Can’t Find Piri Piri Peppers? Here Are 6 Tasty Substitutes For Your Next Spicy Dish

Looking to add some peri peri flair to your next meal, but can’t seem to find any piri piri peppers? Not to worry – with a few easy-to-find ingredients, you can mimic the heat and flavor of these prized peppers.

Piri piri peppers are commonly used in spicy African and Portuguese dishes thanks to their signature kick and smoky, fruity taste. But small farms and tricky export laws make them hard to find in many areas.

Luckily, there are several fantastic substitutes waiting at your local supermarket:

Cayenne pepper adds similar heat and bright color. Use it dried or fresh.

Crushed red pepper flakes also pack a punch, with a mild sweetness.

Tiny, super-hot pequins mimic the acidity of piri piri.

Dried Thai chilies have an intense lemony zing.

Milder jalapeños bring freshness. Or smoke them for depth.

You can even make your own zesty piri piri seasoning with spices like smoked paprika.

Getting the exact flavor and fire of true piri piri peppers takes some trial and error with substitutes. But a few easy tips will have you cooking up peri peri perfection in no time:

  • Start slowly – alternatives often run hotter than the real thing.
  • Look for smokiness in paprikas and chilies.
  • Combine a few subs to balance sweet, heat, and complexity.
  • Tweak amounts to match your ideal spice level.

If you’re determined to source real-deal piri piris, specialty shops and online sites can set you up. With authentic or substitute peppers, you can enjoy the addictive heat of peri peri anytime.

For more details on swapping each substitute for piri piri peppers, the best online sources, and recipes to test drive your favorites, read on!

Why Are Piri Piri Peppers Hard to Find?

piri piri pepper

Authentic piri piri peppers are not commonly found outside their native Africa and Portugal. Even specialty grocers may not stock them.

Here are three reasons why these peppers can be tricky to source:

  • Special growing conditions: The piri piri plant thrives in hot, dry climates like those found in southeast Africa and Portugal. It’s hard to replicate these ideal growing conditions elsewhere.
  • Limited cultivation: Piri piri peppers are not grown on a large commercial scale. Much of the world’s supply comes from small farms in Portugal, Mozambique, and South Africa.
  • Legal export issues: Due to strict legal regulations, fresh piri piri peppers cannot be exported from Africa to many parts of Europe and North America. Dried peppers are more readily available.

While fresh piri piri peppers may be elusive, the good news is you can easily approximate their spicy, citrusy flavor using ingredients you can find at regular supermarkets or specialty grocers.

Let’s explore some of the best substitutes for piri piri peppers so you can make tantalizing peri peri style dishes!

6 Tasty Substitutes for Piri Piri Peppers

1. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne is one of the closest and easiest substitutions for piri piri peppers. It provides a similar level of heat and bright red color.

Use dried cayenne powder in peri peri seasonings or sauces. Or add diced fresh cayenne peppers to dishes like chicken or fish to give that authentic piri piri flavor.

Keep in mind cayenne brings more straight-up heat than the more complex fruitiness of piri piri. Start with small amounts and adjust upwards if you want more kick.

2. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed red pepper flakes are another good stand-in for piri piri peppers. They’re readily available and provide instant heat to dishes.

Use red pepper flakes anywhere you would use piri piri seasoning. Sprinkle them on meats or stir them into sauces and marinades. Their mild fruity undertone gives a similar vibe to piri piri peppers.

3. Pequin Peppers

what to do with chili pequin

About the size of a pea, bright red pequins are a solid substitute for piri piri peppers. These tiny dynamos pack a super-spicy punch.

Pequins have a fresh, acidic flavor that makes a great piri piri replica. Use them sparingly until you know your heat tolerance. They shine in hot sauces, marinades, and spice rubs.

4. Dried Thai Chilies

With their sharp, lemony heat, dried Thai bird’s eye chilies can stand in for piri piri peppers. Use them crushed or ground to season dishes.

Start with small amounts of these petite but powerful chilies. Just a pinch replicates the hot, fruity heat of piri piri peppers. Rehydrate dried chilies in water to add to cooked dishes.

5. Jalapeños

Slice fresh jalapeños to add to dishes for a milder piri piri-type heat. Or smoke jalapeños over wood chips for a deeper flavor profile.

Jalapeños have a bright, vegetal taste that’s not a direct substitute for piri piri peppers. But their ease of use and accessibility make them a serviceable substitute in some recipes.

6. Homemade Piri Piri Seasoning

You can come close to replicating piri piri pepper flavor with this homemade blend:

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Mix together and store in an airtight container. Sprinkle on meats, stir into sauces, or use as an all-purpose spicy seasoning. The smoky paprika and warm spices approximate the flavor of piri piri peppers.

Tips for Getting the Right Flavor and Heat

When substituting for piri piri peppers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start with less: The substitutes above often pack more heat than piri piris. Use a light hand at first to avoid overwhelming spice.
  • Get smoky: Look for substitutes like smoked paprika that replicate the subtle smokiness of true piri piris.
  • Mix it up: Combine a few subs like cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes to achieve the right balance of heat, fruitiness, and flavor complexity.
  • Adjust to taste: There’s no exact substitute for the unique flavor of piri piri peppers. Tweak amounts of substitutes to match the level of heat and flavor profile you desire.

Still Can’t Find Piri Piri Peppers? Order Them Online!

If you live in an area without access to specialty food stores, order dried piri piri peppers online. Sites like Amazon and Savory Spice Shop offer piri piri pepper flakes and powders.

With authentic piri piri flavor just a few clicks away, you can easily enjoy fiery Portuguese and African dishes at home.

40g Piri Piri Peri Peri Spice Hot Chilli Pepper Whole Pod from Portugal African bird's eye
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So don’t let a lack of fresh piri piri peppers stop you from making your favorite spicy recipes. With this arsenal of tasty substitutes, you can recreate delicious peri peri heat anytime. Just adjust amounts and combine subs to nail that iconic piri piri pepper 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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