What Do I Get When My Recipe Calls for Red Chiles?

(Last Updated On: February 12, 2016)

Fresno Peppers

Recipes. We love them yet often we hate them. Especially when we get that one recipe that calls for an ingredient that is so vague it drives us into a tizzy. It’s hard to read the mind of a recipe writer. In one of those “if I had a dollar for every time” situations, you wouldn’t believe how many times I have been asked what to get when a recipe calls for red chiles. In most of this country trying to find a red chile can be a task. Unless you leave in an area that catering more to Mexican food and cuisine, you may be in for hunt. I hope this post will guide you in this hunt.

What Do I Get When My Recipe Calls for Red Chiles?
Most importantly I want to say is that you really can use whatever you want. The level of heat that people like can vary a lot. Some people like using the ridiculous hot Ghost pepper and some people think a Jalapeno is too much and bell is the only pepper for them. Choose whatever you are most comfortable with. It’s your dish, don’t be afraid to own it.

That being said if you really want to replicate what the recipes calls for, then there are a few options that I would look for. The key thing to understand that in general red peppers are sweeter. They have spend longer time on the plant and have matured from green to red. Jalapenos are general picked green, but if you leave them on long enough they will turn red and be sweeter. Think about the difference in flavor between green and red or orange bell peppers.

Fresno Peppers
When I think of red chile peppers, the Fresno is the first one I think of. This pepper named after the city in California looks similar to a Jalapeno, but has a thinner skin. The heat level on the Scoville scale which measures the heat of a pepper ranges from 2,500–10,000 for the Fresno. Jalapenos can range from 1,000-20,000. The mildest Fresno is hotter than the mildest Jalapeno. The Jalapeno has a greater potential to be hotter though. You can’t be sure quite what you are going to get at the grocery until you take them home. But I can say they are close enough in heat to use them interchangeable. The Fresno will be sweeter in taste.

Red Chile Peppers
Sometimes you can actually find peppers labeled as red chile peppers. Don’t know for sure how hot the pepper will be since its not really giving you the variety. Most of the time when I have seen peppers labeled this way, they have some heat without being super hot, unless we are talking about the tiny Thai chile. Sometimes you can find red Thai chiles and they will be really hot up to 225,000 on the Scoville scale.

Dried Chiptole Chiles

Red Jalapenos/Chiptole Peppers
If you can find a red jalapeno that should work in a recipe calling for a red chile. Fresh red jalapenos are a rare find, usually only at farmer’s market, or occasionally I have seen them at Whole Foods Market in the summer time. Most red jalapenos are smoked and dried. At this point they are called chipotle peppers. If you find them, you can re-hydrate them and use them as your red chile, especially if your recipe would benefit from some smoky flavor (most recipes would!). I have also seen dried red Thai chiles if you want something with more bite.

I hope that helps you decide what to do when your recipe calls for red chiles. Leave a comment below and let me know what you have picked and where you got your red chiles. Remember there is really no wrong choice. Your making the recipe, feel the freedom to make it as you please.