwiches, fresh serrano, Fresno, or habanero slices are solid stand-ins.
Many hot sauces rely on jalapeños for flavor and heat.
Jalapeño substitute: Swap in Fresno, serrano, habanero, or cayenne peppers to make hot sauce.
Pickled jalapeños lend heat and crunch to dishes.
Jalapeño substitute: Quick pickle Fresno, serrano, or habanero peppers for that pickled jalapeño flavor.
8 Tips for Cooking with Jalapeño Substitutes
- Adjust acidity with lime juice or vinegar to mimic jalapeños' tang.
- In salsa, guacamole, and pico, pulse substitute peppers to match jalapeño's texture.
- When stuffing peppers, choose substitutes around the same size as jalapeños for proper cooking time.
- Preparation suggestions: Some peppers have thick walls. Could you consider roasting them to soften and enhance the flavor?
- Seasoning adjustments: When using milder peppers, you might want to adjust other spices in the dish. Add heat elements like cayenne pepper powder or red pepper flakes.
- Additional ingredients: For complexity, combine multiple pepper substitutes.
- Testing tips: Do a small taste test before swapping a new pepper.
- Storage recommendations: Store fresh peppers in the refrigerator and dried peppers in a cool, dry place.
What peppers are mistaken for jalapeños?
Serrano, Fresno, and Anaheim peppers often get confused with jalapeños regarding appearance and heat level. Always check for the distinct jalapeño shape and size when substituting.
What pepper is closest in heat to a jalapeño?
Fresno and serrano peppers closely mimic the same Scoville heat level as a jalapeño. Cayenne peppers are also quite close.
Can you substitute red pepper flakes for fresh jalapeño?
Yes, red pepper flakes are an excellent substitute when you don't have jalapeños. Start with about 1/4 teaspoon per jalapeño in the recipe and increase the amount to your taste and heat preference.
What is a good substitute for jalapeños in curry?
Fresno, serrano, habanero, and ground cayenne peppers all make great substitutes to add heat and flavor to curries when jalapeños are unavailable.
Can I substitute poblano for jalapeño?
Poblanos can substitute for jalapeños in recipes where you want milder heat but a similar flavor. Add other spices like chili powder or cayenne pepper powder to increase heat.