The 12 Best Thai Chili Pepper Substitutes For Your Recipes 

While you’ll often hear people talk about Thai chili pepper as a single category, the truth is that there are numerous varieties of Thai chilies that range from mildly hot to very hot.

There are about 79 known varieties of these hot peppers which range not only in hotness, but in shape, color, and overall flavor.

Depending on how hot you like your food and how well you handle the heat, you will choose different types of Thai chili pepper

Is there a pepper that compares to Thai chili pepper when it comes to heat and flavor? Let’s take a look at the best substitutes for Thai chili pepper.

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The best substitute for Thai chili peppers are cayenne peppers. As an alternative, you can also substitute Thai chili peppers with Bird’s eye chilies, malagueta peppers, or habanero peppers. Lastly, in case you need a milder option, you can replace Thai chili peppers with jalapeno peppers, Chiles de Arbol, serrano peppers, and Fresno chile peppers.

The best substitutes for Thai chili pepper

People often refer to these small, hot peppers simply as Thai chili pepper, which may lead you to believe that there’s only one kind of this hot pepper.

As we’ve mentioned, there are about 79 varieties of Thai chili pepper, and they range from very mild (0 on the Scoville Scale), to very hot (50,000-100,000 Scoville Heat Units).  

Most Thai chili peppers are either yellow, green, or bright red, and they’re all generally quite small

The main Thai chili pepper categories include prik num (banana peppers), prik yuak, prik chee fah, prik leuang, prik jinda, and finally the hottest out of all – prik kee noo:

  1. Prik num peppers, being the mildest category, are predominantly sweet, and you will rarely find a hot Thai pepper of this kind.
  2. Prik yuak, as well as prik chee fahare, are also quite mild and sweet, ideal for those of you who aren’t looking for hot peppers.
  3. Pri leuang, on the other hand, has a medium level of heat, which will not be overpowering. 
  4. Prik jinda peppers, which are significantly hotter than pri leuang, are only for the bravest chili pepper consumers who gravitate towards extremely hot Thai chili peppers.

To paint the picture better and showcase how hot the Thai chili pepper can be, let’s compare it to one of the world’s most famous kinds of chili peppers – jalapenos. 

Average jalapeno pepper can reach up to 8,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), whereas the hottest Thai chili pepper can go up to 100,000 SHU

Thai chili peppers can also be found in the form of ground chili powder, which makes it even easier to determine the needed amount.

These hot peppers are a staple in Thai dishes, especially curries, spicy dips and sauces, salads, chili pastes, as well as stir-fries. 

Roasted Thai chilies are a perfect choice for spicy sauces, homemade hot sauces, spicy Thai soup, as well as chicken wing marinade. 

If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a batch of fresh Thai chilies or ground chili powder, you’ll find a proper Thai chili pepper substitute if you keep on reading.

1. Cayenne peppers

Cayenne peppers range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so they cannot replace the hottest Thai chili. However, if this heat range is acceptable to you, you’ll love this Thai chili substitute

While cayenne chilies are usually dried and ground into cayenne pepper, you can also use them raw – especially if you prefer the heat to be even more intense.

These vibrant, small, red chilies even resemble Thai red chili when it comes to shape, size, and color. When it comes to the heat they offer, it is considered mid-range when compared to other hot chilies.

2. Bird’s eye chilies

These chilies will be a perfect substitute for Thai chili for those of you who are looking for extremely hot chili peppers, ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 SHU. 

Bird’s eye chilies are intensely hot, slightly fruity, and peppery. Just like Thai chilies, they also come in different colors, including green, pale orange, purple, and red.

Green bird’s eye chilies will generally be less hot (although their heat shouldn’t be underestimated), while red chilies are usually the hottest since they’re ripe.

Just like many other chili peppers, these hot peppers have edible, yet extremely hot seeds. Therefore, it is recommended to deseed the chili if you don’t want to experience extreme heat.

Bird’s eye chilies are also available dried, and they’re a great solution if you’re trying to substitute dried Thai chili peppers in your cooking – especially in stews, soups, and sauces.

3. Jalapeno peppers

These chili peppers are an ideal option for people who enjoy just a touch of heat that won’t be too intense and take over the entire dish.

Jalapeno peppers are possibly the most popular medium-hot peppers, and they can certainly replace medium-hot Thai chili peppers in all your dishes.

These chilies often resemble Thai green chili, although they tend to be a bit larger. Aside from their subtle hotness, jalapenos offer a unique sweetness and a touch of acidity that compares to green bell pepper

When ripe, they turn red, but unlike many other chili peppers, they do not become any hotter.

4. Chiles de Arbol

These hot, Mexican peppers are typically bright red and quite small – just like Thai chili peppers. 

Depending on how hot you like your chiles, you will have to choose between two different varieties of Chiles de Arbol: medium hot and hot.

Medium hot Chiles de Arbol is rated between 15,000 and 30,000 SHU, while the hot variety ranges from 50,000 up to 65,000 SHU. 

Raw or dried Chiles de Arbol can be added to salsa, chili, and all kinds of soups and sauces. The most popular dish including these chilies is chile de Arbol, and you can make it with both dried and fresh peppers. 

5. Habanero peppers

Habanero peppers, just like Chiles de Arbol, originate from Mexico. However, this is no ordinary chile pepper, as it is hotter even than the hottest Thai chile pepper.

Therefore, if you’re trying to replace Thai chili peppers with an even hotter pepper, this is the ideal Thai pepper substitute for your salsa, hot dips, sauces, soups, and stews.

Habanero peppers range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU, which makes them one of the hottest chile peppers you can find on the market. 

When cooking with habanero peppers, it is necessary to wear protective gloves and make sure not to touch your skin and eyes until you’ve carefully washed your hands, as well as the cutting board and knives.

6. Serrano peppers 

Yet another Mexican alternative to Thai chili peppers are the popular serrano peppers, which also come in a wide array of colors, including green, yellow, orange, and red.

Serrano peppers can be consumed raw in salads and sandwiches, and they’re also delicious when grilled or roasted. They’re often pickled, added to salsa and guacamole, as well as medium-hot sauces. 

When it comes to the overall flavor profile, they’re quite similar to jalapenos. They’re fruity, slightly sweet, but hotter than a jalapeno chile. 

While jalapenos are rarely registered above 10,000 SHU, serranos range from 10,000 to 25,000 SHU

7. Pequin peppers

These hot peppers register between 30,000 and 60,000 SHU, which ranks them high on the scale of hot substitutes for Thai chili peppers.

However, they are still less hot than the hottest Thai chili pepper, which makes them a suitable option for those of you who can’t handle extreme heat.

These tiny chili peppers are hot, yet fruity, slightly nutty, and even citrusy when consumed raw. Red pequin peppers are often dried and ground into chili powder, which is a great Thai chili powder substitute

8. Tabasco peppers

These red and yellow chili peppers range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which places them into the mid-hot to hot category.

This means that you will experience the heat, but it won’t be as overpowering and extreme as if you were to use the hottest Thai chili pepper. 

These vibrant, tiny peppers are usually less than 2 inches long. Even though they’re available when green and not completely ripe, it is advised not to pick them until they’re yellow or orange, since they tend to be bitter and flavorless. 

9. Fresno chile peppers

Fresno chile peppers resemble jalapeno peppers when it comes to both flavor and aroma. However, you’ll notice that Fresno chiles are a bit on the hotter side. 

On the Scoville Scale, these peppers register between 2,500 and 10,000 SHU, which makes them an adequate replacement for mild Thai chili peppers.

Fresno peppers are sweeter than Thai chili peppers, and also slightly smokey – and this flavor becomes even more pronounced when they’re grilled or roasted.

10. Finger hot Indian peppers (Jwala)

The Hindi name “Jwala”, which translates to “volcano”, could be an accurate representation of their heat level – but this depends on your personal preferences.

Finger-hot Indian peppers range from 20,000 to 30,000 SHU, which falls under the mid-hot category. 

However, when compared to the hottest Thai chili peppers (up to 100,000 SHU) and some of the substitutes we’ve mentioned in this guide, these peppers can be described as hot – but not extremely hot

11. Malagueta peppers

Malagueta peppers are a perfect replacement for hot Thai chilies, as they register between 50,000 and 100,000 SHU.

These hot peppers are extremely popular in Brazil and Portugal, especially when it comes to stews, sauces, and soups. 

They can be used both raw and dried, but keep in mind that you will get more spice and flavor out of raw malagueta chili peppers

12. Guntur Sannam chili peppers

Guntur Sannam chili peppers can replace Thai chili peppers and curry dishes, pasta sauces, soups, as well as hot homemade chili paste and oil.

These hot Indian peppers range from 35,000 to 40,000 SHU, which makes them quite hot. They’re slightly fruity, sweet, and their heat will not dominate the dish, but it will certainly be felt

How to choose a Thai chili pepper substitute

When it comes to choosing any kind of chili pepper, it is necessary to determine the level of heat you want in your dish (and the one you can handle).

When it comes to Thai chili pepper substitutes that will provide a hint of spice, and the emphasis will be on other flavors, the best options include jalapeno peppers, medium-hot Chiles de Arbol, serrano peppers, and Fresno chile peppers. 

Keep in mind the mentioned options are nowhere near neutral and mild, but the heat they offer is not considered overpowering in any way. 

Hot peppers that will certainly deliver when it comes to heat, but aren’t considered extreme, include cayenne peppers, hot Chiles de Arbol, pequin peppers, tabasco peppers, finger hot Indian peppers, and Guntur Sannam peppers. 

Finally, the best substitutes for hot Thai chili pepper that should be handled with caution are Bird’s eye chilies, malagueta peppers, and especially habanero peppers. 

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