4 August 2022

The 12 Best Substitutes for Thai Chili for Your Recipes

By Killian

Although you’ll often hear people talk about Thai chili peppers as a single category, the truth is that there are numerous varieties of Thai chili peppers ranging from slightly spicy to very spicy.

There is some 79 known varieties of these hot peppers that vary not only in heat, but in shape, color and overall flavor.

Depending on how spicy you like your food and how well you can handle the heat, you will choose different types of thai chili.

Is there any pepper that can be compared to Thai chili in terms of heat and flavor? Let’s see the best substitutes for thai chilli.

The best substitute for Thai chili is cayenne pepper. Alternatively, you can also substitute bird’s eye chiles, malagueta chiles, or habanero chiles for the Thai chiles. Lastly, if you need a milder option, you can substitute jalapeño peppers, chile de árbol peppers, serrano peppers, and Fresno peppers for the Thai peppers.

The Best Substitutes for Thai Chili

People often refer to these little hot peppers simply as Thai chili, which may lead you to believe that there is only one type of this hot pepper.

As we have said, there are about 79 varieties of Thai chili, and they range from very mild (0 on the Scoville scale) to very hot (50,000-100,000 Scoville heat units).

Most Thai chilies are bright yellow, green, or red, and are generally all quite small.

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

  1. prik num peppersBeing the mildest category, they are predominantly sweet, and you will rarely find such a hot Thai pepper.
  2. the prik yuakas well as the prik chee fahare, are also quite mild and sweet, ideal for those who are not looking for hot peppers.
  3. the pri leuang, For its part, it has a medium level of itching, which is not excessive.
  4. Prik jinda pepperswhich are quite a bit hotter than pri leuang, are only for the most courageous chili eaters who gravitate towards extremely hot Thai chiles.

To better describe the picture and show just how spicy Thai chili can be, let’s compare it to one of the most famous types of chili in the world: jalapeños.

The medium jalapeno pepper can reach up to 8,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), while the hottest Thai chili can reach 100,000 SHU.

Thai chiles can also be found in ground chili powder form, making it even easier to determine the amount needed.

These hot peppers are a staple in Thai dishes, especially curries, chutneys, salads, chili pastes, and stir-fries.

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

If you haven’t been able to get your hands on a batch of fresh Thai chili or ground chili powder, you’ll find a suitable substitute for Thai chili if you read on.

1. Cayenne peppers

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

Although cayenne chiles are often 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 little red chilies even resemble Thai red chilies in shape, size, and color. As for the heat they offer, it is considered mid-range compared to other hot chili peppers.

2. Bird’s eye chilies

These chilies will be a perfect substitute for the Thai chili for those looking for extremely hot chilies, ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 SHU.

Bird’s eye chiles are intensely hot, slightly fruity, and spicy. Like Thai chilies, they also come in different colors, such as green, pale orange, purple, and red.

Green bird’s eye chiles are usually less spicy (although don’t underestimate their heat), while red ones tend to be the hottest when ripe.

Like many other chili peppers, these hot peppers have edible, but extremely hot seeds. Therefore, it is recommended to remove the seeds from the chili if you do not want to experience extreme heat.

Bird’s eye chilies are also available dried, and are a great solution if you want to substitute dried Thai chilies in your cooking, especially in stews, soups, and sauces.

3. Jalapeno peppers

These chiles are an ideal option for those who enjoy a touch of heat that is not too intense and takes over the entire dish.

Jalapeno peppers are possibly the most popular medium hot pepper, and can certainly substitute for medium hot Thai peppers in all your dishes.

These chiles often resemble the Thai green chile, although they are usually a bit larger. Aside from their subtle heat, jalapeños offer a unique sweetness and a touch of acidity comparable to that of green peppers.

When ripe, they turn red, but unlike many other chilies, they don’t get any hotter.

4. Arbol Chiles

These hot Mexican peppers are usually bright red in color and quite small, like Thai chiles.

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

Medium hot Chiles de Árbol are rated between 15,000 and 30,000 SHU, while the hot variety ranges between 50,000 and 65,000 SHU.

Raw or dried Chiles de Árbol can be added to salsa, chili and all kinds of soups and sauces. The most popular dish that includes these chiles is the chile de Árbol, and you can prepare it with both dried and fresh peppers.

5. Habanero peppers

Habanero peppers, like chiles de árbol, are native to Mexico. However, this is not your average chili, as it is hotter than even the hottest Thai chili.

So if you want to substitute an even hotter pepper for Thai chilies, this is the ideal Thai chili substitute for your sauces, chutneys, soups, and stews.

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

When cooking with habanero peppers, you need to wear protective gloves and make sure not to touch your skin or eyes until you have thoroughly washed your hands, cutting board and knives.

6. Serrano peppers

Another Mexican alternative to Thai chiles are the popular Serrano peppers, which also come in a wide range of colors, including green, yellow, orange, and red.

Serrano peppers can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches, and are also delicious when roasted or grilled. They are often pickled, added to salsa and guacamole, as well as mildly hot sauces.

As for the general flavor profile, they are quite similar to jalapenos. They are fruity, slightly sweet, but spicier than a jalapeño pepper.

While jalapenos rarely register above 10,000 SHU, serranos range from 10,000 to 25,000 SHU.

7. Pequin peppers

These hot peppers clock in at between 30,000 and 60,000 SHU, putting them high on the scale for hot substitutes for Thai chilis.

However, they are still less hot than the hottest Thai chili, making them a suitable choice for those who can’t stand extreme heat.

These little chilies are spicy, yet fruity, with a slight nutty and even citrus flavor when eaten raw. Red Peking peppers are often dried and ground to make chili powder, which is a great substitute for Thai chili powder.

8. Tabasco peppers

These red and yellow chiles range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which puts them in the medium to hot category.

This means that you will experience the heat, but it will not be as overwhelming and extreme as if you were using the hottest Thai chili.

These tiny, vibrant peppers typically measure less than 5cm. Although they are available when they are green and not fully ripe, it is advised not to pick them until they are yellow or orange, as they tend to be bitter and tasteless.

9. Fresno Chiles

Fresno chiles resemble jalapeños in flavor and aroma. However, you will notice that Fresno chiles are a bit hotter.

On the Scoville scale, these chiles register between 2,500 and 10,000 SHU, making them a suitable substitute for mild Thai chiles.

Fresno peppers are sweeter than Thai chiles, and also slightly smoky, and this flavor is further accentuated when roasted or grilled.

10. Indian hot peppers (Jwala)

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

The hottest Indian peppers range from 20,000 to 30,000 SHU, which falls into the medium hot category.

However, when compared to the hottest Thai chilies (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 substitute for hot Thai chiles, clocking in at between 50,000 and 100,000 SHU.

These hot peppers are very 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 heat and flavor from raw malagueta peppers.

12. Guntur Sannam Chilies

Guntur Sannam chilies can be substituted for Thai chilies and curries, pasta sauces, soups, as well as homemade chili paste and oil.

These hot Indian peppers range from 35,000 to 40,000 SHU, making them quite hot. They are slightly fruity, sweet, and their heat will not overpower the dish, but it will certainly be felt.

How to Choose a Thai Chili Substitute

When choosing any type of chili, you need to determine the level of heat you want in your dish (and how much you can handle).

When it comes to Thai chili substitutes that will add a touch of heat, and the emphasis will be on other flavors, the best choices are jalapeño peppers, medium hot Chiles de Árbol, serrano peppers, and Fresno peppers.

Keep in mind that the options mentioned are by no means neutral and mild, but the warmth they offer is by no means considered excessive.

Hot peppers that certainly deliver on the heat, but are not considered extreme, are cayenne peppers, Chiles de Árbol hot, peking peppers, tabasco peppers, Indian hot peppers, and Guntur Sannam peppers.

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