Thai chili peppers are truly special for their flavor and unique growing habits. Thai food calls upon the delicious taste of these chilies in countless popular dishes. From noodle dishes, to soups, to stir fry, Thai chilies often make a dish.
However, Thai chiles can be hard to come by. Depending on where you live, your local grocery may not sell them. So, unless you want to grow your own peppers, which you should, you will need a an alternative to Thai chilies.
In this article, I’ll share 8 Thai chili substitutes, some which you may already have in your kitchen. The other substitutes are easy to find online or in supermarkets.
1. Serrano Peppers
Serrano peppers are a common variety that can be found in many grocery stores. While the flavor is not quite the same, serranos offer a similar size, shape, and plenty of heat.
Though they are milder, they still have around 10,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale, meaning you can add plenty of punch to your food. Keep in mind, grocery store peppers seem to be getting milder and milder, so give them a taste to test for heat level.
Fun fact: Serrano peppers eventually ripen from green to red when fully mature, just like bell peppers and jalapeños.
2. Chili Garlic Sauce
One of our favorite sauces to use with Asian meals is chili garlic sauce. This simple sauce consists of exactly as it sounds – red chilies, garlic, and salt.
While you will be adding the flavor of garlic, this sauce makes an acceptable substitute for Thai chili. There is some heat, and lots of fresh pepper flavor to bring your meal to life in a similar fashion.
This simple sauce is also easy to make yourself. So, if you are growing your own chilies and/or garlic, consider whipping up a batch! It can even be frozen or preserved for long term storage. I imagine it might taste even better with homegrown Thai peppers…yum.
3. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
This replacement for Thai chili is probably sitting somewhere on your spice rack. Crushed red pepper is nothing but dehydrated red peppers that have been crushed up.
While they’re usually reserved for Italian food, these spicy pepper flakes are a great alternative when you don’t have Thai peppers on hand. They have a medium heat level, and give food a mildly smoky and sweet flavor. I love using crushed red pepper on just about anything, from pizza to Chinese to a morning omelette.
4. Cayenne Peppers
Fresh or dried, cayenne pepper is a great alternative to Thai peppers. While they won’t add a tremendous amount of flavor (especially store bought), they will add lots of spice. Thai food just isn’t the same if it isn’t spicy, so cayenne pepper powder will get the job done.
We love making homemade cayenne powder, but you can make powders out of any pepper variety. The flavors vary widely, from fruity ají peppers, to sweet paprika, to smoky chipotle and so much more.
5. Hot Paprika Powder
There are some cool paprika powders available online. If you’re looking for something a bit special, try one of the spicy Hungarian paprikas. They come smoked, sweet, and often spicy.
Thai peppers are hot, so regular paprika is not a suitable alternative (unless you’re looking to reduce the heat). But hot paprika will fill in just fine. Again, this is a dry ingredient, but the powder can still add flavor and spice to your Thai food.
6. Jalapeño Peppers
If you can’t find serranos, jalapeños are the next best thing. Heat level is even lower than serranos, and the peppers are much larger than Thai chilies. However, in a pinch, jalapeno peppers will fill in.
To get a similar texture, I would recommend pulsing the jalapeños in a food processor until they are finely diced. This may help give the illusion of true Thai chili in the meal, instead of large chunks of pepper.
Tip: Be sure to include the seeds and the central membrane of your jalapenos to add the most heat.
7. (Certain) Hot Sauces
The hot sauce world has exploded in popularity. Now, hot sauces have incredibly variety in both flavor and heat level. With that in mind, some hot sauces may work as a Thai chili substitute.
I would probably stay away from anything too complex or powerful in flavor. The sauce should compliment the meal rather than overpower it.
Tabasco original hot sauce is a good place to start, with just 3 listed ingredients: Vinegar, tabasco pepper, and salt. A little goes a long way, so start small to ensure the sauce won’t alter your meal’s flavor too much.
8. Gochugaru or La Jiao Mian
There are many different forms of ground chili powders on the market. Korean Gochugaru or Chinese La Jiao Mian make great alternatives to Thai chilies. These powders can be found at Asian supermarkets, or online.
Each hot chili powder has its own unique characteristics and flavors, and some are hotter than others. If you plan to buy these, do some research into the flavor profile and spiciness first. La Jiao Mian tends to be more ‘fragrant’ and quite hot, while Gochugaru is more mild.
Since these are often sold in large quantities, I’d recommend making chili oil with some of the remaining powder! The flakes have countless alternative uses as well, and keep for a long time in the pantry.
Where To Get Thai Chilies
Unless you are in Thailand, true Thai chilies are not very common in North America. To find the real deal, you’ll probably have to search around, or just grow them yourself. Here are a few places you can get your hands on Thai peppers:
- Asian supermarkets. We love shopping at our local Asian supermarket. We have visited several across the Northeast US, and have always found some form of fresh red chilies. You may still need a bit of luck to get true Thai chilies!
- Online. Dried Thai peppers can be found online fairly easily. Again, it is hard to know for sure that you are getting the real deal, so look for a reputable seller.
- Grow them. The best way to guarantee the authenticity of your Thai peppers is to grow them yourself. Botanical Interests sells Thai chili seeds for just a few dollars. All that is left to do is to learn how to grow peppers (it’s easy)!
How Spicy Are Thai Chilies?
Thai peppers are not all the same. There have been centuries of farmers cultivating and creating new varieties. However, as a rule, Thai chilies are either hot, or very hot!
In short, Thai chilies range from 50,000-100,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale. This places them at least on par with cayenne peppers, and as hot as double the heat.
I hope this article helped you find a substitute for Thai chilies. While nothing can quite match the flavor and spice of an authentic Thai pepper, our recommendations should work for an on the fly alternative. Bon appetit!