The 9 Best Substitutes For Arbol Chile

What can I use instead of arbol chile? The best substitute for arbol chile is the japones chile, which has a similar heat rating. Spicier alternatives are cayenne peppers, red pepper flakes, piquín peppers, or Thai bird’s eye chiles. For milder substitutes, use cascabel, serrano, guajillo or jalapeno peppers.

Chiles de árbol or arbol chiles are long, slender, red Mexican chiles.  They are medium-hot and smokey, rating 15,000-30,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. Here are the best 9 substitutes for arbol chiles:

The Best Arbol Chile Substitutes

Japones Chile

The best substitute for chiles de árbol is japones chile, which is similar in appearance.

Also called the Japanese or Santika pepper, this chile is common in Asian cuisine, especially spicy Szechuan dishes. It rates 15,000 to 30,000 on the Scoville scale, so it has the same heat level as chiles de árbol.

Use japonese chile as a stand-in for arbol chile but note that it has a less complex flavor and adds fire rather than depth.

They’re an ideal replacement if you’re making hot pepper oils or spicy vodka but will add bite to salsa and sauces.

Use equal amounts of japonese chile to replace chile de árbol.

Cayenne Pepper

A handy and accessible replacement is cayenne pepper, which you probably have in your spice cupboard in dried form.

Cayenne peppers are also called cow-horn peppers for their long, curved, slender shape. Bright red when ripe, cayenne is a step up in heat from arbol chile, with an SHU of 30,000 to 50,000.

The most commonly grown chile pepper in the world, cayenne peppers are particularly popular in Asian and Cajun cuisine.

Use cayenne instead of arbol chile in sauces, stews, and olive oil infusions. It has a peppery rather than nutty profile but doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors in a dish. Cayenne will replace the red color of chile de árbol.

As a substitute for dried, ground arbol chile, you can use equal amounts of cayenne powder or replace one dried arbol chile with a dried cayenne pepper.

Red Pepper Flakes

When you can’t find fresh or dried whole chile de árbol or cayenne peppers, reach for the dried red pepper flakes lurking in your pantry.

Red pepper flakes and crushed red pepper consist primarily of cayenne peppers blended with other, less spicy red peppers. The resulting mix has a heat profile superior to arbol chile, with a definite fiery bite.

Use red pepper flakes to substitute arbol chile when you need heat rather than flavor or presentation.

Use only a quarter or half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to replace one whole chile de árbol.

Piquín Pepper

An alternative to arbol chiles are piquín or pequín chiles.

These tiny, elongated peppers are also called rice peppers. The fact that they are under an inch long shouldn’t fool you: these are relentlessly hot, 40,000 to 60,000 SHU.

Piquín peppers, originally from Mexico, are eaten green, their bright red ripe form, and also dried.

Use these peppers as a substitute for arbol chiles. Green piquíns are peppery and tangy, good for salsa.

When ripe, these peppers have a complex flavor, with hints of smokiness and citrus, making them ideal for sauces, flavored oils, and soup. Use dried piquín when you want a richer smokey flavor in BBQ sauce or chili con carne.

Because it is much spicier than the arbol chile, use only half the amount of piquín peppers to achieve the same heat and flavor.

Thai Bird’s Eye Chile

A convenient substitute for chile de árbol is the Thai chile.

These tiny, pointy, red, or green chiles, sometimes called Thai dragon chiles, are readily available at supermarkets. Used in Asian cuisine, this chile is rated extra hot and is much spicier than the chile de árbol: 50,000 SHU upwards.

If you’re looking for heat in a dish, use these as an alternative in salsa or soup. Thai peppers are delicious and beautiful in chili infusions as well.

Because they’re so much hotter, use only a quarter of what the recipe recommends for chile de árbol. You’ll get the heat, but not the same complex flavor.

Cascabel Pepper

The beautiful cascabel chile pepper is a delightful stand-in for arbol chile.

From Mexico, the cascabel is a tiny, round cranberry-red pepper, an inch in diameter when ripe and slightly smaller when dried. Cascabel peppers are mild, rating only 1,000 to 3,000 SHU, but have a rich, fruity flavor.

However, these chile balls are often dried, and when shaken, the seeds rattle: hence the name cascabel or jingle bells.

Cascabel chiles are loved as much for their culinary uses as their gorgeous color – if you can’t make an arbol chile wreath, display these in a bowl.

Use cascabel chiles instead of arbol chiles if you want aroma and depth rather than heat. Their smoky nuttiness will taste like arbol chile in soups, stews, sauces, and salsa.

Replace chile de árbol with equal quantities of cascabel chile, and add more to increase bite and flavor.

Serrano Pepper

Another staple Mexican pepper that can stand in for arbol chile is the serrano pepper.

You’ll usually find fresh green serrano peppers or chiles verdes for sale, with their tapering, bullet shape, and bright grassy flavor. But ripe, red serrano chiles are becoming more available as people come to appreciate their earthy, smokey flavor.

Less fiery than arbol chiles, serrano peppers are regarded as medium-hot, rating 10,000 to 23,000 SHU.

With their thin skins and herbaceous kick, serrano peppers are tasty raw on sandwiches, in salads, pickled, or roasted.

You’re unlikely to find dried or powdered serrano peppers, as their fragility doesn’t lend itself to dehydration.

For less heat in a dish, use red serrano peppers instead of chiles de árbol. They are excellent in salsa, hot sauce, stews, and soups.

You can use more serrano pepper than arbol chile, depending on your chosen heat level.

Guajillo Chile Pepper

Replace your arbol chiles with another of the Mexican favorites, guajillo peppers.

Commonly grown and eaten in Mexico, the guajillo is the dried form of the mirasol pepper. When dried, the peppers are about an inch wide, five inches long, and have a deep red, leathery skin.

These versatile peppers are mild to moderately hot, only 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale, and less spicy than the jalapeno. It is their sweet, fruity, berry-toned flavor that makes them popular.

You can use guajillo peppers in any recipe that requires arbol chiles, as they are widely used in Mexican cuisine. Add these tangy peppers to salsa, meat dishes, mole, sauces, marinades, stews, and soups for a delicious sweetness.

Use equal amounts of guajillo to replace arbol chiles, adding more to increase heat levels.


Familiar to most Americans, the jalapeno pepper is an easy replacement for arbol chile.

With their stubby shape, red and green jalapenos are originally Mexican but are now commercially cultivated to make salsa for the US market.

Jalapenos and their dried, smoked version, the chipotle, are less spicy than arbol chiles, measuring 2,000 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale.

Replace arbol chiles with jalapenos if you want a fresh, grassy pop of heat in your raw salsa, stew, or soup. Use chipotles to substitute the rich smoky flavor of chiles de árbol in tomato sauces, salsa, stews, and soups.

Use equal amounts or more jalapeno or chipotle to add a bite to a dish.