Poblano peppers have become a staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine and many other recipes. Their mild, earthy flavor and moderate spice level makes them extremely versatile. However, you may sometimes find yourself without any poblano peppers on hand when a recipe calls for them. The good news is that there are plenty of excellent substitutes to use in place of poblano peppers.
In this article, I’ll go over the many different peppers and chilies that can stand in for poblanos in any dish. I’ll cover their flavor profiles, spice levels, textures, and more so you can determine which alternative is best for you. Read on to learn about the top poblano pepper substitutes to recreate delicious Mexican food and other recipes even when you don’t have poblanos.
The 8 Best Substitutes for Poblano Peppers
Green bell peppers make great substitutes for poblano peppers. They have a very mild flavor that is similar to poblanos. Their thick walls and large inner cavities also make them perfect for stuffing in place of poblanos.
In terms of appearance, green bell peppers look quite similar to poblanos with their long shape and dark green color. The main difference is that bell peppers have a more consistent width while poblanos tend to have a bulbous shape.
When using green bell peppers instead of poblanos, you’ll get a much milder version of the original pepper. Poblanos have a bit of spice to them which bell peppers lack entirely. To make up for this, I recommend adding a pinch of chili powder or cayenne pepper to the bell pepper to increase the heat.
Overall, green bell peppers are my number one recommendation as a poblano substitute for their comparable flavor profile and perfect texture for stuffing. Just remember to boost the spiciness by adding your own chili seasoning if needed.
If you want a non-spicy substitute for poblano peppers, cubanelle peppers are a great option. Sometimes labeled Italian frying peppers, these tapered, light green peppers have an incredibly mild, sweet flavor.
They are similar in shape to poblanos but have much thinner, delicate flesh. So cubanelles likely won’t hold up to stuffing and grilling like poblanos. I’d only use them for recipes where the poblanos are sliced or diced.
Their super mild taste makes cubanelles unsuitable for recipes where the poblano flavor needs to come through. But they can add pleasant sweetness to dishes without any spice. Just don’t expect them to taste like poblanos!
New Mexico Chilies
From the American Southwest, New Mexico chilies are a staple in Tex-Mex cooking. They come in shades of green, red, and yellow with varying levels of heat.
The green New Mexico chilies are most similar to poblano peppers in their mild spice and crisp, vegetal flavor. These are perfect for dicing or chopping into recipes as a replacement for poblanos.
Red New Mexico chilies are left on the plant to ripen fully. This gives them a noticeably sweeter, fruitier flavor along with a touch more heat compared to the green version. Their rich, earthy taste makes red New Mexico chilies an excellent stand-in for poblanos in sauces, stews, chilies, and more.
I typically use New Mexico chilies already roasted, peeled, and chopped to mix straight into recipes. But you can also buy them whole and prepare them yourself. Just adjust the quantity as needed since they tend to be smaller than poblanos.
Anaheim peppers are probably the closest you can get to a perfect poblano pepper substitute in terms of both appearance and flavor. These peppers look almost identical to poblanos with their long shape, medium width, and deep green color.
They are nearly the same size and girth which makes anaheim peppers a seamless swap for poblanos when it comes to slicing, dicing, or stuffing. The thick walls hold up very well for filling recipes without breaking apart.
In terms of taste, anaheim peppers start out with a crisp, mild flavor when raw. As they cook, they become sweeter with a moderate spice level comparable to poblanos.
The main difference is that I find anaheim peppers to be slightly less earthy and more bright. But the overall flavor profile is very similar.
When using anaheims in place of poblanos, you may want to use a bit more since they are generally a tad milder. I would increase the amount by about 1 pepper per every 3 poblanos the recipe calls for. Other than that, anaheim peppers need no adjustments to seamlessly stand in for poblanos.
While they are much smaller, jalapeño peppers can work nicely as poblano substitutes, especially when you want to add some extra heat. Jalapeños bring a lighter, grassier flavor compared to the hearty earthiness of poblanos.
They can be used whole for stuffing small bites. Just be sure to clean out the ribs and seeds thoroughly as those are the spiciest parts. With those removed, the remaining flesh has a bit of a kick but not an overwhelming amount of heat.
For diced peppers, jalapeños give a similar texture to poblanos. Again, de-seed them if you want to lower the spice level. You may also need to increase the quantity since jalapeños are so much smaller than poblanos.
So in summary, jalapeños make great poblano stand-ins when you want to add some extra spice and don’t mind a lighter, brighter pepper flavor. Their size makes them less ideal for larger stuffed peppers but they can certainly work in a pinch.
Ancho chilies are simply dried poblano peppers! So they make an obvious substitution for poblanos, offering that same familiar flavor.
The key difference is that since anchos are dried, they take on a richer, earthier taste with notes of raisins and licorice. They lose the bright veggie flavor of a fresh poblano.
You can buy whole dried anchos or find them already ground into powder. Use the powder to add depth of flavor and a mild kick to recipes where you want poblano taste.
For chopped or diced poblanos, reconstitute dried anchos by simmering in broth until pliable. Then use them in place of fresh poblanos measure for measure. But keep in mind the extra intensity of that earthy dried flavor.
Moving up the spice meter, guajillo peppers offer a similar heat level to jalapeños which makes them spicier than poblanos. Like anchos, these peppers are also dried but they have a very different flavor profile.
Guajillos have a bright, acidic taste along with a potent punch of heat. They are also used very commonly in Mexican cuisine for sauces, salsas, and stews.
You’ll find guajillos sold whole, powdered, or processed into a paste or sauce. Use the powder or paste for adding spicy flavor and color to recipes in place of poblanos.
If you want to use whole rehydrated guajillos instead of poblanos, I suggest reducing the quantity to about 1 pepper per 2-3 poblanos to account for the increase in spiciness. And remove the seeds and ribs first for even less heat.
Lastly, cayenne peppers make excellent poblano substitutes in dishes where you want to really crank up the heat. They are also related to jalapeños and bell peppers but offer so much more spice.
As a powder, cayenne pepper transforms dishes into spicy perfection. You can also find ground cayenne pepper sauce for stirring into recipes. Use it sparingly at first then add more to suit your tastes.
Whole, fresh cayenne peppers are very long, tapering, and usually red. They are too thin for stuffing but can be diced or sliced into dishes instead of poblanos when you want to give the meal a mighty kick.
Just remember that a little cayenne goes a long way since these bad boys are hot, hot, hot!
I hope this guide gives you lots of great options to choose from the next time a recipe calls for poblano peppers and you don’t have any on hand.
Consider the level of spice and depth of flavor you want, then select a substitute pepper that aligns with your preferences. With the right swap, you can easily recreate a delicious dish even without poblanos!
The 8 Best Substitutes for Poblano Peppers
New Mexico Chilies
- Choose your preferred alternative from the aforementioned options.
- Adhere to the cooking instructions for your chosen substitute, ensuring the correct proportion of ingredients.