Discover the Best Thai Chili Substitute for More Spice!

There are so many different types of peppers made for various dishes, and there’s even one called the Thai chili. (*)

You’re probably familiar with this vegetable already, which is extremely popular in, yup, you guessed it, Thai cuisine. While these peppers aren’t the spiciest in the world, they pack a punch, giving infamous Thai dishes the heat to match the other ingredients’ delicious flavors.

But what if you’re in the store and you realize they have no Thai peppers available, or you forgot to stock up, what’s there to do?

Don’t worry; you can always go for a Thai chili substitute to get that heat into your favorite recipes.

Read on for our complete list of good substitutes for Thai chili!

What’s Thai Chili?

Before anything else, what are Thai chilies in the first place?

These are among the most used peppers not only in Thai but also in various Asian cuisines. Like other peppers, these will give your dishes a spicy flavor!

Thai chili is red when they ripen but either green, yellow, or orange when unripe. Expect an intense heat ranging from 50,000-100,000 SHU with a fruity and peppery flavor.

There are many ways to use Thai chili, either fresh or dried, in curries, marinades, stir-fries, soups, and salads. You can even pickle Thai chilies!

Fun fact: 

Thai chili has other names, including the bird’s chili, bird’s eye chili, and the Cili Padi.

While you can usually find Thai chili in supermarkets or online stores, there will understandably be times that you can’t get a hold of them.

You can always try any of these Thai chili substitutes to add some heat, though the spice levels vary!

What’s a Good Substitute for Thai Chili?

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1. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne peppers are another popular hot pepper that can come in fresh or dried form, giving dishes the spicy flavor that you want.

It has a heat level of 30,000-50,000 SHU, best used in sauces, stews, soups, stir-fries, dressings, and marinades.

Cayenne peppers have a similar flavor to Thai chilies but aren’t as spicy. You may want to add more, adjusting to your preferred taste.

2. Serrano Pepper

Serrano peppers are another chili pepper popularly used in Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisines. These peppers have a bright and grassy flavor, working well in salsas, soups, and sauces, among other recipes. (*)

Since Serrano peppers have a heat level ranging from 10,000-23,000 SHU, they aren’t as hot as Thai chili. However, they make a fantastic Thai chili substitute since they have similar flavors.

You may just need to add more to get the desired heat level.

3. Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeno peppers are much less spicy than Thai chili, having a heat level ranging from 3,500-8,000 SHU.

They aren’t as hot, so you can use even more of them to achieve your desired spiciness level.

We recommend using them when green, but you can leave them to be ripe until they turn red.

If your salsa, salad, stew, soup, sauce, or other dish requires Thai chili, jalapenos are a great choice. Plus, they may be more readily available in stores!

4. African Bird’s Eye Chile

These are also called the Piri-Piri or Peri-Peri.

The African bird’s eye chile is about one inch long, but they pack quite a punch, with their heat ranging from 50,000 to 175,000 SHU.

You can use it in many different dishes, having a spicy, smoky, and lightly sweet flavor.

We recommend using it in recipes like salsas, dry rubs, marinades, or sauces.

They are also an excellent seasoning for rice, soups, stews, and meat dishes.

5. Chile de Arbol

This Mexican chili pepper isn’t as spicy as Thai chili but still enough at 15,000-30,000 SHU.

Chile de Arbol is red with a nutty, smoky flavor. You can find it in fresh, dried, or powdered form.

To get that spicy and nutty flavor, we love using this chili for salsas, sauces, stews, soups, marinades, and other dishes!

Note that this is less spicy than Thai chilies, so you can use more of it (or an equal amount to lessen the heat).

6. Habanero Pepper

If the jalapeno and chile de Arbol are less spicy than the Thai chili, the Habanero pepper is made for those who want their food ultra-spicy!

These peppers feature heat levels of 100,000-350,000 SHU with a hot, fruity, and slightly sweet and smoky flavor.

It’s perfect in salsas, marinades, sauces, dressings, and dry rubs.

Again, these are much hotter than the Thai chili, so don’t add as many Habaneros as your recipe originally calls for. But hey, if you want that spiciness, then, by all means, add more Habanero!

You won’t get the exact flavor Thai chilies to embody, but you get the huge kick.

7. Pequin Chili Pepper

Nope, not a penguin. It’s pequin! These chili peppers are very hot, having heat levels from 30,000-60,000 SHU.

They also have a citrusy and nutty flavor that you’ll love in Thai dishes.

You can use this chili pepper in salsas, soups, stews, sauces, dressings, and marinades, also pickling them, if you wish.

8. Tabasco Pepper

Tabasco peppers are another popular chili pepper with a distinctive smoky flavor, with heat levels ranging from 30,000-50,000 SHU. These are used to produce the infamous Tabasco hot sauce we know and love.

But you can also purchase these chilies in fresh, dried, or powdered form to use in various dishes like stews, soups, salsas, or sauces. There are green and yellow-orange tabasco peppers, which are unripe.

Bright red Tabasco peppers are ripe with a juicier, sweeter, and better flavor overall.

9. Fresno Chili Pepper

Fresno chili peppers are famous chili with a fruity, smoky, and slightly sweet flavor. Because of its looks and taste, many people tend to mistake it for jalapeno peppers!

Both are different because Fresno peppers are hotter than jalapenos, with heat levels ranging from 2,500-10,000 SHU. Not as spicy as Thai chilies, but a great substitute if you don’t like overly spicy food.

We recommend green Fresno chili for soups, stews, sauces, dips, chutneys, and casseroles.

Red Fresno chili is best for marinades, sauces, salsas, ceviche, or topping on dishes, as it’s hotter.

10. Indian Finger Hot Pepper

Also called Jwala peppers, these are thin and curved chili peppers that take on a red color once fully ripe.

We use them fresh or dried in various recipes like salads, salsas, dips, sauces, or curries.

They are less hot than Thai chili but have similar flavors, having the spicy and fruity taste that many appreciate. You can adjust the amount according to your heat tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still left with questions about Thai chili and its substitutes, you can always refer to these frequently asked questions:

1. What flavors do Thai chili embody?

The Thai chili is a small pepper with a strong spicy and mildly fruity flavor. These chilies have tough, thin skin that you can use in raw or dried forms, usually in Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Vietnamese cuisine.

Fun fact: 

Thai chili comes from the Capsicum annum species, which you can find in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia. There are main Thai chili categories based on their spice levels, such as prik num, prik yuak, pri leuang, and prik jinda peppers.

2. Is Chili de Arbol like Thai chili?

No, these two aren’t the same! Chile de Arbol is more popular in Mexican cuisine for its spicy, nutty, and smoky flavor. Furthermore, these are less spicy than the Thai chili, having 15,000-30,000 SHU.

That said, you can use chile de Arbol, a fantastic substitute for Thai chili!

3. What chilies do you use for Thai cooking?

There are a lot of different chilies you can use in Thai cooking since they are a vital ingredient in many of the cuisine’s dishes. In fact, it’s almost impossible to prepare Thai dishes without any chilies!

You can use various forms of chilies fresh, dried, powdered, or in pickled form. Fry then in curries, dips, soups, salads, among other recipes!

Fun fact: 

Some famous recipes that use Thai chili include chili pepper jam, spicy Thai noodles, sweet chili sauce, Thai chili pepper ramen, Tom Yum soup, Thai salad, and coconut shrimp curry!

Some of the more popular chilies used in Thai dishes include Serrano chilies, Karen chilies, Bird’s Eye chili, along with sweet pepper, and spur chili. Other spices are used for the balanced spicy flavor, like garlic, ginger, and black pepper.

Wrapping It Up

Thai chili is one of the more popular chili peppers used in Asian cuisine, and it deserves all the praise and recognition for the heat it brings! If you find yourself without Thai chili, not to worry, as there are many alternatives to use for your convenience (and heat). (*)

Bring on the heat by using a Thai chili substitute mentioned on our list now!

Share your thoughts and check out more about food substitutions and other informative posts on the world of cooking as well.

Happy cooking!

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