Substitutes For Jalapeno Peppers

Welcome to our guide on jalapenos! Read below for jalapeno information and substitutes.

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Have you ever been making a recipe that calls for Jalapenos only to realize you don’t have any and need a substitute? Or maybe you have a recipe that calls for jalapenos but would prefer the dish to be more or less spicy? Well, you’ve landed on the right post! We’ll give you all the information you need to find the perfect jalapeno substitute. In this post we’ll go over the best substitutes based on your desired heat level: more spicy, less spicy, or equally spicy substitutes for jalapenos.

overhead of 5 jalapenos.


Table of Contents



 How is the spice level of a pepper measured?

The spice level of peppers is measured using Scoville Heat Units (SHU).  This scale measures the amount of capsaicin in a pepper. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that causes foods to taste spicy. For reference, jalapenos are rated to range between 3,000 and 8,000 SHUs. In comparison, the extremely spicy Carolina Reaper pepper has a 2,200,000 SHUs, while the very mild pepperoncini has 900 SHUs. (source)

Are jalapenos the same as chipotles?

Yes and no?  Chipotles are, in simple terms, roasted jalapenos.  Chipotle peppers are a result of jalapenos being vines ripened, drid, and smoked.  As a jalapeno ripens, it will turn red in color.  The red does not mean it is hotter however, a chipotle is only as spicy as the jalapeno that it came from.  Chipotle peppers can be found whole and dried, ground, or in a can with adobo sauce.  Want to make your own dried chipotle peppers?  Try this recipe from Kevin is Cooking!

Can jalapenos vary in spice level?

Yes, based on how much they’re watered.  The less a jalapeno plant is watered and the more sun it has, the more spicy the peppers will be.  Spice in peppers comes from a chemical property called capsaicin that is known as the plants defensive mechanism.  When the plant feels it is in danger, is produces more capsaicin.  And when peppers have less water, they are stressed (dare I say hot and angry?), creating more capsaicin and thus more spice.  

So now you have super spicy peppers, mission accomplished!  But wait, you don’t actually want them that spicy!  Not to worry, spice within a pepper is concentrated in the seeds and ribs (the thick white part inside the pepper that is connected to the shell).  To decrease spice, simply slice it open and remove the ribs and seeds.  Leave some of the seeds in for medium spice.  

Now you are at the grocery store because you lack a green thumb and buy your produce (that’s me!) but you want to know what spice level of pepper you are buying.  Not to worry!  Simply look for stretch marks on the peppers.  A pepper with stretch marks or white flecks indicates a stressed, mature, and spicy pepper.  In general, jalapenos in the grocery store are picked when they are younger and have had less stress, therefore resulting in milder peppers.

Some tips when substituting

When substituting an ingredient for jalapenos, keep in mind that it will have a slightly different flavor profile but it will taste great!  With these tips, you will have no problem substituting!

  1. Always taste the pepper you are using as a substitute prior to adding it to a dish.  This gives you an idea of the flavor and spice level you are dealing with.
  2. If a recipe calls for a jalapeno without the seeds and ribs, then follow that same instruction when substituting with another pepper.
  3. With hotter peppers, start by only using half of the called for amount of jalapeno.  Taste the dish and then adjust until you reach the desired spice level.

Substitutes for Jalapenos With Equal Spice Level (3,000 – 8,000 SHUs)

These substitutes can be used as a 1 to 1 replacement for jalapenos

Chipotle (7,000 SHUs):

A pile of chipotle peppers laying on a gray table.

Chipotle Peppers are just smoked jalapeno.  And like discussed above, a chipotle pepper is only as spicy as the jalapeno it comes from.  Smoking gives chipotles their distinct flavor which might not work well for all recipes that call for jalapenos.  So, chipotle is a great substitute for replicating spice but it may not be a good addition to the flavor profile of a dish.  When using chipotles as subs, it is recommended to use chipotles in adobo sauce because they can be cooked and added the same way jalapenos would be.

Serrano Peppers (10,000 SHUs):

Three green serano peppers laying on a gray table.

Serrano’s are the most similar pepper to jalapeno in appearance and flavor.  They have a similar thickness of walls meaning they will cook similarly.  While slightly spicier, they are a great option as a substitute for jalapenos, just add carefully!  

Fresno Pepper (8,000 SHUs):

red fresno chilis on a branch with green leaves

Fresno peppers are very similar in spice level to jalapenos but have a fruitier taste.  Fresno peppers are named for the city of Fresno in California.  They are small and red in color.  They also have thinner walls meaning they will cook quicker than jalapenos.  

 Substitutes for Jalapenos With Higher Spice Level (>7,000 SHUs)

These substitutes should be used carefully.  Start with half of the pepper and adjust to desired taste.

Cayenne Peppers (40,000 SHUs):

two red cayenne peppers

If you’re looking for a jalapeno substitute to turn up the heat in your dish, cayenne pepper is a good option! Cayenne peppers are about 7-10 times spicier than jalapenos. Cayenne peppers are long, skinny, and have thinner walls than jalapenos. 

Tabasco Pepper (40,000 SHUs):

tabasco peppers in a pile

Tabasco peppers are also a good substitute for jalapenos if you want to increase the spice level of your recipe. Just like Cayenne peppers, tabasco peppers are about 7-10 times spicier than jalapenos.  Most people are familiar with Tabasco sauce, but did you know that the sauce comes from the Tabasco pepper?  Now you do!

Chili Peppers (20,000 SHUs): 

red chili peppers on a bush

Chili peppers come in yellow or red and have thinner walls.  They are about 3 times as spicy as a jalapeno so they will amp up the spice in any dish!  Despite the name, chili peppers are only one of many ingredients in chili powder.  Chili powder is substantially less spicy than chili peppers.

Substitutes for Jalapenos With Lower Spice Level (<7,000 SHUs)

Use as many of these substitutes as you like to replace a jalapeno!

Anaheim  (1,000 SHUs):

anaheim peppers in a pile

Anaheim peppers are green in color and resemble a jalapeno in appearance.  They are far less spicy but a great option as a substitute!  Named for the city of Anaheim, Ca where they were made famous, they actually originated in New Mexico.  In New Mexico, they are known as Hatch Chilis and are grown in the Hatch Region.


Poblano (1,500 SHUs):

A green pablano pepper laying on a gray table.

Poblano peppers are dark green in color and about double the size of a jalapeno pepper. Poblanos have a mild spice, coming in at about a third of the spice level as a jalapeno.  They are typically the star of the popular dish, chile rellenos, in which a poblano is stuffed and fried (yum!).  Check out this great Chile Relleno recipe by Isabel


Bell Peppers (0 SHUs):

One red bell pepper sitting on a gray table.

You can substitute bell peppers for jalapenos if you want to eliminate spice altogether! Bell peppers have no spice and are actually a bit sweet. Bell peppers come in green, yellow, orange, and red, so they can add great color to a dish if used correctly. 

Other Substitutes for Jalapenos

Hot Smoked Paprika Powder:

Paprika in a spice jar set on a white plate with ground paprika on the plate

Paprika powder is a mild substitute for jalapenos.  While it has minimal heat, it offers enough to resemble jalapeno and is readily available in the store.  It is bright red in color and can be found in the spice aisle.  Use 2 tsp of hot paprika for 1 jalapeno (with seeds!). If you’re looking for more information on paprika, check out our post all about Cumin vs. Paprika!


Red Pepper Flakes: 

red pepper flakes in a white bowl

While often found at your local pizza joint, red pepper flakes are a great option as a substitute for jalapenos.  Replace 1 tsp of red pepper flakes for 1 jalapeno (with seeds!).


Chili Powder: 

chili powder in a bowl with chilis on the side

Chili powder is a readily available spice mix that contains cayenne pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and cumin, among other spices.  It is a great substitute for jalapenos as it is easy to get and likely already in your cupboard.  However, because chili powder has cumin in it, it often is associated with a Mexican flavor.  Cumin is often found in Mexican dishes and has a very distinct taste that can overpower a dish. Chili powder is best used as a substitute in recipes that will benefit from these flavors but will probably not be great as a substitute in say a jalapeno mojito.


We hope this guide helped you learn more about jalapenos and find a substitute that works for you!


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Welcome to Joy to the Food! We’re so glad you’re here. We’re Mika and Dan, and the two Nalas (our spunky pups). We’re all about easy and affordable recipes that bring joy to the kitchen and make life stress free!