No Tien Tsin Peppers? Here are 8 Great Substitute Options

Want to make an authentic Chinese dish but can’t find Tien Tsin peppers? You’ve got options!

As a lover of Chinese cuisine, you may worry: What can I substitute to mimic that signature Tien Tsin flavor and fire?

Not to fret – with the right pepper or spice blend, you can closely recreate the Tien Tsin experience:

  • Serrano and arbol chilis match the heat level nicely.
  • Cayenne or chili sauce provides pungency.
  • Dried poblanos and paprika offer color.
  • Pepquins and sambal olek bring both heat and tang.

While not perfect replicas, these handy substitutes will save your dish and delight your diners!

Curious which Tien Tsin stand-in works best for your needs? Keep reading for an in-depth look at all of the best alternatives and how to use them.

Why Cooks Love Tien Tsin Peppers

tien tsin pepper substitute

Before we dive into substitutes, let’s quickly cover why cooks adore Tien Tsin peppers in the first place:

  • A staple in Chinese Sichuan cuisine and also used across Asia.
  • Bright red color and elongated, curved shape. Size of a finger.
  • Crunchy and juicy texture when eaten fresh.
  • Flavor is fresh, aromatic, and very spicy – 50,000-175,000 Scoville units.
  • Commonly added to dishes like Kung Pao chicken and ma po tofu.
  • Also used in dipping sauces and Sichuan peppercorn blends.

So any sub needs to bring mild fruitiness, crunch, vibrant red color, and serious heat like Tien Tsin.

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Serrano Peppers

Serrano Peppers

With their wicked spice level and similar slender shape, serrano peppers likely make the closest match:

  • Scoville units of 10,000-23,000, so heat in line with Tien Tsin.
  • Thin-walled and easy to slice into rings. Crunchy raw texture.
  • Bright green color, but red when ripe. Provides color pop.
  • Nice fruity, fresh flavor with acidic kick.
  • Easy to find fresh or dried in grocery stores.

Serrano slices or dices can mimic Tien Tsin’s look, texture, and burn in everything from stir fries to dipping sauces. A go-to substitute.

Petite Arbol Chilies

Arbol chilies are another great option thanks to their heat and relatively small size:

  • Heat of 15,000-30,000 Scoville units stacks up to Tien Tsin.
  • At 2-3 inches long, they’re petite like Tien Tsin peppers.
  • Thin skins and an earthy, bright flavor.
  • Most often sold dried, so rehydrate before using.
  • Affordable and accessible year-round.

Rehydrated arbols bring the right spice quotient and size profile to replace Tien Tsin nicely in cooked dishes.

Trusty Cayenne Pepper

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It’s no shocker that cayenne can fill in for other hot peppers like Tien Tsin:

  • Scoville range of 30,000-50,000 matches Tien Tsin’s punch.
  • Dried and ground form is most common. Provides intense heat.
  • Doesn’t mimic Tien Tsin’s shape or crisp texture, but does bring the burn.
  • Very affordable and easy to source dried, powdered, or flaked.

A dash of cayenne powder certainly packs the desired spicy bite. Use it combined with other spices that provide missing fresh flavors.

Dried Poblano Peppers

Here’s an unexpected sub that can work well:

  • When dried, poblanos take on a rich, fruity pepper flavor.
  • They have touch less heat than Tien Tsin at 1,000-1,500 Scoville units.
  • Once rehydrated, they can be chopped or ground.
  • Imparts nice earthiness and red-brown color.

While less spicy on their own, combine dried poblanos with cayenne or other heat sources to get closer to Tien Tsin’s punch.

Peppery Pequin Chilies

pequin pepper

Tiny but fiery, pepquins are worth exploring:

  • Heat hits 40,000-77,000 Scoville units – very close to Tien Tsin.
  • Petite round shape. Usually sold dried.
  • Bright and citrusy with slight smokey notes.
  • Can use dried or powdered in sauces and rubs.

If you don’t mind straying from Tien Tsin’s signature elongated shape, pepquins can nicely mimic the heat level and fruity kick.

Spicy Paprika Powder

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Ground dried pepper, paprika makes an easy cheat:

  • Choose spicy paprika for 30,000+ Scoville heat.
  • Adds vibrant red-orange color.
  • Mix with other seasonings to balance flavor.
  • Widely available and inexpensive.

While it won’t mimic the exact peppery flavor, hot paprika powder satisfies the color and heat needs.

Bottled Hot Sauces

Don’t overlook bottled hot sauces:

  • Many, like sriracha, contain a mix of chilis with heat equal to or exceeding Tien Tsin.
  • Adds spice, vinegar tang, and flavor in one fell swoop.
  • Look for options without too many overpowering add-ins.
  • Easy to use right from the bottle.

Spicy but simple hot sauces like cholula or sambal olek can stand in for Tien Tsin’s heat when mixed into dishes.

The Takeaway

While no substitute perfectly replicates the exact flavor and fire of Tien Tsin peppers, options like serranos, dried arbols, cayenne, and certain hot sauces come impressively close.

Let your dish and preferences guide you. When in a pinch, don’t hesitate to sub in one of these alternatives so you can still enjoy Tien Tsin pepper inspiration!

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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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