Fresno Pepper Substitutes – Top 7 Best Alternatives

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Fresno peppers are a popular choice for making tasty salsas, spicy stir fry, or hot sauces. If the recipe you’re making calls for fresnos, but you don’t have any on hand, we’ve got you covered.

In this article, I’ll share the best fresno pepper substitutes. If you’re in a pinch, any of these options will fill in as an alternative. However, I put them in order from the best substitute to the…least-best.

Red fresno pepper fresh off the plant
Red fresno pepper fresh off the plant.

1. Jalapeño peppers

People often mistake Fresno chiles for jalapeños, and they certainly do have a similar appearance. Jalapeño peppers make a great substitute for Fresno peppers in a pinch.

When it comes to flavor, jalapeños may be a bit more vegetal than fresnos. If you can find them, choose jalapeños that are red. Red jalapeños in are their ripe form and have more sugars than green ones. They will also mimic the flavor of a red Fresno better.

Fresh harvest of various jalapeno peppers
Plate of fresh jalapeño peppers.

The heat level is similar between the two, even the size and shape is roughly the same. Where they differ is in heat level and thickness. Fresno peppers are slightly hotter than jalapeños, and have thinner skin.

2. Red bell peppers (plus cayenne powder)

Like I mentioned, Fresnos are sweeter than green jalapeños. Red bell peppers have a similar sweet profile to a Fresno, but lack heat. Add in a few pinches of ground cayenne pepper for spice and you’ve got yourself a replacement!

Green and red bell peppers

Green bell peppers are not as close for flavor, but can be used if they’re all you have. If you don’t have cayenne powder for adding heat, red pepper flakes, hot paprika, or another dried chile can fill in.

3. Serrano peppers

Another fresh pepper that can fill in for Fresnos is the serrano. This smaller pepper variety is very similar in heat level, but is commonly sold in green form.

Serranos will eventually turn red when ripe, so if you happen to see any red peppers, choose those. However, green will do just fine, and they have a nice fresh, crisp flavor and plenty of heat.

Green Serrano Peppers
Serrano pepper in different stages of ripening.

4. Cayenne peppers

Cayenne peppers are hotter than Fresnos, but are still a good alternative. If your recipe primarily needs heat from the Fresnos, then cayenne peppers are a perfect substitute.

If the recipe needs Fresnos for crunch or texture, then cayennes might not be the best option. Fresh is always best, but if you only have dried cayenne, it can still work. Just be sure to adjust the proportions accordingly (start small and add more as desired for heat).

Large pile of red cayenne peppers
Re cayenne peppers.

5. Red pepper flakes

If you don’t have access to any fresh peppers, you still have options! Red pepper flakes are a perfectly suitable alternative for Fresnos in a pinch.

The heat of red pepper flakes is medium (just like Fresnos), and they also have a great flavor. Red pepper flakes are commonly sun-dried, preserving their sweet and mildly-smoky flavor.

Of course, red pepper flakes aren’t going to give your dish much texture. If you’d like, consider adding another fresh ingredient with a similar crunch to a pepper (such as carrots, celery, or similar).

6. Frank’s RedHot sauce

While any hot sauce can be used to add heat, Frank’s RedHot is a simple, relatively neutral option. Just keep in mind that it does contain garlic, so if your recipe doesn’t need it, choose another sauce.

Other sauces:

Whatever hot sauce you have on hand can help add heat to your meal. Take a quick taste to make sure that the flavors of your sauce won’t compete with the overall vibe of the dish you’re cooking.

7. Sweet chili sauce

Last up is sweet chili sauce. As the name suggests, this sauce is very sweet. It is most often used as a dipping sauce for things like fried chicken or dumplings. However, if you happen to have it on your refrigerator shelf, it can be used as an alternative for Fresnos.

Sweet chili sauce.

How spicy are Fresno peppers?

As I mentioned, Fresno peppers are comparably spicy to jalapeños. However, depending on the exact variety, they can be slightly hotter.

Generally speaking, Fresno peppers come in around 5,000-10,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale, making them slightly hotter than jalapeños.

Fresno peppers usually contain more seeds and innards than jalapeños, which is often removed. Without the inner membrane, I have found that Fresnos often taste less spicy than a comparable jalapeño.

In the end, it all comes down to the exact variety of Fresno you’re eating, where it was grown, and when it was harvested. Learn more about why peppers are spicy here.

Where to get Fresno chili peppers

While Fresnos are popular, they are not nearly as accessible as some other pepper varieties. Most traditional grocery stores in the US will offer jalapeños and habaneros for hot peppers, and not much else.

If you happen to live on the West coast, you may be more likely to come across them, given that the Fresno pepper was named after Fresno county, California. However, you may still have to do some searching to find them fresh.

Where to find Fresnos:

  • Whole Foods (or other specialty grocery stores). Since Whole Foods aims to bring a wider variety of novelty foods to the masses, they often carry a better selection of peppers. I have personally seen Fresno chilis for sale here consistently for the past few years.
  • Farmer’s Markets. If your timing is right (summer/fall), then you may get lucky and find fresh Fresno peppers at your local Farmer’s Market. Search for local weekend produce markets and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for (or something even better).
  • Grow them at home. Growing peppers is a joy that we want every spicy food lover to experience. If you want the best tasting (and hottest) peppers, you’ll just have to grow them from seed!
Unripe Fresno Pepper growing on plant
Unripe Fresno pepper on plant.

Get Fresno pepper seeds here.

I hope this article helped you find what you were looking for! If you have any other suggestions for replacing Fresnos in a recipe, let us know in the comments.

Calvin Thumbnail


One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

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