In this recipe, I enjoy the mix of spices: serrano, cilantro, mint, cinnamon...

Next time we'll cook it, we won't have serrano available. What could be a substitute for it?

Ideally this substitute is not hard to get in Europe...

Note the serrano's contribution to the dish. They're not opened. They're not eaten. They simmer with the rest of the ingredients perhaps adding some taste.

EDIT: Thanks for the suggestions. I now realize that substitute may not have been the best wording. Given the constraints, a simple s/serrano/xxxx/ replacement may not do ☺

  • I'm not sure what's common in Europe - can you actually count on getting any fresh hot peppers besides jalapeños?
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 1:02
  • I'm a European and I can't even get fresh jalapeños where I live (but I don't live in a very large city).
    – Mien
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 10:54

3 Answers 3


You want something hot and very slightly herby, without smoke. For heat, a moderate amount of cayenne is the easiest option. For the herby notes, I might go with something like marjoram or rosemary, but frankly given the cilantro and mint I probably wouldn't bother.

  • Thanks Dave. something hot and very slightly herby, without smoke may be a good description of it. Cayenne, marjoram and rosemary sound like a good place to start working :-)
    – user8830
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 16:39
  • If you're going to go this route, you might as well just use cayenne (or whatever you want for heat) and some bell pepper. I don't think marjoram or rosemary entirely cover pepper flavor.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 18:01

The closest thing that's at all common in grocery stores in my experience is just a jalapeño. There might be some alternatives, but I think they'd be even harder to find than serranos. (This is based on my experience in the US, but I'm guessing it'll be true in Europe too.)

Failing that, just use green bell pepper. The flavor is similar, minus the heat, and you can make up the heat with whatever you want, like cayenne or another mostly-just-hot ground chili.

  • This seems right. They are similar in both heat and flavor profile.
    – Sean Hart
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 3:07
  • Beware the Texas mild Jalapeno: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAM_Mild_Jalape%C3%B1o They're not much warmer than bells, while serranos are typically hotter than the old-style jalapeno, better flavor too. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 11:00

If you have an Asian market, the fresh ground chili paste found there is a reasonable substitute for serrano peppers. I use 'Sambal Oelek' brand, with a rooster on the label: this stuff

It's somewhat hotter than serrano, but not habanero hot. A teaspoon per dish will kick things up a notch, with a fairly rich pepper flavor.

  • I'm pretty late here but... I don't know, really. The serrano is being cooked whole, so it's really focusing on the flavor of the pepper, not the heat, and I don't think sambal is really the same flavor of peppers. If you're okay with sambal, you could use just about anything at all as long as it's spicy - it won't be any more different from serranos than the sambal.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 1:55

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