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Hawaiian chili peppers like habanero and Hawaiian red add a unique fruity heat to dishes. If you don’t have those specific chiles on hand, don’t worry – you can still replicate that flavor profile. Here’s a quick answer: Good substitutes include other tropical peppers like Scotch bonnet, as well as spicy-sweet alternatives like guajillo, puya, and cherry bombs.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about substituting for Hawaiian chili peppers. You’ll learn about the flavor and heat profiles of habanero, Hawaiian red, and similar chiles. We’ll also provide an extensive list of recommended substitutes, from other hot peppers to sweet-spicy alternatives. You’ll even get tips on adjusting spice levels and replicating the signature fruitiness. Let’s dive in!

Understanding Hawaiian Chili Peppers

Hawaiian chili peppers, also known as Hawaiian chiles, are a popular ingredient in many Hawaiian dishes. These small peppers pack a punch of flavor and heat, adding a unique and spicy kick to any recipe. Understanding the characteristics and heat level of Hawaiian chili peppers is essential when looking for suitable substitutes.

The Unique Flavor of Habanero and Hawaiian Red Peppers

Hawaiian chili peppers are often compared to habanero peppers due to their similar heat level and fruity flavor profile. Both peppers have a Scoville heat rating that ranges from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The intense heat of these peppers is balanced by their fruity and slightly sweet taste, making them a favorite among spice lovers.

If you’re unable to find Hawaiian chili peppers, habanero peppers can be an excellent substitute. They share the same level of heat and flavor characteristics, making them a suitable alternative in recipes that call for Hawaiian chili peppers.

Another viable substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers is the Hawaiian red pepper. This pepper is a local variety that is slightly less spicy than the chili peppers but still provides a similar flavor profile. It offers a milder heat level, ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, making it a great choice for those who prefer a less intense spiciness.

Scoville Heat Units: How Spicy are Hawaiian Chiles?

The Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale is used to measure the spiciness or heat level of chili peppers. Hawaiian chili peppers, similar to habanero peppers, have a high heat rating that ranges from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. This places them in the upper range of the spiciness scale, making them significantly hotter than jalapenos but not as fiery as the Carolina Reaper or Ghost Pepper.

It’s important to note that the heat level can vary depending on factors such as growing conditions and the pepper’s maturity. So, it’s always a good idea to taste a small piece of the pepper before using it in your recipe to determine the desired amount of spiciness.

For more information on Hawaiian chili peppers and other chili varieties, you can visit They provide detailed information on the heat level, flavor profile, and uses of various chili peppers.

Best Substitute: Other Tropical Peppers

Scotch Bonnet

When it comes to finding a suitable substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers, one of the best options is the Scotch Bonnet pepper. This fiery pepper hails from the Caribbean and is known for its intense heat and fruity flavor. The Scotch Bonnet pepper measures between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making it comparable in spiciness to the Hawaiian chili pepper, which typically ranges between 100,000 to 300,000 SHU. Its fruity and slightly sweet taste adds a unique flavor profile to dishes, making it a fantastic alternative to Hawaiian chili peppers. You can easily find Scotch Bonnet peppers at specialty grocery stores or online spice shops.

Trinidad Scorpion

If you’re looking to bring the heat and flavor of Hawaiian chili peppers to your dishes, the Trinidad Scorpion pepper is an excellent substitute. Known for its blistering heat, this pepper ranks among the hottest in the world, with Scoville Heat Units ranging from 1.2 million to a whopping 2 million SHU. Its intense heat is combined with a fruity and slightly smoky flavor, making it a great choice for adding a fiery kick to your favorite dishes. Be sure to use this pepper sparingly, as a little goes a long way. You can find Trinidad Scorpion peppers at specialty stores or order them online.


Another tropical pepper that can be used as a substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers is the Fatalii pepper. Originating from Central Africa, this pepper packs a punch with a Scoville Heat Unit ranging from 125,000 to 400,000 SHU. The Fatalii pepper has a unique citrusy flavor that adds a tangy kick to dishes. Its bright yellow color and thin flesh make it a visually appealing choice as well. Whether you’re looking to spice up a stew or add some heat to a marinade, the Fatalii pepper is a versatile substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers. You can find Fatalii peppers at specialty markets or order them online.

Best Substitutes: Sweet and Spicy Peppers

If you’re looking for a substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers, there are several options that can add a similar sweet and spicy kick to your dishes. Here are three great alternatives:


Guajillo peppers are a popular choice for adding both sweetness and heat to dishes. These dried Mexican peppers have a rich, fruity flavor with a slightly smoky undertone. They are often used in salsas, sauces, and stews. Guajillo peppers have a similar heat level to Hawaiian chili peppers, making them a suitable substitute for adding that spicy kick to your recipes. You can easily find guajillo peppers at your local grocery store or online.


Puya peppers are another excellent substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers. These small, bright red peppers are known for their vibrant color and intense heat. Puya peppers have a fruity and smoky flavor profile, similar to guajillo peppers. They are commonly used in Mexican cuisine to add heat to dishes like salsas, marinades, and soups. While puya peppers might be more challenging to find compared to other substitutes, you can usually purchase them online or at specialty spice shops.

Cherry Bomb

If you prefer a milder substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers, cherry bomb peppers are a fantastic option. These small, round peppers have a sweet and slightly spicy flavor. Cherry bomb peppers are often used in salads, pickling, and as a topping for pizzas. While they have less heat compared to Hawaiian chili peppers, they can still add a pleasant kick to your dishes. You can find cherry bomb peppers at farmers markets, specialty grocery stores, or even grow them in your own garden.

When substituting any of these peppers for Hawaiian chili peppers, it’s important to consider the overall flavor profile of your dish. Adjust the amount of pepper according to your taste preferences and the desired level of spiciness. Experiment with different combinations to discover your favorite substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers.

Adjusting Spice Levels When Substituting

When substituting Hawaiian chili peppers in a recipe, it’s important to consider the spice level of the alternative ingredient. Here are a few tips on adjusting the spice levels to ensure your dish turns out just right.

Adding Spice with Cayenne or Chili Powder

If you’re looking to maintain or increase the heat in your dish, cayenne pepper or chili powder can be excellent substitutes for Hawaiian chili peppers. Both of these spices pack a punch and can add a similar level of heat to your recipe.

However, it’s important to note that cayenne pepper and chili powder can have slightly different flavor profiles compared to Hawaiian chili peppers. Cayenne pepper is known for its fiery heat, while chili powder often has a blend of spices that can include cumin, garlic powder, and paprika.

When using cayenne pepper or chili powder as a substitute, start with a small amount and gradually increase to achieve the desired level of spiciness. Remember, you can always add more spice, but you can’t take it away!

Balancing Heat with Sweetness

If you prefer a milder flavor or want to balance out the heat of Hawaiian chili peppers, adding sweetness to your dish can help achieve the desired taste. Here are a few options for achieving that perfect balance:

  • Adding sugar: A small amount of sugar can help mellow out the spiciness and add a touch of sweetness to your dish. Just be careful not to overdo it, as too much sugar can overpower the other flavors.
  • Using sweet bell peppers: Sweet bell peppers can be a great substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers, as they provide a mild and slightly sweet flavor. Simply chop them up and use them in place of the chili peppers in your recipe.
  • Incorporating fruits: Fruits like pineapple, mango, or even apples can add a natural sweetness to your dish while complementing the spiciness of the recipe. Experiment with adding small pieces of fruit to find the perfect balance.

Remember, taste-testing is key when adjusting spice levels in your recipes. Don’t be afraid to experiment and tailor the flavors to your liking.

For more information on chili pepper substitutes and recipe ideas, you can visit reputable cooking websites such as Food Network or AllRecipes.

Achieving That Fruity Flavor

Complementary Fruits and Vegetables

If you’re looking for a substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers that will give your dishes that fruity flavor, consider using complementary fruits and vegetables. Pineapple, mango, and papaya are all great options that can add a sweet and tangy kick to your recipes. Simply chop them up and mix them into your dishes for a burst of tropical flavor. These fruits not only provide a similar taste to Hawaiian chili peppers but also offer a refreshing and juicy texture that can enhance your culinary creations.

Another option is to use bell peppers, specifically the red and yellow varieties. Bell peppers are mild in heat but are packed with flavor and color. They can add a subtle sweetness to your dishes, making them a great substitute for Hawaiian chili peppers. Sautee or roast them to bring out their natural sweetness and incorporate them into your favorite recipes.

For a more unique twist, try using fresh pineapple juice or mango puree as a marinade or glaze for your meats. The natural sugars in these fruits will caramelize when cooked, creating a deliciously fruity and savory flavor profile.

Dry Rubs and Marinades

If you’re looking to add a kick of heat to your dishes without using Hawaiian chili peppers, consider experimenting with dry rubs and marinades. A combination of spices and seasonings can help recreate the complex flavors of Hawaiian chili peppers.

An excellent dry rub option is a blend of paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and black pepper. This combination will give your dishes a smoky and spicy flavor, perfect for adding depth to grilled meats and vegetables.

When it comes to marinades, consider using ingredients like ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and citrus juices. These flavors will add a zesty and tangy element to your dishes, reminiscent of the flavors found in Hawaiian cuisine.

Remember, taste is subjective, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations of spices, herbs, and seasonings until you find the perfect substitute for your palate. And don’t forget to have fun in the kitchen!


While it can be tricky to replicate the exact flavor of Hawaiian chili peppers, you have plenty of delicious options for substitutions. Focus on picking peppers that match the heat level and fruitiness, and don’t be afraid to experiment with produce combinations. With the proper substitutes and seasonings, you can still achieve that iconic Hawaiian chili pepper taste.

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