Calabrian chili is a staple of Italian cooking and a truly unique spicy pepper. It comes from the Calabria region of southern Italy, and can often be found jarred in oil, pickled or dried. It has a wonderfully unique spicy, fruity and taste that doesn’t overpower dishes. The Calabrian chili pepper is a rusty red and small pepper that grows on vines. It’s considered a medium heat pepper, having 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville Scale. When searching for a Calabrian chili substitute, it’s important to select a pepper with a similar heat level and flavor profile.
Since they are mainly only grown commercially in Italy, it can be difficult or downright impossible to source in the United States or elsewhere. These Calabrian chili substitute choices below are all much easier to locate in stores and all replicate some of the essential aspects of the very special Calabrian chili pepper.
Anaheim chili peppers originate from New Mexico, and are much easier to find in stores in the United States than Calabrian chili. They are much milder than Calabrian chili so you may need to use more to get the same heat as the Calabrian chili. Anaheim chiles are sometimes known as New Mexico Chilis or Hatch Chili Peppers. They are very versatile and can be found in a variety of forms, such as jarred and pickled. Anaheim chiles are named after the city of Anaheim, California after they were brought there from New Mexico.
Serrano peppers hail from Mexico and are often confused for Jalapeños, but they are smaller on average. The Serrano pepper is a medium heat pepper, just like Calabrian chili, which makes them a great substitute. They have an earthy, spicy flavor and taste especially great roasted. These peppers are usually fairly easy to find fresh, but they don’t dry well. Serrano peppers are spicier than jalapeños but not as hot as Calabrian chili, so adjust your recipe accordingly.
Fresno peppers are another pepper that is often mistaken as Jalapeños, but they are hotter. The red Fresno peppers are hotter than the green. Fresno peppers are a great substitute for Calabrian chili, because the red ones have the same fruity taste that Calabrian chilis have.
Poblano peppers are another Mexican pepper with a mild heat level. When Poblanos are red they can be hotter than the green variety. They are very fleshy and versatile and can easily be found in stores, either fresh or dried. When they are dried, they are called Ancho peppers. Keep in mind that they are significantly less spicy than Calabrian chilis, so you will need quite a bit more in your recipe to get the right heat level.
Finally, plain old crushed red pepper flakes can substitute Calabrian Chili in a pinch. They are by far the easiest on this list to find, as they are in every grocery store and even convenience stores. Though they may not bring the sweetness or freshness that Calabrian chili brings to a recipe, they will bring the heat and spice factor. You can customize very easily the amount of heat you want, and can add more after cooking. Make a chili oil yourself by heating an oil of your choice with red pepper flakes and allowing the pepper flakes to infuse into the oil. Red pepper flakes may not have the unique wow-factor that Calabrian chili does, but it will surely satisfy in a pinch.