The 5 Most Ideal Substitutes For Bird’s Eye Chili

A lot of Southeast Asian dishes require one or two Bird’s Eye chilies and they may be difficult to find in your grocery store.

They may look small but these chilies have a potent taste and are known as one of the most potent peppers you can cook with for Vietnamese and Thai dishes.

If you cannot find a store that stocks Bird’s Eye chilies, there are some ideal substitutes to replicate the heat that one can bring to a dish.

That may mean heading to a specialist Asian store rather than trying your luck at your favorite grocery store as they can be hard to find. 

The 5 Most Ideal Substitutes For Bird's Eye Chili

Several chilies are known to be close to the heat and taste of a Bird’s Eye chili. These include the Jalapeño pepper, Scotch Bonnet pepper (see also ‘5 Substitutes To Use Instead Of Scotch Bonnet Pepper‘), Serrano pepper, Cayenne pepper, and Habanero pepper.

In this guide, we will look at each pepper individually to let you decide which is the most ideal substitute. 

The 5 Most Ideal Substitutes For Bird’s Eye Chili

If you are interested in cooking some Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, you should be well accustomed to using Bird’s Eye chilies. They are a common ingredient for delivering a formidable heat to a dish so should be used with caution.

However, if you do not have any Bird’s Eye chilies to hand or your local grocery store does not stock any then you will want to know which are the most ideal substitutes.

Some are easier to find than others and the Scoville heat units are well worth considering. 

The Jalapeño Pepper

The Jalapeño Pepper

If you were looking for a somewhat milder heat in your cooking then opt to substitute a Bird’s Eye chili with a Jalapeño pepper.

While a Bird’s Eye chili can pack in between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville heat units, a Jalapeño pepper may only have between 2,500 and 10,000.

That makes it comparatively a lot milder though it does have a more powerful capsaicin flavor which you should bear in mind. While the heat of your dish may be reduced, you should be able to taste the Jalapeño pepper a lot more. 

This comparative reduction in Scoville heat units between the two chili peppers does make the Jalapeño pepper more versatile.

If you tend to use one or two Bird’s Eye chili peppers in your dishes then you should be presented with a milder flavor with the same amount.

That could mean opening up your repertoire to more dishes as you should be able to handle over double the amount of Jalapeño pepper to reach the same flavor profile as a Bird’s Eye chili.

Thankfully, due to their versatility, it should not prove too difficult to find a Jalapeño pepper in your local grocery store, either fresh or sliced in jars. 

The Scotch Bonnet 

Scotch Bonnet 

With possibly the closest flavor profile, the Scotch Bonnet is perhaps the best bet to substitute for a Bird’s Eye chili.

That’s due to the fact that a Scotch Bonnet pepper has a similarly smoky and hot flavor to the Bird’s Eye chili so can be used in a lot of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine without many being able to tell the difference.

The color may differ though as a Scotch Bonnet pepper can be found in both yellow and red varieties. 

They may look relatively safe but with between 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units, this is still a potent pepper to add to your cooking.

The flavor profile may take some getting used to as it can be likened to a Habanero pepper. That’s down to its fruity and somewhat sweet notes though you should remove the white inner placental tissue to reduce most of the heat. 

The Serrano Pepper 

Serrano Pepper 

Though not as hot as a Bird’s Eye chili, the Serrano pepper (see also ‘9 Alternatives To Serrano Peppers‘)
is known to be relatively low in the heat levels.

That’s at 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units yet they still have a similar profile in flavor and should be relatively easy to find in the same sort of grocery stores.

You tend to find Serrano peppers in Mexican cuisine and they bring a grassy taste and a crisp flavor when used.

If the rest of the dish is too hot when you are cooking, it may be better to add the Serrano pepper towards the end of the cooking process to prevent it from becoming overly spicy. 

Cayenne Pepper 

Cayenne Pepper 

Even hotter than a Serrano pepper, the Cayenne pepper has around 25,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. That makes it closer to how hot a Bird’s Eye chili pepper is and it does come with a distinctive smoky flavor profile.

The overall effect should produce a spicy, smoky, and even sweeter finished dish.

That’s why the Cayenne pepper is used in Creole and Cajun cooking for that complex and rewarding flavor profile and it should be relatively easy to find in a lot of stores.

The Habanero Pepper

Habanero Pepper

A Habanero pepper should be used cautiously as it has more Scoville heat units at 100,000 to 350,000 compared to between 50,000 and 100,000 with a Bird’s Eye chili.

It should be noted that the Habanero pepper is around 20 times hotter than an average Jalapeño so if you think one of those is hot then be very careful about applying one of these.

When used with caution, a Habanero pepper (see also ‘Habanero Recipes: 18 Of The Best‘) can have a somewhat fruity flavor that can go well with certain chicken dishes. Should you want to use a Habanero pepper then you may find them in specialty food stores. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Chili Pepper Is Hotter; The Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper Or The Habanero Pepper?

You can judge the hotness of a chili pepper by the Scoville scale which attaches heat units to each pepper. The more Scoville heat units that a chili pepper has, the hotter it is deemed to be.

The Bird’s Eye chili pepper has between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville heat units. However, the Habanero pepper has even more Scoville heat units at between 100,000 and 350,000 making it comparably hotter.

Can A Bird’s Eye Chili Pepper Be Eaten Raw?

Though a Bird’s Eye chili pepper can range from between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville heat units, you can eat them raw. It may not be an enjoyable experience as a typical Jalapeño pepper only has around 5,000 Scoville heat units.

That means a Bird’s Eye chili pepper is around ten to 20 times hotter so it may be a lot hotter than you expect when eaten raw.

Final Thoughts

The Bird’s Eye chili does come by several different names so it may take a while before you find one.

They are small and can also be known as a ‘Thai chili’ or simply a ‘Bird’s chili’ so you may have to seek out a specialist Asian store instead of your local grocery store.

Most of this difficulty in finding one is down to how potent they can be. Despite being used in so many Southeast Asian dishes, specifically those from Thailand and Vietnam, they usually score around 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units.

Though the Bird’s Eye chili is not the world’s most potent chili, you should apply caution when applying them to your cooking.

If you want to reduce the potency then take out the seeds and the inner placental tissue carefully, making sure to wash your hands afterwards.

Try to add them further into your cooking process too so they do not have ample time to heat up the majority of your dish. The last thing you want is to prepare a delicious meal only for it to be considered too hot to be fully enjoyed.  

The 5 Most Ideal Substitutes For Bird's Eye Chili

The 5 Most Ideal Substitutes For Bird’s Eye Chili

Recipe by Jenna

When you recreate a Southeast Asian dish, a lot of recipes will require a Bird’s Eye chili. Here are the five most ideal substitutes for a Bird’s Eye chili

Course: Substitutes
5 from 1 vote


  • The Jalapeño Pepper

  • The Scotch Bonnet 

  • The Serrano Pepper 

  • Cayenne Pepper 

  • The Habanero Pepper


  • Decided on what substitute you need
  • Pick a substitute from the list above
  • Read what you need to substitute with
  • Create the recipe and enjoy

Recipe Video

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