Chile de Arbol Substitutes: 7 Great Alternatives for Spicey Cooking

When your chili craving hits, it needs to be satisfied. Of course, a delicious and spicy Mexican meal will surely be your choice.  

Mexican cuisine stands out amongst the spicy-based cultural meals. It is packed with flavor, bursting with color, and boasts some of the best chili combinations in the world.

While some condiments and ingredient varieties offer a mild heat, some pack a superior chili punch, including Chile de Arbol.

Keep reading to learn more about this essential ingredient in Mexican food and Chile de Arbol substitutes to consider when your stash has run dry.

What is Chile de Arbol? 

Chile de Arbol is a small and thin Mexican chili with potent heat. It belongs to the Capsicum annuum species and packs a whopping 15 000 – 30 000 Scoville Scale heat units. (*)

Unlike other Mexican spices, Chile de Arbol keeps its name, whether fresh, dried, or powder. It is vibrant red with a rich smokey flavor and nutty notes.  

In Mexican cuisine, it is a popular go-to for salsas, sauces, soups, and stews. It pairs well with seafood, red and white meat, and vegetables. Also, chile de Arbol gives a refreshing margarita cocktail an extra chili kick.

You can find it at popular grocery stores in the spice aisle, Mexican specialty stores, and online.  

We understand you love the flavor and versatility of Chile de Arbol. Yet, our list of alternatives should keep your chili craving in check and your meal delicious.

The 7 Best Substitutes for Chile de Arbol

Quick Reference Scoville Scale Units:

  • Chile de arbol: 15 000 – 30 000
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca: 15 000 – 20 000
  • Chili Flakes: 35 000
  • Cayenne: 30 000 – 50 000
  • Gochugaru: 2500 – 5000
  • Guajillo: 2500 – 5000
  • Serrano: 10 000 – 23 000
  • Jalapeno: 2500 – 8000
  • Tabasco Scorpion Sauce: 23 000 – 33 000

Dried Pasilla de Oaxaca 

Pasilla de Oaxaca is another famous Mexican spice that may be in your collection. The heat is similar, ranging between 15 000 – 20 000 Scoville units.  

It is dark burgundy, almost black, with a robust smokey flavor and fruity notes. While the nutty undertone may be missing, you still get the smokiness and heat. Also, the fruity undertone invites a new taste experience.  

This spice pairs well with red meat and vegetables. In particular, try it on stir-fry, salsa, and Mexican salads.  

Due to the similar heat, we recommend a 1:1 ratio.

Dried Chili Flakes 

We love chili flakes!  

The main ingredient is red peppers with a selected assortment of other peppers, including cayenne. This assortment can vary from batch to batch. Yet, the heat is usually around 35 000 Scoville units.

Chili flakes have an earthy and spicy meets peppery flavor. It complements various food ingredients, from red and white meat and seafood to vegetables and decadent chocolate desserts. 

Certainly, you will often find chili flakes in your favorite pizza restaurant as a condiment.  

We suggest you begin with half the amount in your recipe to align with the heat of Chile de Arbol. Then, if the heat is insufficient, sprinkle a few on top of your meal before serving.  

Cayenne Powder

Cayenne pepper is known for its heat rather than flavor. While it is subtly sweet and fruity, the chili can override the taste.  

The fresh pepper is long, skinny, and mostly red, with wrinkled skin. It is commonly used in powder form and readily available from several grocery stores spice ailes.  

It can be slightly hotter than Chile de Arbol, ranging between 30 000 – 50 000 Scoville units. This spice complements both sweet and savory dishes and makes an ideal condiment. 

It pairs well with anything from roast vegetables and salads to meat, fish, and chicken.  

As it may be slightly hotter, we suggest you start with half the amount in your recipe. If you need extra heat, use it as a sprinkle when serving your meal.  

Hot Tip:  Add a dash to your hot chocolate for a spicy treat

Gochugaru Powder

Moving into our less hot Chile de Arbol powder substitutes, we begin with gochugaru.  

Gochugaru is popular in Korean cuisine and has a sweet and fruity flavor with smokey undertones. It offers a slightly milder heat, ranging between 4000 – 8000 Scoville units.

This spice is delicious in meat marinades, soups, and stews. The smokiness is evident, and the heat is enough for more sensitive palates.  

We suggest you double up with gochugaru in your recipe if you want similar heat to Chile de Arbol. If you prefer milder heat, a 1:1 ratio works well. 

Guajillo Powder 

Guajillo Powder is a favorite in Mexcian food as an ingredient and condiment. 

It offers a mild heat ranging from 2500 – 5000 Scoville units, and the complex flavor makes it the best alternative for Chile de Arbol.  

This spice is sweet and tangy with fruity berry notes and pine undertones. Some have detected a slight smokiness and a tea resemblance.  

The renowned Mexican mole would be amiss without guajillo. Therefore, it is ideal for soups, sauces, and stews. Oh, and it pairs well with red and white meat, pork, fish, and vegetables. (*)

Also, guajillo enhances the rich cocoa ingredient in dark chocolate. It is ideal to add to the icing of a delectable chocolate cake.  

We recommend a 1:2 ratio when using guajillo in your recipe. The heat level will go up a notch, and you can not go wrong with the exceptional flavor.  

Now for our fresh and liquid substitutes.

Fresh Green Serrano  

Serrano is similar to jalapeno. Yet, it is slightly longer, thinner, and smaller. 

The heat ranges between 10 000 – 25 000 Scoville units. Whereas jalapeno is milder, ranging between 2500 – 8000 units.  

Typically, serrano is picked when green and has an earthy, meets grassy flavor.

This spice can become sweeter and hotter if left to ripen and turn red, orange, or yellow. However, using green as a Chile de Arbol substitute is best.

We suggest you start with one fresh serrano in your recipe. Remove the pith and seeds if you want to reduce the heat. 

If you find the heat too low in your finished meal, chop up another serrano and use it as a garnish when serving.  

Serrano pairs with just about any savory food ingredient and makes a tasty pickled condiment. So, whatever you are serving it is sure to be delicious.

Hot Tip:  lightly coat some serranos in extra virgin olive oil and roast with a few unpeeled garlic cloves. Doing so brings out the earthy taste and up the heat.  (*)

Finely chop the remaining serranos and cover with extra virgin olive oil. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the peels and add it to the serranos. Use this as a condiment or dip for freshly baked bread.  

Tabasco ® Scorpion Sauce 

We are all familiar with the range of Tabasco ® sauces. The Scorpion option is a flavorful combination of mixed scorpion peppers, guava, pineapple, and balsamic vinegar with a dash of the original Tabasco ® Red Sauce.  

Scorpion peppers are among the world’s hottest, coming in at a scourging heat of 1 200 000 Scoville Scale units. However, the delicate blend of Scorpion Tabasco ® ingredients has decreased the heat to 23 000 – 33 000 units.

Scorpion sauce enhances the flavor of sauces, soups, and stews. It is ideal to use in meat marinaded and on seafood.  

We recommend you start with half the amount in your recipe. Alternatively, add one of our other milder alternatives to your meal and use Scorpion Sauce as a condiment. 


Where can I buy Chile de Arbol?

You can buy Chile de Arbol at popular grocery stores across the US, Mexican specialty stores, and online.

What is Chile de arbol in English?

Chile de Arbol (pronounced “chile-DE-ahr-bohl”) is a small, thin Mexican chili originating from Chile in South America. It is also called the Tree Chili due to its unique woody fruit stem. Other names include bird’s beak chile and rat’s tail chile.

Is Chile de Arbol the same as Thai chili?

Chile de Arbol is not the same as Thai chili.

It originates from Chile in South America and is one of the most used chilis in Mexican cuisine. Chile de Arbol has a smokey and nutty flavor. Surprisingly, Thai chili originates from Central and South America and has a berry-like flavor. Today, Thai chili is practically an icon in Asian cuisine.

Final Hot Thoughts

Consider your craving satisfied!  

Of course, finding an interchangeable Chile de Arbol substitute may be challenging. Even so, our alternatives should hit your hot spot just right.

We understand everyone experiences heat and flavor differently. Luckily, each Mexican spice brings a unique and satisfying chili taste to every yearning chili fix palate.  

So, which alternative did you choose to enhance your favorite meal?  Let us know!

About The Author

Scroll to Top