Fresno Pepper Substitutes: Top Picks for a Similar Spice and Flavor

Fresno Peppers are a chili pepper from New Mexico, US. They are often confused for jalapeños but have a smokier, more robust flavor when mature. With around 2,500-10,000 SHU (Scoville heat units), it’s a mild-medium spice chili. If you need a Fresno pepper substitute, then read on to learn the best alternatives for any situation.

What Are Fresno Peppers?

Fresno peppers are a type of chili pepper first cultivated in New Mexico in 1952 by Clarence Brown Hamlin, who confusingly named the pepper after the City of Fresno, California.

Green Fresno peppers have a bright, grassy taste that’s considered to be similar to a jalapeño, but as they mature and get red, they start to taste fruitier and smokier overall.

When fully matured, Fresno peppers appear a vivid red and reach their maximum spice point on the upper end of the scale of 2,500-10,000 SHU. Before maturation, they appear green before turning orange and then red. Like a lot of chilis, the Fresno pepper has a conical shape. They are around 2 inches long with a diameter of around 1 inch in total.

You can use Fresno peppers for salsas, hot sauces, ceviche, rice dishes, bean dishes, and more. They have thick walls, which makes them less ideal for certain dishes, but it can make them an ideal candidate for pickling and, in some situations, stuffing.

Substitutes For Fresno Peppers

There is a handful of excellent substitutions for Fresno peppers that you might want to look at before experimenting with something else that might be less than ideal.

SubstituteTasteScoville heat units (SHU)
Jalapeño PepperBright, Grassy, Bitter2,500 – 8,000
Serrano PepperBright, Grassy10,000 – 23,000
Chipotle Chili PepperSmoky, Earthy2,500 – 8,000
Red Pepper FlakesBright, Smoky, Sweet30,000 – 50,000
Anaheim PepperFruity, Sweet500-2,500

1. Jalapeño Pepper


Jalapeños are often available at any grocery store, which is a plus in almost any situation. However, these two chilies are so alike that they often get mistaken for one another.

Like the Fresno pepper, the jalapeño has a conical shape and thick exterior walls that give it a crunchy bite. They also have a similar heat, with jalapeño peppers having a median SHU rating of 5,250 and Fresno peppers getting a median rating of 6,250.

What makes the jalapeño a great substitute for the Fresno pepper is actually how they are both used in almost all the same dishes. While the flavor isn’t the same, jalapeños are typically grassy and bright, whereas Fresno peppers are sweet, fruity, and smoky – they still work for one another surprisingly well.

The biggest difference between the two comes from the aging process, as most jalapeños are sold when less mature and still a green color in appearance, but the Fresno pepper is best used when mature and reddened. This explains some flavor differences, so you can always use a more mature jalapeño to increase the heat and sweetness, as more mature jalapeños are typically sweeter than their less mature counterparts.

2. Serrano Pepper

Serrano Peppers are the alternative for heat lovers as these spicy chili peppers pack more of a punch with a median SHU rating of 16,500.

As chili peppers get hotter, they tend to have a less noticeable taste. Still, the serrano pepper tastes similar to a jalapeño, which means that the flavor differences aren’t big enough of a concern for you not to consider it a suitable replacement for Fresno peppers.

When they age and mature to a red color, they have more of an earthy smokiness to them which could make a positive difference in some dishes.

Like the Fresno pepper, they age from green to red, but it does have a more elongated shape versus a conical one. They’re typically around 2-4 inches long with a more noticeable curve. They have thinner walls and a smaller overall diameter, so they’re unsuitable for some substitution uses.

Serrano peppers are Mexican chili peppers, which does make them less available than some of the other options on this list. However, give them a go if you can find them and want to spice things up a little.

3. Chipotle Chili Pepper

Chipotle peppers are, in fact, dried jalapeño peppers. However, you should know that they have different flavor profiles, and the obvious difference in texture can affect what recipes you can actually use them in.

You can use chipotle peppers as a substitute for the Fresno pepper for hot sauces and salsas. Still, you usually want only to use the flakes to add heat and flavor instead of the sometimes rough and chewy texture of the dried outer walls of a chipotle.

In terms of heat and flavor, the chipotle pepper is similar to our top alternative, and Fresno peppers themselves is that it has a median heat of 6,250 SHU. They also have a famous smokiness that makes them more similar to Fresno peppers than many alternatives you might consider.

4. Red Pepper Flakes

As another option, you might want to consider red pepper flakes. While they have an insane SHU rating, the reality is that you’ll not be using enough of these to leave your tongue feeling like it’s on fire.

What makes red pepper flakes a great idea in many dishes is that they have both an inherent smokiness and sweetness to them. That’s because, in most cases, they’re made from cayenne pepper, which gives them the smoky taste, but unlike cayenne pepper powder, they’re not as concentrated, so you get a lot of the natural sweetness from the pepper too.

They work best for adding a heat source to sauces and other dishes where you can allow them to blend with the rest of the dish.

Red Pepper Flakes are also called Crushed Red Pepper so keep that in mind when looking in the spice rack at home or in the spice aisle at the grocery store.

5. Anaheim Pepper

Another excellent option you might want to consider is Anaheim peppers. These large peppers have a mild heat level with a SHU rating of 500-2,500. However, they’re versatile and have a similar flavor profile to Fresno peppers.

The Anaheim pepper is most often sold unmatured (green) but can also be found matured (red). As they mature, this pepper’s sweet, fruity flavor only intensifies.

Growing up to 5 inches long with a curved body and agreeable texture for eating raw, you can use the Anaheim pepper instead of a Fresno chili in stuffed pepper recipes, salsas, relishes, and salads.


So there you have it, a handful of peppers that you can use as a Fresno chili pepper substitute in almost any situation. Whether you need something similar in terms of texture and heat, like the versatile jalapeño, or something with more heat like the serrano pepper, any one of the above options will work for you in a pinch.

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