While preparing a hot and spicy Thai dish, Thai chili is a quintessential ingredient that you cannot miss out on. These small chilies are not the hottest in the world, but they do pack a heavy punch.
This article explores the best Thai chili substitute to use in a pinch; also a little about its flavor and uses in cooking.
What is Thai pepper?
First of all, there is no single “Thai pepper” as there are about 79 varieties of peppers originating from three species of peppers in Thailand. Generally, Thai peppers are small in size and high in heat. Above all, these several varieties of peppers differ in appearance, flavor, and their heat levels range between 50,000 to 1,00,000 Scoville heat units. Obviously, there is confusion in pinning down a particular variety of Thai chili.
Most chefs consider the Bird’s eye chili, commonly found in Ethiopia and across Southeast Asia, as the true Thai chili. In fact, Bird’s eye chili is the most dominant ingredient in Thai cooking.
Bird’s eye chilies have a fruity, peppery flavor and intense heat that slowly builds and then lingers on the palate. Thai chilies pack a real punch though small in size. They are 10 times hotter than typical jalapenos but half the heat of a habanero.
Uses In Cooking
Bird’s eye chili peppers are a popular ingredient in several Thai and Vietnamese cosines. Also, this chile is well used in Burmese, Malaysian, and Indonesian dishes. Fresh or dried chilies work well in soups, sauces, and marinades. Often, it’s used in salads, pickles, sambals, stir-fries, and curries for a hot and spicy flavor.
Usually, the stems are removed, and this chili can be used whole, diced, sliced, chopped, or pureed; including their spicy seeds. If you are using dried, ground Thai chilies, 1 teaspoon is equivalent to about 3 fresh Thai chilies.
What Is A Good Thai Chili Substitute?
In East Asian countries, bird’s eye pepper is largely cultivated and easily available in the food market. However, Thai chilies are quite scarce in the rest of the world. If you don’t have it or you want to try something fresh and different, then there are few other chilies that work as Thai chili substitutes with similar flavors and levels of heat.
Here are the best alternatives to consider:
Serrano peppers, at their hottest, are at least four times milder than Thai chili. Even so, serrano is a good substitute for Thai chili as this versatile pepper can easily complement most Thai dishes that call for chili. Adding more peppers is an easy solution to raise the heat level of serrano to the level of Bird’s eye chili.
Serranos can be used in cooking just the same way as you do with Thai chilies. This thick-fleshed, 2-inches long pepper can be chopped, diced, or pureed to be used in your dishes.
Interestingly, you’ll find that these days many farmers in Thailand are increasingly cultivating serrano peppers. Undoubtedly, this pepper has become the most preferred alternative to Thai chili, especially for those who love moderately hot chili.
Serrano is also bright chili with a lot more bite. Everyone would love its crisp and moderate grassy flavor that goes well with many cuisine styles. Indeed, fresh serrano pepper is an outstanding replacement for fresh Thai chilies.
Jalapeno pepper is an easy substitute for most other peppers because of its easy availability across the globe.
Jalapeño peppers taste very much like a serrano pepper, with lower heat. Similar to Thai chilies, fresh jalapenos are green with a mild grassy flavor.
A typical Jalapeno pepper is 15 times milder than the average Thai chili. Despite the huge difference in heat, jalapenos are a good stand-in chili for Bird’s eye chili. Versatile jalapenos easily fit into most dishes that call for Thai chili. Both can be used in the same way in your recipes.
Note, the heat level of jalapenos can vary according to the place of their origin, thus care should be taken to balance the heat level before adding too few or too many to a dish. Usually, you have to add about double the amount of jalapenos to achieve the same heat level as Thai chili.
Cayenne pepper is a popular pepper easy to source and commonly used in Cajun dishes. Importantly, the heat level of this pepper comes very close to Thai chili; almost half the heat of Thai chili. They both share a similar flavor and can be used interchangeably in most dishes. The subdued flavor of cayenne does not overpower the original taste of your recipe.
Preferably, use either finely minced fresh cayenne pepper or dry cayenne powder in place of Thai chili. Use cayenne in a 1:1 ratio to substitute Thai chilies.
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