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Best Substitutes for Calabrian Chili

Lisa Price
Last Updated on
by Lisa Price

The first thing you should consider trying to find if you can’t find Calabrian chilis is Calabrian chili paste.

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

What is Calabrian Chili Made Of?

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. They are sought-after peppers and for good reason. But because they only come from a particular region in Italy, they can sometimes be scarce in other parts of the world.

1. Red Chili Flakes

Red Chili Flakes as calabrian chili substitute
Red Chili Flakes

One constant 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 the similarity of their flavor. Calabrian chilis are often used to bring 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. 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. The Calabrian chili is as well, so this makes 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.

Because of their similarity in flavor to the Calabrian chili, you don’t have to try and add in 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 do, 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 for the fact that 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 you will need more Anaheim peppers to capture the essence of Calabrian chilis. You can use the Anaheim pepper when it turns red, although many people choose to use them when they’re green.

4. Habanero Pepper

Habanero Pepper as calabrian chili substitute
Habanero Pepper

Most people have heard of the habanero pepper before, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is it pretty readily available, but it is considered the spiciest pepper in the Chilean pepper family, ranking at between 100,000 and 350,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale.

Habanero is a bit spicier than the Calabrian chili, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t 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 having a 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 subbing it in.

5. Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce
Hot Sauce

The final suggested substitute for the Calabrian chili would also work well as a Calabrian chili paste substitute. 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 levels of intensity. For that reason, it’s easy to find one that matches the Calabrian chili or Calabrian chili paste in flavor and spice level. You can also customize your use of it a bit more to suit more palates, depending on the type of dish you’re making.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’ve learned about some good substitutes, here are popular questions other people have asked about the topic.

Why replace Calabrian chili?

There are two reasons you may want to find a chili substitute. The first reason is availability; if there isn’t any Calabrian chili close by, you’ll need something else to use instead.

The other reason is taste. Calabrian chilis aren’t the spiciest pepper by any means, but they do have some intensity that may not agree with some palettes. If you’re cooking for someone who can’t take the heat, you may need a stand-in ingredient.

What is the best substitute overall for Calabrian chilis?

“Best” is dependent on what it is you’re making and who is consuming it. But in terms of flavor, the most similar to Calabrian chilis would have to be chili flakes. Despite being dry, they have a very similar spice and can be used in many different ways. They are also fairly easy to come across.

How are Calabrian chilis most often used?

Calabrian chilis are good when used both raw and cooked in some manner, usually roasting, baking, or sautéing. They are often used in sauces, salsas, and marinades to add flavor and heat. They can also be dried and crushed or preserved in oil, and the oil itself can be used for cooking, as well. They are a fairly versatile pepper with plenty of culinary applications.

How can I prepare Calabrian chilis if I get them raw?

If you can get Calabrian chilis — either at your local grocery store or farmer’s market — you can prepare them for use yourself. They can be used raw, but they are often used dried.

Select a group of deep red chilis, then use a clothespin or some sort of hanging mechanism to hang the Calabrian chilis out to dry.

It will take a few days, so be sure to check them every once in a while and cull through those that aren’t drying out. Also, be sure to wear gloves and some sort of eye protection when working with raw or dried chilis, as you don’t want to accidentally burn your eyes.


The Calabrian chili is a great ingredient for many dishes, and it can add a lot to a dish if you can use it. But if it becomes difficult to source, there are Calabrian chili substitutes out there 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.

Be sure to also try looking for Calabrian chili paste if you can’t find the actual peppers. This ingredient can work just as well and deliver the punch your dish might be looking for.

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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