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The Best Substitutes For Calabrian Chili

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

If you’ve run out of Calabrian chilis or can’t find them in the supermarket, knowing what you can use as a substitute is helpful.

The best replacement is Calabrian chili paste.

However, if neither can be found or chili paste doesn’t fit the recipe, Red chili flakes, Serrano Pepper, and Anaheim Pepper are some other Calabrian chili substitutes you can try.

I’ll look at these replacements in more detail below.

Calabrian Chili Taste And Flavor Profile

Calabrian Chili
Calabrian Chili

The Calabrian chili is a small chili pepper with a spicy but slightly salty and smoky taste. It is a deep, rich red color, and it is native to Calabria, Italy.

Sometimes called peperoncino, the Calabrian chili comes in hot on the Scoville Heat Scale, measuring between 25,000 and 40,000 heat units.

The pepper is so prevalent in its native region that a festival is held annually in its honor.

The peperoncino is often prepared dried or pickled and submerged in olive oil. It is a sought-after pepper, and for good reason.

However, as they only come from a particular region in Italy, they can sometimes be scarce in other parts of the world, so knowing what you can use instead is helpful.

1. Red Chili Flakes

Red Chili Flakes as calabrian chili substitute
Red Chili Flakes

One recommendation you will see when looking for substitutes is red chili flakes or crushed red pepper, as it’s sometimes called.

This is because of their similar flavor. Calabrian chilis are often used to add saltiness, spiciness, and juiciness to a dish.

Since they’re dried, chili flakes lack juiciness, but their salty and spicy flavor is reminiscent of the Calabrian chili.

Chili flakes are bits of dried and crushed chili that often come in a shaker. They’re pretty widely available; you can almost always find them at your local grocery store, another factor that puts them at the top of the list for chili substitutes.

Generally, you can use chili flakes directly in place of Calabrian chilis, and you can even customize the heat you desire from them.

I’d recommend you add a little after cooking to bring a slight heat to your dish or add a heaping bunch directly into whatever you’re cooking if you want an extra kick.

2. Serrano Pepper

Serrano Pepper as substitute for calabrian chili
Serrano Pepper

Another good substitute for Calabrian chilis is the serrano pepper.

Originating from Mexico, the serrano pepper is considered a medium-heat pepper, and the Calabrian chili is as well, making them excellent substitutes.

The serrano pepper could easily be mistaken for a jalapeno pepper, as both are a similar size and color, but their shape does differ. Serrano peppers are also just as easy to find as jalapenos.

I find that, because serrano peppers are similar in flavor to the Calabrian chili, you don’t have to try adding extra as a substitute.

You can work with the same amount of serrano peppers and still achieve an optimal flavor.

However, it’s important to note that serrano peppers don’t dry as well as Calabrian peppers, so they’re best used in salsas, relishes, or garnishes.

3. Anaheim Pepper

Anaheim Pepper
Anaheim Pepper

Third on our list of chili substitutes is the Anaheim pepper.

Anaheim peppers originate from New Mexico and are relatively easy to find. They are named because they were brought to Anaheim, California, in the early 1900s and gained popularity there.

Anaheim peppers are a decent substitute for the Calabrian chili, although they don’t pack as much heat.

They are considered a mild pepper and rank between 500 and 2500 heat units on the Scoville Heat Scale.

For this reason, unless you’re going for a milder flavor, you may want to consider adding in more Anaheim peppers when substituting them for Calabrian chilis.

Their texture is similar, but I’d recommend adding more Anaheim peppers to capture the essence of Calabrian chilis.

You can use the Anaheim pepper when it turns red, although many people use it when green.

4. Habanero Pepper

Habanero Pepper as calabrian chili substitute
Habanero Pepper

Not only is the habanero pretty readily available but it is also considered the spiciest pepper in the Chilean pepper family, ranking between 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale.

Although habanero is a bit spicier than Calabrian chili, it can still be used as a good substitute.

Both the habanero pepper and Calabrian chili contain a chemical called capsaicin, which triggers the “burning” sensation you get in your mouth upon consuming them.

Despite its spicier flavor, the habanero pepper can work well as a substitute for the Calabrian chili. Just be sure to use a bit less habanero when substituting it.

5. Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce
Hot Sauce

The final suggested substitute for the Calabrian chili would also work well as a substitute for Calabrian chili paste.

Hot sauce is a versatile yet spicy ingredient that could be used in place of any type of Calabrian chili.

There are many different types of hot sauce with varying intensity levels. For that reason, it’s easy to find one that matches the flavor and spice level of Calabrian chili or Calabrian chili paste.

Depending on the type of dish you’re making, you can also customize your use of it a bit more to suit more palates.

The primary issue with substituting this ingredient for Calabrian chili is that it has a different texture; obviously, it’s more liquidy, unlike a solid pepper, so it can change the texture of your dish.

It makes a better substitute for Calabrian chili paste instead, although you can make your hot sauce thicker by adding some paprika to it.


Calabrian chili is a great ingredient for many dishes, but if it becomes difficult to source, there are substitutes that can be just as good or deliver even more flavor.

It may take a bit of trial and error to get those spice levels just right, but with some practice, you can quickly and easily sub out ingredients for Calabrian peppers when your stock runs low.

If you can’t find the actual peppers, be sure to also try looking for Calabrian chili paste. This ingredient can also work and deliver the punch your dish might want.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is another name for Calabrian chilis?

Another name for Calabrian chilis is “peperoncino Calabrese.”

What does Calabrian chili taste like?

Calabrian chili has a bright, fruity flavor, moderate to hot spiciness, and a slightly smoky undertone.

What can I use instead of Calabrian chili?

Instead of Calabrian chili, you can use red pepper flakes, Anaheim pepper, or Habanero.

Is harissa similar to Calabrian chili?

Harissa is somewhat similar to Calabrian chili in terms of spiciness, but it has a more complex flavor with additional spices and herbs, making it less fruity.

Are Calabrian chiles spicy?

Yes, Calabrian chiles are spicy. They offer a moderate to hot level of heat, depending on the specific variety and preparation, with a flavorful balance of fruitiness and smokiness.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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