Fresno Pepper: Substitute, Heat Level, Flavor, Culinary Uses

red fresno chili substitute

Fresno pepper is a wonderful addition to several types of dishes to add great flavor; does exceptionally well for dips and salsas. Everyone would love to have this pepper with rice and black beans. And the list goes on.

This article digs into its uses, flavor, heat, and the best Fresno pepper substitute that you can use in a pinch.

What is Fresno pepper?

The Fresno Chili pepper is a medium-sized cultivar of Capsicum annuum. They are grown throughout California, specifically the San Joaquin Valley.

Some mistake them to be Jalapeno peppers because of their close similarity in appearance. As a matter of fact, Fresno gets matured faster than Jalapeno and has thinner walls and slightly more heat.

Fresno peppers turn green to red as they get matured, and increase in hotness as well. Most people consider this pepper to be spicy; a fully mature Fresno pepper reaches the base heat level of serrano pepper.

Fresno pepper skin is glossy and smooth, and the pepper curves slightly. This pepper grows to about 2-3 inches long and has a diameter of about one inch.


Are Fresno peppers hot? They are moderately hot peppers with a measure from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

In comparison to Jalapeno, red Fresno peppers are spicier and fruitier in taste. However, green Fresno chili has a more vegetal flavor but a lower intensity of heat.

You’ll enjoy this chili if you love to relish a good spicy kick, but not too much.


Fresno chiles are popular in many American cuisines, especially, for making salsa, salads, hot sauces, and ceviche. You can easily use this pepper in everyday cooking, especially green peppers.

Dried and ground pepper is an excellent spicy red seasoning or for making chili flakes.

What Is A Good Fresno pepper Substitute?

Chili pepper with medium-level heat like Fresno is definitely a wonderful choice of pepper for all foodies.

Unfortunately, this pepper isn’t easily available in most places outside the US. So, what’s the best Fresno pepper substitute to save your favorite recipe? To your consolation, some of the popular chilies in the world can be a good stand-in for Fresno.

Jalapeño Peppers

Undoubtedly, the best substitute for Fresno chili is the ubiquitous jalapeño. They have indistinguishably similar appearance though the Jalapenos have thicker skin.

As regard flavors, both of them have identical flavor profiles especially when they are green. Both are medium heat chilies with a herbaceous note.

Ripe, red Fresno is slightly hotter and fruitier than its equivalent Jalapeno. Despite this difference, still jalapeno is your best alternative. For your convenience, Jalapenos are widely produced all over and effortlessly available in most vegetable stores.

Chipotle Peppers

The dried and smoked Jalapenos are Chipotle. This pepper has a heat level comparable to the Fresno chili but the strong smoky flavor is a big difference. Nonetheless, the smoky flavor is quite an enjoyable taste that would very well tally with flavors of hot recipes that call for Fresno.

Chipotle is a worthy stand-in for Fresno for they both share a similar heat profile.

If you don’t agree with the smokiness of Chipotle, then soak it in water few minutes to lessen its smoky flavor. Roasting the Chipotle in oil also reduces its smoky flavor.

Serrano Peppers

Serrano, coming from the mountainous regions of Mexico, is a hot chili. With a ranking of 10,000 to 20,000 SHU, serranos are up to five times hotter than Fresno chili. This isn’t the perfect Fresno chili substitute for those with poor spice tolerance.

Ripe, red Fresno peppers can catch up with Serrano’s basement – around 10,000 SHU maximum.  Notwithstanding, it’s a possible alternative to Fresno when you don’t have other better replacements like Jalapeno or Chipotle.

While substituting, use Serrano only in 1/3 quantity of Fresno actually required for your recipe to balance the heat. The heat levels of chilies naturally get reduced when they are used in sweet dishes, dishes that include dairy products, coconut milk, or sour cream.

Cayenne Peppers

Cayenne is mid-level hot pepper ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Serrano comes somewhat close to this pepper.

Cayenne pepper has thin walls and flavors similar to Fresno chili. Just like Fresno, this pepper is also used in recipes like salsa, hot sauce, and for making chili flakes.

In an emergency, you can certainly use cayenne as a replacement for Fresno chili, but use it in less quantity.

The Bottom Line

Beyond any doubt, Fresno is a dearie chili among the foodies for its palatable level of medium heat and wonderful flavor. In a pinch, I would recommend Jalapeno as the best Fresno chili substitute that you should try. Other alternatives worth considering are chipotle, serrano, or cayenne peppers.