The Fresno pepper looks and tastes much like a jalapeno, but slightly hotter. Fresno peppers mature from green to red as they grow, and increase in heat. Learn more from Chili Pepper Madness.
Scoville Heat Units: 2,500-10,000 SHU
The Fresno pepper looks and tastes almost like the world's most popular chili pepper, the jalapeno, but it can be slightly hotter. At its hottest, it reaches the heat level of a mild serrano pepper, which can be somewhat spicy for some.
In fact, the Fresno pepper looks so much like a red jalapeno that people often confuse them for one another.
What Does a Fresno Pepper Look Like?
Fresno peppers mature from green to bright red as they grow, and increase in hotness, but they are often harvested and sold as green.
The green peppers are mild to medium hot, while the mature red Fresno is quite a bit hotter, surpassing the jalapeno.
They grow to about 2-3 inches long and have a diameter of about one inch. The skins are glossy and smooth, and the peppers curve slightly.
Fresno Pepper Uses
Fresno chile peppers are commonly grown in the U.S. and are popular for making ceviche and salsa, and general every day cooking. The green peppers can be used in many types of dishes to add great flavor, but the hotter red version may be better for dips or salsas. They are often an accompaniment to rice and black beans and other simple dishes.
Fresno Pepper Flavor - What do Fresno Peppers Taste Like?
Fresno peppers are just slightly spicier than jalapeno peppers, but they also offer a fruitier taste. Some say they are smokier, but I don't feel that is very pronounced.
Green Fresno peppers have a more vegetal flavor compared to the mature red peppers, which grow hotter and more fruity as they age. Red Fresno peppers still offer wonderful flavor and a touch of heat for spicy recipes.
The biggest difference between a Fresno chili and a jalapeno pepper is the thickness of the pepper walls. Fresnos have thinner walls, which can change how you cook with them. They aren't thin like a habanero pepper, but definitely thinner than a typical jalapeno, so consider this for your recipe planning.
How Hot is a Fresno Pepper?
On the Scoville Scale, Fresno Peppers range from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units. This is similar in range to the jalapeno, which tops out at 8,000 SHU, with an average of about 5,000 SHU. They aren't overly hot peppers. Bell peppers, by contrast, have 0 SHU.
It's a great heat level for your everyday cooking, at least for those who enjoy a bit of a spicy kick, but not too much.
The Fresno pepper was first cultivated by Clarence Brown Hamlin in 1952. It is named after Fresno, California, where Hamlin worked and propagated the pepper.
Looking for Fresno Pepper Seeds or Plants?
Fresno Pepper Substitutes
If you're unable to find Fresno peppers in your location, here are some alternatives.
- Jalapeno Pepper - In just about any case, the jalapeno is the best substitute for a Fresno pepper in terms of both heat and flavor, as they are so similar in many ways.
- Cayenne Peppers - Cayenne peppers are quite a bit hotter, but their thin walls and similar flavor profile would work for recipes like hot sauce, salsa, and making chili powders.
Mike's Personal Notes
I have grown Fresno peppers in my home garden several times over the years. They are very productive with lots of pods on the plants, and quite easy to grow.
The thinner walls can be an issue if you want to use them as part of a mire poix or Cajun Holy Trinity, where you're just chopping them and cooking them. The flavor is definitely fruitier than a jalapeno.
As mentioned, I really enjoy them for making chili powder blends or for making either salsas or hot sauces. I definitely encourage you to give them a try.
Got any questions? Ask away! I'm happy to help.
NOTE: This post was updated on 9/28/21 to include new information. It was originally published on 9/22/13.