Fresno Chili Pepper: Not The Same As A Red Jalapeno

fresno chilis
Fresno chilis are often confused with red jalapeno peppers in the supermarket. While they share some similarities in heat and taste, Fresno chilis have a more complex flavor profile and are hotter at 2,500-10,000 SHU. They can be used green for milder heat or fully ripened and red when the heat level is closer to a serrano pepper.

What Is A Fresno Chili Pepper?

Fresno chili peppers are a cultivar of the species capsicum annuum. And while they may bear a striking resemblance to the jalapeno, this versatile chili has its own story.

As its name suggests, the Fresno chili was named after the county of Fresno in California, where it was first grown and cultivated in the 1950s. A local farmer named Clarence Hamlin is credited with its creation.

Hamlin went to the effort of cultivating the pepper’s most desirable traits and eventually arrived at a version he felt was worthy of propagation. The original Fresno chili he created is considered an heirloom variety and can be difficult to find.

There is a great deal of ambiguity when it comes to Fresno chilis. Because they are so similar in appearance and flavor to the red jalapeno, many confuse the two. So much so that they may even be mislabeled in markets and grocery stores.

Red Fresno chilis are what’s most often found in markets. These tend to have a smokier and more intense flavor profile with more heat than the green Fresno chilis.

fresno chili

Many assume the different colors indicate different varieties, but red Fresno or green Fresno came from the same plant.

The color of any fresh pepper depends on when it’s picked during the growth cycle. Peppers start green or yellow, then ripen to orange and then red (or even purple or brown, depending on the pepper!). The longer they’re left to ripen, the more capsaicin they will have and the hotter they will be.

This means the flavor profile is different, however. As the color changes, so does the flavor. Thai chilis peppers are a good example of this, as people will look for brown, red, or green Thai chilis, depending upon their recipe.

This is why Fresno chilis are often confused with red jalapenos. In reality, it’s very rare to find red jalapenos in a regular grocery store!

How Hot Are Fresno Chilis?

Fresno peppers are milder chili peppers, with a range of 2,500-10,000 SHU depending on where it was grown.

That said, they do deliver some heat! Fresnos at the high end of the range are spicier than their cousin, the jalapeno, which tops out at around 8,000 SHUs.

Growers of Fresno chilis will tell you there’s a distinct difference in the flavor and heat of the chilis grown in Fresno county versus those grown elsewhere.

For perspective on the heat level, consider where the Fresno stands relative to some well-known peppers:

  • Anaheim chili pepper, 500-2,500 SHU
  • Jalapeno pepper, 2,000-8,000 SHU
  • Fresno chili pepper, 2,500-10,000 SHU
  • Serrano chili pepper, 10,000-25,000 SHU
  • Habanero pepper, 200,000-300,000 SHU

What’s The Difference Between Fresno Chilis And Jalapeno Peppers?

Fresno chili peppers (capsicum annuum) may bear a striking resemblance to the jalapeno, but there are some notable differences.

Aside from a higher ranking on the Scoville scale, there are some distinctive anatomical and flavor differences between the Fresno and jalapeno.

The primary differences between the two chilis can be summed up as follows:

Fresno chili pepper has:

  • Fruity and slightly smoky flavor.
  • Higher level of heat.
  • Slightly larger size at maturity.
  • Slightly pointier end.
  • Thinner walls that can affect its use in recipes.

What’s The Difference Between Fresno Chilis And Serrano Chilis?

The serrano pepper is the other pepper commonly found in markets and is sometimes mistaken for Fresno chilis.

Serrano chilis are also considered a medium heat chili, but they do rank higher on the Scoville scale than Fresnos at 10,000-25,000 SHUs.

Their flavor profiles also differ. Where the Fresno is noted for its fruity and slightly smoky flavor, the serrano’s dominant flavor is fresh and grassy.

What Are Fresno Chilis Used For?

Fresno chilis are immensely versatile. They are eaten raw and cooked and depending upon the color, they can add a lot or a little spice to a dish.

In addition to hot sauce and salsas, Fresno chili peppers are also often used when making ceviche, a seafood dish in which the acid from limes “cooks” the fish within the dish.

ceviche with fresno chili

Pickling and drying the chilis and grinding them into a powder are common ways to utilize Fresno peppers.

Certain soups, stews, marinades, and sauces may call for Fresno chilis. You can roast them to intensify their naturally smoky flavor and heat.

And although many traditional Mexican or Spanish recipes incorporate chilis, there are other cultures that routinely use Fresno or similar chilis when cooking. This Italian Fresno Pepper Pesto recipe can be used as a dip, spread, or sauce for a spicy appetizer.

Can You Grow Fresno Chilis?

Fresno chilis are easy to grow. If you’ve ever grown bell peppers or other chili peppers, the conditions required will be the same.

Because Fresno chilis can be easily confused with jalapenos, one of the best ways to ensure you get a proper Fresno is to grow them on your own.

Fresnos (and most chilis in general):

  • Do best in summer
  • Require warm temperatures and full sun
  • Need little fertilizer
  • Can be sown from seed or transplanted
  • Do well in containers or planted directly into the soil
  • Like the support of a cage or stake as they reach their full height

They are also good companion plants to tomatoes, basil, and several other herbs.

Chilis can be picked in the green or red stages depending on preference and use.

Where To Buy Fresno Chilis

Fresno chilis are becoming easier to find, although the risk of mislabeling still exists. They are commonly found in specialty grocers, organic markets, and many supermarkets now. 

When purchasing, however, you’ll want to note the pepper wall’s size and thickness. Most grocers will happily cut one open for your inspection if asked.

You can find Fresno pepper seeds and starter plants in most nurseries or online.

What Can Be Substituted For Fresno Chilis?

If Fresnos are unavailable, there are some suitable substitutes. Because of their similarity, you can use jalapenos in many cases. But others may be a better choice depending on what’s needed. 

  • Chipotle peppers (smoked jalapenos) are a good substitute if looking for the smokiness Fresnos bring.
  • Cayenne peppers can be used if you are looking for a similar flavor and some heat.


Lorin is a writer, editor, photographer, and loves a culinary adventure. She routinely climbs up the Scoville heat ladder using peppers and spice to update and create new recipes for friends. Over the years she's become a pepper aficionado, growing and cultivating several varieties in her home garden.

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