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8 Bird’s Eye Chili Substitute Options

What is a Bird’s Eye Chili?

Bird’s eye chili, also known as Thai chili, is a pepper variety native to Mexico but enjoys widespread use in many dishes around the world, including Southeast Asian cuisine.

You’ll find them to be a common ingredient in spicy foods throughout Southeast Asia including Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.

This small chili pepper gets its creative name from its unique shape, which is said to resemble a bird’s eye.

Bird’s Eye Chili Substitute Photo

The plant also relies on birds to spread its seeds in the wild, typically through feces. (That’s nature, folks!)

Unlike mammals, birds do not taste spice, so they tend to eat a larger amount.

These peppers are typically red or green and range in heat from milder to extremely hot.

The potent peppers are available dried, raw, or cooked.

Their flavor profile is fruity and peppery, and the intense heat they add to a dish even in small amounts will bring a drastic change.

Bird’s eye chili peppers are reported to be 10 to 20 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper as measured in Scoville heat units, but it isn’t as hot as a habanero.

Spanish and Portuguese traders are responsible for the introduction of this pepper to Asian cultures hundreds of years ago, helping to replace long pepper and black pepper in traditional recipes.

This impactful trade revolutionized a wide range of Asian diets and has shaped the flavor of Thai food into what we know it as today.

Hot Pepper Sauce Photo

Bird’s Eye Chili Substitutes

Are you eager to make a delicious dish that calls for Thai chilies but find yourself without the option to include them?

Whether due to scarcity, lack of availability at your local grocery store, or just zero desire to run to a store, you may be seeking to replace this pepper in a recipe.

Good news — there are several great Thai chili substitutes you can turn to, some that offer real heat and others that are more mild but offer bright flavor, depending on your needs.

All of our suggestions include a ratio to provide an equal substitute, so use less if you prefer less spice and more if you prefer more spice.

Serrano Pepper

Use an equal amount as a substitute.

This is a moderately hot pepper and has a crisp, vibrant flavor.

This fruitier flavor can enhance a dish in a brighter way. Serrano peppers are more widely available, so they are a great substitute.

Cayenne Pepper

Use an equal amount as a substitute.

This is a hot and pungent pepper that is colorful with its bright red hue.

It is less spicy than bird’s eye, but still an excellent choice for people looking for a lot of heat.

This pepper is a great addition to sweeter dishes than a bird’s eye pepper, and is great in chili.

Quick Texas Chili Image

Habanero Pepper

Use half the amount as a substitute.

Famously hot, this punchy pepper is exciting and fiery in its presentation.

Through its extreme heat, you will still catch floral and fruity notes. This makes for a well-rounded flavor to enjoy.

Scotch Bonnet

Use half the amount as a substitute.

Intensely hot, the scotch bonnet pepper is also sweet and fruity, but not for the faint of heart (or tastebud).

Also known as the Bonney Pepper, this has become a substitute in parts of the world where bird’s eye chilis are scarce.

However, the spice ratio is off, so using less of this pepper than you would a bird’s eye chili is a wise move.

A little goes a long way — taste test before feeling tempted to add more.

Scotch Bonnet Photo

Jalapeño Pepper

Use twice the amount as a substitute This spicy little popular pepper has been made famous in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.

Often chopped or sliced to add to salsa, guacamole, or chili, these peppers are convenient as they are frequently pickled or canned.

This means they last longer, are widely available, and are produced in mass amounts which reduces cost.

Jalapeño Infused Tequila Photo

Chile De Arbol

Use an equal amount, but consider adding chili flakes.

This pepper is a good substitute if you want to add some flavor but get rid of a lot of the heat.

You can use it without the addition of chili flakes to keep it mild, or add some to bring in the spice.

African Bird’s Eye Chilis

Use an equal amount.

These peppers popularly used in dishes like piri piri chicken grow wild and are commercially cultivated in various parts of the African continent.

But they descend from the same bird’s eye chili from the Americas and common in many Asian dishes.

So if you can’t find Thai chili at the Asian markets in your community but stumble on African bird’s eye chiles at an African grocer or specialty store, you’re in luck!

These make the best substitutes because, well, they’re essentially the same thing.

Chili Powder or Chili Flakes

Use an equal amount as a substitute.

Chili powder, or chili flakes, are an extremely common spice rack ingredient that many people have on hand already.

This makes it a convenient replacement for people who are trying last minute recipes or who want to save money or make sure they use up all their ingredients.

While it is more toward the medium heat level, start with a 1:1 ratio. You can always add more.Same goes for red pepper flakes.

This is commonly used to bring some extra spice to recipes like vegetarian chili.

Jambalaya Spices Photo

Things to Remember When Substituting Peppers

Adjust your replacement based on flavor profiles.

Some peppers are savory and others are sweet — still others are both!

Using the right flavor profile pepper will compliment your ingredients for the best flavor in your dish.

If the flavors clash, you may find you want to scrap the whole meal, which would be an unfortunate waste of time and money.

Think about how much heat you want. You can add more, but you can’t (easily) take it away.

Rather than doubling up a recipe to halve the heat, start with a small amount first and add more as needed to adjust your spice level.

Tips for Using Peppers in Recipes

Use gloves when preparing hot peppers.

You can burn your skin, or accidentally transfer the oils onto more sensitive parts of your body or onto others for hours.

It can be hard to rinse the oils off, especially once they are introduced to mucous membranes such as the eye.

Remember that heat builds with each bite, so if your initial bite is too hot, that’s an indication that it will progress quickly as you eat.

Hot peppers generally get hotter the riper they get.

A color change from green, to orange, to red or purple indicates that the pepper is ripening and the heat is leveling up.

Use your pepper at the proper time to get the right amount of heat.

Peppers can be stored in the fridge for 2 weeks or less. Throw away any peppers with mold or signs of spoilage.

Peppers cannot be frozen without breaking down their thin skin, so it is recommended to dry or pickle peppers for long term storage.

Chori Pollo Picture

Other Things to Try

If you’re a fan of spicy food, you may also want to try our spicy seasoning rub or this scotch bonnet-based hot pepper sauce.

You may also like this spicy ginger chicken stir fry.

Or if you need to save time, find a relatively shelf-stable product like Huy Fong’s sambal oelek chili paste (it’s one of our favorites, and it’s from the makers of the Sriracha you love).

Love Thai food?

You could start with this mango avocado salad and pair it with noodle dishes like our Thai peanut noodles with spiralized vegetables or Thai red curry chicken.

Sriracha Photo