Poblano peppers are one of the most loved and well-known peppers in Mexico and the U.S. alike. They are versatile, thick-walled, and oh so delicious.
In this article, we will go over the best substitutes for poblano peppers, whether you need them for spice, flavor, or body, we've got you covered!
Understanding the Poblano Pepper
What is a poblano pepper?
The poblano pepper originated in Puebla, Mexico, where it inherited its name. On a spice level, poblanos really aren't that hot; they only range from 1,000 to 2,000 SHU.
For context, jalapeño peppers range from 2,500 to 10,000 SHU. Since they're so mild, much of their flavor consists of earthy and fruity tones.
It's one of the larger peppers with a long body that comes down to a tip. Poblanos are harvested when they're green, though they can ripen to red. In order to achieve that wonderful earthy flavor, they have to be harvested before they're red.
Red poblanos are harvested as well, though not to eat raw. These red poblanos are dried for weeks out in the sun to make ancho chile peppers. These peppers are much smokier, earthier, and spicier than their green counterparts.
Like bell peppers, poblanos are great for stuffing due to their large size and thick walls. They are often stuffed with meat or cheese, like this cotija cheese. Roasting or cooking poblanos can dilute the spiciness and bring out fruitier flavors.
As for my personal connection, I used to grow them! Poblanos are very productive plants, which makes them a joy to harvest. Just be sure to keep an eye on them when it comes to harvesting to make sure they don't become too ripe.
For my fellow growers out there, here's one more thing to keep in mind. Depending on your soil quality, sun level, and the specific species you buy, the peppers will vary in spiciness. So, don't be surprised if each plant or pepper varies in taste!
Plus, they're a great source of vitamin C and have great antioxidant properties. What's not to love?
What Separates Poblano Peppers from Others?
The flavor! Poblanos are a very mild pepper overall, but not overly sweet like bell peppers.
I love the earthy yet fruity taste of poblanos. When cooked right, they can even taste a little smoky. Very versatile, very delicious. I can't sing their praises enough.
I used to roast, stuff, and chop them up for salsas after plucking them off the stem. Every once in a while, I'd pureé them with some other spices to make the most flavorful spreads.
Poblanos are also great for stuffing thanks to their thick walls. Most peppers are either too small or too thin to stuff, but poblanos are hardy and strong.
What Qualities Do I Need to Mimic?
It depends on what you're using the poblano for. If you're stuffing it, you'll want to replicate its thick walls and large body.
Whereas, if you're chopping them up fine for salsas or sauces, you'll want to replicate flavor and spice.
All in all, here are the qualities to try and mimic:
- Walls and/or body
Best Poblano Pepper Substitutes
#1 - Anaheim Peppers
Anaheim peppers are long and thin with yellowy-green skin. They can be spicier than poblanos, so you'll need to use them in moderation.
Although they're thinner, they are also great for stuffing. Their earthy flavor is a great substitute for poblano peppers, though you'll want to taste test as you go.
They can pack quite a punch. Anaheim's spiciness varies greatly depending on where they were grown, so keep that in mind as you go.
#2 - Jalapeño Peppers
Jalapeños are spicier to be sure, but they can be much easier to find. In order to help with that kick factor, remove the pith, seeds, and ribs of the pepper.
They are a great substitute for salsas or rice dishes, usually when diced. Although they're petite, there are plenty of stuffed jalapeño recipes out there.
#3 - Ancho Chiles
Ancho chiles are the dried form of red poblanos. They're often sold in small plastic bags at the grocery store.
In dried form, they take on a different appearance and taste. They will be smokier, earthier, and potentially spicier than the fresh ones.
These work best in recipes that call for diced poblanos, such as sauces, soups, and stews. You can also purchase ancho chile powder and use it to add a little kick to your favorite meals.
#4 - New Mexico Chiles
New Mexico chiles are a great substitute for poblanos since they are also a fairly mild pepper. With a similar earthiness, they can be used in a 1:1 ratio. You can always increase the amount if you're craving some spice and powerful flavors.
These peppers work great in soups, sauces, and stews. You can also add them directly to a dish for some heat.
#5 - Cayenne Peppers
Cayenne peppers are one of the most common peppers on the market right now. They're super easy to source, not to mention nice and spicy. Their small size and thin body make them difficult to stuff, but they work great in baked dishes and stir-fries.
Remember, cayenne peppers are far spicier than poblanos. They test in between 30,000 and 50,000 SHU, while poblano's maximum is 2,000 SHU. Use them accordingly and cautiously.
Just like ancho chiles, you can also get cayenne pepper powder and add some spice that way.
#6 - Bell Peppers
Of course, bell peppers are not as spicy or rich as poblanos, but they still carry sweet and earthy tones.
Bell peppers are ideal for stuffing since they have strong, thick walls. If you're missing the spice factor, you can always top your stuffed peppers with some chili powder.
#7 - Cubanelle Peppers
Cubanelle peppers are mild and almost a little sweet, with notes of honey. They may be a little more finicky to stuff than Anaheims due to their thinner skin, but they remain a great option.
They are also wonderful in sauces, roasted, baked, or diced in salsas. Remember, they're not spicy, so you may have to substitute some heat if you like the burn.
#8 - Paprika
Paprika is dried red peppers ground into a powder. This incredibly versatile spice can pack a punch alongside a nice, earthy flavor.
Great for sauces, stews, and baked dishes. It's not overly spicy either, so you can use the same ratio. Paprika works great alongside chili powder that packs a punch. Here are some chili powder substitutes that you can mix and mingle with paprika.
Poblano Vs Pasilla Peppers
Poblano peppers and pasilla peppers are often confused in their dried forms. The pasilla pepper and the ancho chile pepper do look alike, with wrinkled skin and a very dark color.
So, I imagine some may believe the fresh form of the pasilla pepper is the poblano, which is not the case. Pasilla peppers are the dried version of a chilaca chili pepper. The pasilla pepper is known as the "little raisin," due to its appearance and sweet flavor.
To clarify, poblano peppers are fresh, while pasillas are dried. Pasilla peppers are much fruitier than poblanos, which are more zesty and earthy.
Perhaps some of the confusion also stems from the fact that they're both used in traditional mole recipes. Pasillas and anchos can be substituted for each other, but not a pasilla and a poblano. The more you know!
Although there's nothing better than a fresh poblano pepper in my book, I know that sometimes sacrifices must be made.
Depending on your recipe, different substitutes will work better than others. Make sure to consider exactly what you need to replicate. Is it the flavor? Spice? Or body?
This list offers several substitutes for each need. So, it's time to get cooking! Just remember to watch out for that spice!