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I'm making tomato relish and my recipe requires 10 fresh green cayenne peppers, which aren't available at this time. I can buy Jalapeño peppers and would like to substitute those, but I don't know if I should use 1 to 1.

I use a bushel of tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded; lots of work involved. Add peppers, onions, sugar, vinegar, a little canning salt and cook til real thick. Recipe calls for 8 cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes; I double or triple the recipe most of the time in order to can enough to use til next summer. It's canning season in the southeast USA!

  • Can you post the recipe or clarify exactly which chili pepper the recipe is asking for? There are several different green Chili peppers out, each with their own unique flavor and spice level. – Jay Aug 5 '15 at 16:42
  • It's the fresh green cayenne pepper. The pods are normally 5 to 6 inches long; they can be used ripened, (red), but I prefer to use them green. – Sally Aug 5 '15 at 16:48
  • It sounds like maybe this is your own personal recipe - are these also peppers you're growing? I know they get hotter as they ripen, so this isn't as crazy as using 10 ripe ones, but still, 10 sounds like quite a lot. Is this a big batch? Or are yours maybe pretty mild? – Cascabel Aug 5 '15 at 17:05
  • Or are you scraping them out pretty thoroughly so the heat doesn't matter much? – Cascabel Aug 5 '15 at 17:43
  • I think 10 jalapenos would add a lot more bulk than the original green cayenne peppers and might change the texture of the resulting dish. Maybe add the same volume of jalapeno as you would have had from the green cayenne and use something else to adjust the heat (one habanero, for example, or some powdered cayenne). – NadjaCS Aug 5 '15 at 19:00
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I'm not sure you're familiar with it but I'd like to introduce you to the Scoville Scale:

The Scoville scale is the measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.

Unlike methods based on high-performance liquid chromatography, the Scoville scale is an empirical measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration. [emphasis added]

This scale is subjective but having many people rate peppers at similar levels gives a pretty decent scale of relative "hotness".

On the scale, the Jalapeño rates between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville units

It is of mild to medium pungency, 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville units in general.

While the cayenne rates around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units:

It is generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.

It is unclear whether this range includes the immature, green varieties, though some charts place the cayenne at 50,000, so that could give the lower 30,000 as the rating of the green peppers.

So, even at its lowest rating, the cayenne pepper is three times hotter than the jalapeño's higest rating.


Relative hotness aside, I don't believe there's any reason you can't substitute the two. There are two important factors to be mindful of:

  • different flavor profile

    Classified, as a hot pepper, Green Cayenne chiles are not as hot as in their more mature red form, yet still offer a pungent heat with a fresh grassy, chile pepper flavor.
    The crisp and juicy flesh of the Jalapeno pepper offers a vegetal flavor and a spicy bite with heat increasing as the pepper peaks in maturity.

  • different water content
    • the jalapeno is more wet as it has thicker flesh while the cayenne has thinner flesh. This alone could affect your final product a bit, though you say you cook it down a lot, so it may be less impactful than a fresh salsa.

I'm would not recommend increasing the ratio to 3-1 to make it more hot because I'm not certain that having a higher ratio of heat producing content will actually make it taste as hot as the cayenne ever would - and it will add some volume to your relish. In the end, using jalapenos instead of cayenne will certainly be a different product but that doesn't mean it will be bad.

You can always taste as you go and add more spice before it's finished cooking if the flavor is too mild. Remember, though, that spicy flavors can change as a product ages, the way chili always tastes better the second day.

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    Also, cayenne is not as hot when you pick it early (that is, when it's green and not red - as her recipe mentions) – djmadscribbler Aug 5 '15 at 18:00
  • @djmadscribbler that is probably true. I'll see if I can find some numbers on it. – Catija Aug 5 '15 at 18:02
  • That's why I didn't post an answer - I'm not really at all sure how hot the OP's usual peppers are, but given that she's using 10 of them in a single batch of something, I'm suspicious they're not very hot. – Cascabel Aug 5 '15 at 18:09
  • @Jefromi true. The scoville site states that color doesn't actually mean anything about the hotness. The page on cayenne even pictures a green one and still quotes the 30k-50k number. eatmorechiles.com/Cayenne.html also, it's very possible that this is a large batch recipe. – Catija Aug 5 '15 at 18:12
  • @Catija It says that, but... cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/23604/… It does look like there's some diagreement about details and it's hard to find anything super super reliable, but it sure seems like they do get at least somewhat hotter in at least some cases as they ripen. The claim on the Eat More Chiles site strikes me as an unhelpful one - "technically, color is just ripeness, not heat." (But heat may come along with ripeness.) – Cascabel Aug 5 '15 at 18:18
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There are two main factors to consider when you substitute one chili pepper for another. The flavor and the capsaicin level. The flavor of each pepper will have its own unique notes but it will not drastically affect your recipe.

The capsaisin level is the thing to watch out for. A Cayenne Pepper is much spicier than a Jalapeno pepper. A Cayenne pepper will have around 30,000-50,000 on the Scoville Scale while Jalapeno is typically around 3500 to 10000.

It would be unreasonable to substitute 50+ Jalapeno peppers for the Cayenne peppers. But one thing you can do is use the 10 Jalapeno for the flavor and introduce an external source of capsaisin to make the relish spicier.

  • Except cayenne are milder when unripe, and the fact that the OP is using 10 in a single recipe suggests they're a lot milder, unless the recipe is huge. (Even 10 jalapenos would make a pretty spicy relish.) – Cascabel Aug 5 '15 at 17:42

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