What is Chile de Arbol?
Chile de Arbol (pronounced ar-boll) is a long, slender, hot chilies used in several Mexican dishes. This chile is also known as bird’s beak chile and rat’s tail chile.
Chile de Arbol (Spanish for tree chili) is grown in Jalisco, Nayarit as well as the Mexico City regions in Mexico. Their heat index is between 15,000 – 30,000 Scoville units.
When fully grown, this chile is about 3 inches long. It is green when tender, turns red when it ripens, and deeper red when dried.
In Mexican groceries, you can get de Arbol chile fresh, dried, or in powdered form.
Chile de Arbol has a nutty taste and deep heat that add a unique earthy punch to dishes. Chefs love this chile for garnish and infusion because of its slender profile.
This hot chile is used in fresh salsa, sauces, and for making chile wreaths. It is rather hot, so be warned.
What is a good chile de Arbol substitute?
A lot of taco recipes and others call for chile de Arbol and have a soaring demand. To make things tough, this chile is hardly available in most places outside Mexico and the Southern part of the US.
What can I use instead of chile de Arbol? Ideally, finding chiles in the same range of heat level is the best option to pin down a suitable chile de àrbol substitute for your recipe.
Here are some of the top alternatives to consider:
1. Japones pepper
The Chile Japones, aka Japones pepper or “Japanese pepper”, is a popular ingredient in several cuisines across the world prized for its wonderful heat. Japones pepper is a good alternative to Chile de arbor as they both have a similar heat range between 15,000 to 30,000 SHU.
All the more, they are look-alike chilies with a wider middle and both go flat after drying. Chile de Arbol has a more nutty, fruity, and complex taste as compared to Chile Japones which have a nutty and smoky flavor.
Use Chile Japones in a 1:1 substitute for chile de Arbol.
2. Crushed red pepper
Typically, Crushed red pepper contains the base ingredient cayenne pepper and few other low heat chiles. In no doubt, it’s a wonderful substitute for chile de Arbol for the same level of heat they both share. Unfortunately, you can’t find the same flavor and appearance of chile de Arbol in crushed red pepper. To your ease, red pepper flakes are easily available in groceries across the world.
Use the red pepper flakes in the same way as you use chile de Arbol and in the same quantity as well.
3. Dried cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is about two times hotter than chile de Arbol. If you can tolerate the higher heat of cayenne, look no further, it’s a good stand-in ingredient for chile de Arbol.
When you are using cayenne instead of bird’s beak chile, you’ll miss out on the nutty flavor and earthy punch. However, it’s is an easy pick because you will find cayenne pepper in every grocery near you.
It’s very hot, thus use it in lesser quantity than the chile de Arbol while substituting.
4. Thai Chiles
Bird’s eye chili or Thai chili is a chili pepper variety belonging to the Capsicum annuum species commonly found and used in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia. This spicy chili, popularly used in Thai cuisines, is an easy, quick de àrbol substitute, but an emergency solution only.
Beware; the tiny Thai chilies are about four times hotter than chile de Arbol. Thus it may not be a good choice for all recipes. But you can balance heat by using it only in a quarter portion of chile de Arbol required for your recipe.
5. Cascabel pepper
Lastly, I’ve cascabel chili on the list of substitutes for chile de Arbol. Of course, the low-level heat (below 3,000 SHU) of this chile isn’t a perfect match for the highly spicy chile de Arbol. Leaving aside its low spiciness, the earthy and nutty flavor of this chile makes it a worthy substitute for your consideration.
If you value the nutty and flavor more than the heat profile of the chile, then cascabel pepper is a satisfactory substitute for chile de Arbol.
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