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11 Calabrian Chili Substitutes To Add Twist To Unique Flavor

Ever had those moments where you’re whipping some tasty Italian dish, and you find out that Calabrian chilis are a required ingredient, but you don’t have them on hand?

Trust us, we’ve been there before, and we totally get it; these Italian chilis are not always easy to get or hands-on, or sometimes you just run out of them at the last minute.

Which is why we’ve put together the best Calabrian chili substitutes to save the day whenever you can’t get your hands on the real thing.

What Is Calabrian Chili?

Calabrian chilis are a type of chili pepper that get their name from the Calabria region of Italy, where they are grown.

These chili peppers are essentially in the same capsicum annuum species as most chili peppers, but they differ from other varieties in their unique taste and flavor. 

They have a smoky, sweet, and slightly fruity taste. They impart a medium spiciness to dishes that is just enough to add a tingle to the palate without being too overwhelming.

The degree of hotness typically varies among different varieties of Calabrian chili, but they are typically within the 25000 to 40000 range on the Scoville scale.

Calabrian chilis can be used fresh or dry but they are also commonly sold in packed jars combined with oil or vinegar. These Italian chiles are very versatile and are often used in a wide variety of dishes.

They can be added to anything from pasta to meats and eggs or even ground into a paste to make spreads and sauces.

Aside from being tasty and working well with many dishes, these chilis are filled with nutrients. They are rich in potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and B6.

Calabrian chilis are usually fairly easy to find and are sold at most grocery stores in prepacked jars. The fresh ones are also commonly sold but can be quite expensive.

However, sometimes Calabrian chilis can be very hard to find, so it’s good to have some substitutes ready to go whenever you need them. Now, let’s get into the best replacements.

Nutrition Table

Serrano pepper2
Fresno chili20
Poblano pepper281
Chili flakes314
Anaheim pepper130
Calabrian chili paste25
Habanero pepper18
Harrisa pasta261
Samal oelek21
Cayenne pepper318
Hot sauce11

1. Calabrian Chili Paste

Whenever you can’t find whole Calabrian chili, the next best thing is undoubtedly Calabrian chili paste. This is a paste made from ground Calabrian chilis.

They have exactly the same flavor as the fresh chilis since they are made from the same thing.

You can easily find this paste sold in jars at most grocery stores, and you can use it in pretty much the same dishes you would use fresh Calabrian chili. 

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing Calabrian chili paste with Calabrian chili. 

2. Fresno Chili

Fresno chili is a chili variety from the same capsicum family to which Calabrian chilis belong.

They are typically confused for jalapenos peppers because the two have a similar curved shape and color, but Fresno chilis are much spicier and turn into a bright red color when mature. 

They impart a mild level of heat to dishes and have a fruity and somewhat smoky flavor, making them a great substitute for Calabrian chili.

It can be easy to confuse Fresno chili with jalapeno when shopping for them. However, here is a video to give you a more detailed description of them, so you don’t mix up the two

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting Calabrian chili with Fresno chili.

3. Poblano Pepper

Poblano peppers are another great replacement for Calabrian chilis. They are a mild chili variety that originates from Mexico. They are typically large and heart-shaped and are commonly stuffed and roasted. 

However, they can be used in just about any recipe that calls for Calabrian chilis. Their sweet and earthy flavor mimics the taste of Calabrian chilis really well.

Poblanos are very mild on the heat scale, ranging from 1000 to 1,500 on the Scoville scale. So, if you want them to have the same level of spiciness Calabrian chilis deliver, you’ll need to use a lot more than required.

How To Substitute

Use double the 2:1 ratio when replacing Calabrian chili with poblanos peppers.

4. Red Chili Flakes

Red chili flakes are another great substitute for Calabrian chili. They are made from dried and crushed chili peppers, so they tend to have a similar flavor profile to that of Calabrian chilis.  

They are earthy, a little salty, and impart a mild kick of spiciness to dishes. They are also the most easily accessible option, as you can readily find them at your local grocery store.

So, depending on the dish, you can add a little bit more to get your desired heat level. Just make sure to taste the dish while adding the chili flakes to avoid going overboard.

How To Substitute

You can typically substitute Calabrian chilis with red chili flakes at a 1:1 ratio. However, since they are dried, red chili flakes might not have the same desired level of spiciness you’ll typically get from Calabrian chilis.

5. Serrano Peppers

Serrano peppers are a type of chili pepper that originated in Mexico. They are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, and anyone who is a fan of Mexican food is likely familiar with them. 

They often come in different sizes and colors, ranging from green to bright red.

The most commonly available ones are the green variety which is why they are commonly mistaken for jalapeno peppers, as they both look similar. However, serrano peppers are spicier. 

They have a fresh and somewhat fiery spicy taste. However, the level of hotness is medium and similar to that of Calabrian chilis, making them a great substitute.

Just like Calabrian chilis, you can use serranos in just about any dish. Add them to sauces, dips, and pasta, or even eat them raw in a sandwich.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when replacing Calabrian chili with serrano peppers.

RELATED: 7 Substitutes That You’ll Love To Try If You Don’t Have Sport Peppers

6. Anaheim Peppers

Anaheim peppers are another type of pepper that originated from Mexico. They are often used in Mexican and southwestern dishes and are from the same Capsicum family to which Calabrian chilis belong. 

They are quite mild compared to Calabrian chilis, but they have a slightly sweet and fruity flavor that makes them a great substitute.

Their mild taste makes them a great option for anyone who isn’t a big fan of spicy food but still wants a subtle kick of hotness. 

However, if a mild flavor is what you’re going for, then feel free to use a 1:1 ratio.

How To Substitute

Anaheim peppers have a milder heat level than Calabrian chili, so you’ll need to use double the amount of Calabrian chilis required when substituting to replicate the same spicy flavor.

7. Habanero Pepper

Habanero peppers are a hot variety of chili peppers. They are much hotter in comparison to Calabrian chilis and are typically within the 100,00 to 350,000 range on the Scoville hotness scale. 

However, they have a subtle sweet and smoky taste, making them a great substitute for Calabrian chilis.

 A good rule of thumb is to use half a teaspoon of habaneros for each tablespoon of Calabrian chilis required.

How To Substitute

You’ll need to use a considerably less amount of habanero peppers when substituting them for Calabrian chilis as they are spicier.

8. Harissa Paste

Harissa paste is a hot chili paste commonly used in North African countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. It is another great substitute for Calabrian chilis, made from a blend of red chilis, oil, garlic, and spices. 

Harissa has a smoky and mildly spicy taste that imparts a medium heat into dishes without overpowering all the other flavors.  It is a great substitute to use for sauces, pasta, or even sandwiches.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when placing Calabrian chili with harissa. However, harissa contains a blend of multiple spices. So, you may want to slightly reduce the quantity of spices you add to your dish to avoid overwhelming it with too many spices. 

9. Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is another great substitute for Calabrian chili. It is an Indonesian chili paste that is commonly used in Thai and Malaysian cuisines. 

This paste offers mild spiciness and a robust flavor as it is made from a mixture of different chili peppers, ginger, garlic, and other ingredients. It is also very easy to find as most grocery stores have it stocked in the Asian food section.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 Ratio when replacing Calabrian chilis with sambal oelek.

RELATED: 13 Hot And Sweet Substitutes For Poblano Pepper

10. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a type of hot chili and another great Calabrian chili substitute. It has a fiery hot taste that imparts a great flavor into different dishes, but just like Calabrian chili, it is not so hot that it overwhelms the palate. 

It is also a nutrient-rich pepper with high amounts of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene. Cayenne pepper is commonly sold in its grounded form, but you can also get the fresh peppers for a more intense flavor.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting Calabrian chili with cayenne pepper.

11. Hot Sauce

Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures, and if you’re in a bind and can’t get your hands on any of the other options we have listed, then hot sauce is a great last-minute substitute. 

 It is very versatile and typically made from chili peppers, so it will add a similar spicy taste to your dish. There are many different hot sauces with varying levels of spiciness, so you can use whichever one suits your preference.

How To Substitute

Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting. However, keep in mind that hot sauce is a liquid, so it may slightly change the texture and consistency of certain dishes.

Frequently Asked Question

Is Calabrian Chili Hotter Than Jalapeno Pepper?

Calabrian chilis are quite hot and have Scoville units of 25,000 to 40,000. So they are considerably hotter than jalapeno peppers that fall between the 20,000 to 8,000 range.

What Does Calabrian Chili Taste Like?

Calabrian chilis have a smoky and sweet taste layered with a touch of fruitiness. They have a medium-hot heat level, imparting a mild spiciness to dishes without overpowering them.

Do Calabrian Chilis Need To Be Refrigerated

Fresh Calabrian chili typically needs to be refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. However, they are often sold in jars packed with oil and vinegar. 

Those store-bought jars of Calabrian chili can last for months outside the fridge when sealed. However, you’ll need to refrigerate them once they are open to ensure they last long.

Can I Use Sambal Oelek Instead Of Calabrian Chili?

Sambal oelek has a mild heat flavor from the hot chili peppers used in making it, so you can use it in place of Calabrian chili as it mimics the spicy taste well.

Are Calabrian Chili Peppers Good For You?

Calabrian chili peppers are very nutritional and good for you. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and B6 and also contain high levels of magnesium, iron, and potassium.

What Does Calabrian Chili Taste Like?

Calabrian chili has a smoky and fruity flavor with a warm spicy taste. However, the heat level is medium, so it is not so hot that it overwhelms the palate.

How Long Does Calabrian Chili Last?

Calabrian chili preserved in oil and sold in jars can last for several months as long as they are stored in the fridge. However, the fresh ones, which are much harder to find, will typically last about a week.

Calabrian Chili Substitutes- 11 Best Alternatives To Use In Any Dish

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Calabrian chili substitutes are a great alternative and these spices are often used in Italian cooking, such as pizza and spaghetti.


  • Serrano pepper

  • Fresno chili

  • Poblano pepper

  • Chili flakes

  • Anaheim pepper

  • Calabrian chili paste

  • Habanero pepper

  • Harrisa pasta

  • Samal oelek

  • Cayenne pepper

  • Hot sauce


  • Pick any substitute you prefer from the lists above.
  • Follow the recipe instructions for your preferred substitute and use the proper ratio required while cooking.

Recipe Video

Jess Smith