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
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.
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. I love adding them to my homemade chamoy sauce recipe.
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.
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.