Fiery Flavor Without the Fuss: Substitutes for Calabrian Chili Peppers

Craving the fiery flavor of Calabrian chiles but can’t seem to find them? Don’t sweat it! You can still infuse your dishes with spicy Italian flair using easy ingredient swaps.

Searching specialty markets for those curved red Calabrian chilis only to come up empty-handed can be frustrating. But fellow heat-seekers, fear not! Many accessible ingredients can mimic the fruity, garlicky burn of Calabrians in everything from pizza to pasta.

Handy substitutes like red pepper flakes, sriracha, and harissa paste can match the 30,000-50,000 Scoville units of heat. Milder peppers like jalapeños or Anaheims will provide less spice, but boost the quantity to turn up the fire. The key is experimenting with proportions to nail the perfect flavor.

While no sub will replicate Calabrians exactly, small tweaks like infusing oils, toasting spices, and balancing with acids will get you close. With a few simple seasoning tricks, you can conjure the flavors of Calabria in your very own kitchen.

In this article, you’ll discover the best substitutes for Calabrian chiles, from products you can buy to peppers you can slice yourself. You’ll get tips for adjusting heat, recommendations for recipes to try, and steps for infusing that signature fiery zing into pasta, seafood, meat and more.

So don’t let a missing ingredient extinguish your cooking fire! Keep reading to master Italian heat with easy, accessible Calabrian chili substitutions. You’ll learn how to turn up the flavor dial so your food burns bright with spicy pleasure.

An Introduction to Calabrian Chili Peppers

Grown in Italy’s Calabria region, these small, curved red chilis pack a punch. They register 30,000-50,000 Scoville heat units – similar to a cayenne or Thai bird’s eye chili. When dried and crushed into flakes, Calabrian chiles become the spice blend ‘nduja. Their heat complements Italian foods like:

  • Pizzas
  • Pastas
  • Salads
  • Antipasto
  • Seafood
  • Meat dishes

Bright, fruity, and fiery, Calabrian chiles may be hard to find outside of Italy. But you have options! Keep reading to discover easy-to-find substitutes.

Excellent Substitutes for Calabrian Chili Peppers

With any of these substitutes, start with less spice than the recipe calls for. You can always add more!

Red Pepper Flakes

Made from crushed dried chilis, these flakes are the most direct substitute. Use the same amount as Calabrian chiles. If needed, tweak for more or less heat.


This garlicky Thai chili sauce matches the flavor profile and heat of Calabrian chiles. Use an equal amount in recipes.

Sambal Oelek

An Indonesian crushed chili paste, sambal oelek has the right balance of spice, tang, and salt. Substitute 1:1 for Calabrian products.

Jalapeño Peppers

For a milder flavor, swap sliced fresh jalapeños for Calabrian chiles. Use 1 1⁄2 times more jalapeños to achieve the same heat level.


A North African chili paste, harissa shares the fruity heat of Calabrian cuisine. Replace measure for measure in recipes.

Red Anaheim Peppers

With mild, sweet flavor, red Anaheims make a good substitute. Use twice as much for equal heat.

Tips for Getting the Flavor Right

None of these substitutes will taste exactly like Calabrian chiles. Here are some tips for dialing in the flavor:

  • Start with less spice – You can always add more later to taste.
  • Get the right texture – Use powders or pastes to mimic the consistency of ‘nduja or crushed chiles.
  • Play with proportions – Vary the amounts until you land on the perfect flavor and heat combo.
  • Complement flavors – Add ingredients like vinegar, garlic, herbs, and citrus to balance out the chili’s flavors.
  • Toast spices – Briefly toast red pepper flakes or powders to intensify flavor.
  • Infuse oil – Steep dried chiles or chili paste in olive oil to infuse dishes with flavor.

With a little trial and error, you’ll be able to knock out delicious Calabrian-style dishes with these handy substitutes.

Recipes to Try With Chili Substitutes

Ready to put your newfound knowledge to work? Whip up these recipes using the suggested substitutes for Calabrian chiles.

Pasta all’ Arrabbiata

This “angry” pasta gets its heat from Calabrian chiles. Substitute an equal amount of red pepper flakes or 1⁄2 teaspoon Sriracha per serving.

Spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Traditionally made with Calabrian pepper paste, this dish is excellent with harissa or sambal oelek instead.

Calabrian-Style Pizza

Top pizza with spicy ‘nduja or your favorite chili paste alternative. Add fresh sliced jalapeños for extra heat.

Spicy Italian Sausages

Bring on the heat by sautéing sliced fresh chiles or red pepper flakes with Italian sausage.

Roasted Vegetables

Coat veggies with olive oil infused with red pepper flakes or chili paste before roasting.

With a few simple swaps, you can master the art of Calabrian cooking. Just tap into your favorite substitute to bring the fiery Italian flavor.

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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