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4 February 2020

Chile de Árbol peppers are small and thin Mexican peppers 2-3 inches long and less than a ½ inch wide. The name means “tree chili” in Spanish, which refers to the woody stem of the pepper. Learn more about them from Chili Pepper Madness.

SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: Sources rate this chili in 2 categories- 15,000-30,000 and 50,000-65,000 SHU
Capsicum Annuum.

Chiles de Árbol are small and thin Mexican peppers, growing to 2-3 inches long and less than a ½ inch wide. They mature to a bright, vibrant red, and are harvested and used at this stage. Chile de Árbol means “tree chili” in Spanish, a name which refers to the woody stem of the pepper.

Other names for this pepper include Bird’s beak chile, and Rat’s tail chile.

These peppers may be sold fresh, dried or powdered. The dried whole chilies are often used to make chili pepper wreaths, or ristras, because when dried they keep their deep red color.

Here is a photo of the chile de arbol peppers freshly picked from my garden. You can see their bright red color, so vibrant. I’ve removed the stems for making some fresh salsa.

Chile de Arbol Peppers

How Hot is a Chile de Arbol?

These pepper range between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), though some have been reported at up to 65,000 on the Scoville Scale, which is quite hot. At 30,000 SHU, this is 6 times hotter than the average jalapeno pepper. The peppers can carry some high heat, though would be more comparable in heat to a serrano pepper or cayenne pepper.

Chile de Arbol Substitutes

It is believed that Chiles de Arbol peppers are derived from the cayenne pepper, and can be traded with the cayenne or the pequin pepper when cooking. They are very hot, so be sure to wash your hands after handling them. Other options include guajillo peppers, crushed red pepper flakes, or cayenne powder, depending on the recipe you are working from.

Cooking with Chiles de Arbol

Chile de arbol peppers can be used in any dish to add heat and spice, especially chili, salsa, and hot sauces. It usually only takes a few peppers added to a pot for significant heat. One of the most popular recipes using these peppers is chile de arbol salsa, which can be made from either fresh or dried chiles. 

I have personally grown these peppers in my garden and have made chile de arbol salsa with both fresh and dried, and it is difficult to choose a favorite. Each offers its own special quality. Both are delicious as a salsa roja for drizzling over tacos, burritos, tortas, eggs like huevos rancheros and more.

I also enjoy using chiles de arbol for making hot sauce because of their nice level of heat. I prefer more of a vinegary style hot sauce with them, similar to a tabasco sauce, perfect for punching up any meal.

When working with dried chile de arbol peppers, you can either grind them into chili powders or flakes and use them as a seasoning, or rehydrate them by soaking them in very hot water for 15-20 minutes until they are soft, then process them with other ingredients to make a fresh chile de arbol salsa or sauce.

Chile de Arbol Peppers

Where Can I Buy Chile de Arbol Peppers?

You can find them usually at Mexican grocers, or order them online. I typically find chile de arbol peppers in a large plastic bag in the Mexican section of my local grocery store. Here are some links to help you – Affiliate links, my friends.

Dried peppers last a long time, though they do eventually lose some of their overall flavor. If you buy them in bulk, which I often do, store them in bags and keep them in a dark place, such as a pantry, away from direct sunlight. The flavor will last longer this way.

NOTE: This post was updated on 2/4/20 to include new photos and information. It was originally published on 9/27/13.

10 comments

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Larry, yes, you can pickle and preserve these peppers the same as others. No problem!

  1. One of my favorite things to make with del arbols is Salsa Macha.

    50 dried chiles del arbol
    10 cloves garlic
    Olive oil
    Salt

    Slice garlic thinly. Add plenty of olive oil to a pan and heat over med high heat. That the garlic till it’s golden brown. As soon as it reaches this color, take it off the heat and pour the garlic and oil into a glass bowl to cool. Add more olive oil to the pan and toast the chiles until they start to puff up. They should be a dark red, but not scorched or burnt. Place them in the same bowl with the garlic to cool. As soon as everything has cooled, pour it all into a blender along with another good quantity of olive oil. Add a tablespoon of coarse salt. Blend only until roughly ground, about the consistency of pepper flakes. Pour into a jar. It will keep for months and doesn’t need refrigerating. The chile and garlic will sink to the bottom. Just stir before using. This is the traditional sauce added to pozole and works with almost anything. Some people like add toasted sesame seeds and/or peanuts. I use this on everything! You can make it with any dried chile.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sounds great, Dan! I make mine a similar way and have plans to get it on the site soon. I hope!

  2. Good sir,
    I’ve been using dried arbols for decades. They make great salsas y sauces.
    But today at my Mex Grocer they were selling fresh arbol chiles.
    Green and red. Pretty. I grabbed a handful of them. First time ever.
    Have any ideas what I can do with fresh arbol chiles? Thank you.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Hello, Brent. Interesting, I have grown them in my garden this year for the first time and am faced with the same situation. I have always worked with dried. They are quite hot, so you’ll notice more heat with fresh than dried. That said, they still make very good salsa. If it is too hot, you can mix them with other peppers, like red bells for more sweet, less heat. They are make for some great hot sauce. Make a good salsa roja for a table sauce. Great on everything. I’m not going to dehydrate these because I can so easily get dried chile de arbol. I’m using them fresh. I hope this helps.

      1. You inspired me without knowing it again. “Hot sauce.”
        I wonder if I could use some as a base for a vinegar-based, bottled sauce? (like tapatio etc)
        It would be easy and I could sample them first.
        Like you said, if too hot I can temper with carrot or bell pepper.
        OK, Mr. H, on to your vinegar-based sauces for ideas.
        Thanks for all that info and good luck on your own crop of arbols this year.

        1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

          Absolutely, glad to help. These peppers would definitely make a great vinegar-based hot sauce. Nice heat!

          1. Took this long for the handful (12?) of arbols to get wrinkly and red. I read every single vinegar-based recipe here and then just did it— gripped it an ripped it.
            As you know Arbol has no fruitiness like a habanero, or a friendly taste like cayenne, or a sharp character like a serrano.
            What an arbol has is a superior bite. So I took some sweetness aspects from your recipes.
            juice of a few key limes and tsp of brown sugar: in blender
            2 tb white vinger
            blackened in a little oil in cast iron:
            3 romas
            1/2 white onion
            arbols
            6 garlic——–all these to blender

            added a little more white vin and water and salt as it blended. Got it nice and soupy like Tabasco-like sauces.
            made a cup or 1 1/3.
            verdict: sweeter than I thought but garlic and arbols come right up and balance it out. it’s like what I imagine your ‘sweet heat’ recipes are like.
            Keeper. A daily sauce. I credit your site for the inspiration!

          2. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

            Awesome, Brent! I love it! I grew these peppers again this year and JUST made a salsa with them. No joke, they have a great bite!

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