Chilis - Thailand & Southeast Asia   -   [C. frutescens and C. annuum]
Thai Chilis

This page deals directly with chilis used in Thailand, because Thai usage is so familiar here in Southern California, but the page has been expanded with information regarding other regions of mainland Southeast Asia.

Many kinds of chilis (Prik or Phrik) are grown in Thailand, and terminology, by time it's translated to English, is very confusing and sometimes just plain wrong. Much less information is available from other Southeast Asian countries. Details of size and hotness are difficult to find for those not available in California. Asian sources don't bother with these details because "everyone already knows". Several of the smallest chilis are called "Bird Peppers", but this name is not at all unique to Thailand. Here you will find my descriptions as best I could gather from a multitude of sources.

While all chilis, from the tiniest beads to the big bell peppers, originated in Central and South America, chilis are so variable that unique varieties have been developed in many countries for local use. While more than 75 varieties are grown in Thailand alone, I list here the most important.

Unfortunately, of the Thai chilis only prik ki nu is readily available in Los Angeles. Even in Thai Town (Hollywood Blvd east of Western) they have only prik ki nu, serranos, jalapenos and maybe Fresnos, so substitutions have to be made - unless you grow them yourself (seeds are readily available on-line).

More on Chili Peppers.


Prik Ki Nu   -   [Rat Turd Chili; Mak Pet Ki Nuu (Laos); Scuds (some chefs); C. frutescens (some say C. annuum).]
Rat Turd Chilis

This is the chili we most think of as "Thai Chili", and the only one commonly sold in North America. It is small, often less than 1-3/4 inches long as grown in Thailand, but there are many varieties and those grown in California are often up to 2-3/4 inches (more efficient to grow and harvest large sizes). They are narrow, pointy and start growing point up, but turn downward as they reach full size. They turn from green to red when ripe (they may be somewhat orange in between). Red ripe they are called prik ki nu daeng. They are very hot (H8 to H9), slightly less hot when red ripe, and a little less than that when dried. Fully red ripe prik ki nu dry very well into fine dried red chilis, called prik ki nu daeng haeng. Those imported from Thailand tend to be hotter than if you dried those grown in California. Some minor varieties are black if in full sun, turning bright orange when ripe.

Prik Chee Fah   -   [Spur Chili; Mak Pet Nyai (Laos); C. annuum]
Holland Red Chilis

These are pointy like the prik ki nu, but are much larger, up to nearly 6 inches long, and not as hot. They also grow point up, in fact the name means "pointing to the sky". In Thailand they are sold green, red and dried, but I haven't seen them in Southern California. Holland red would probably be closest to fresh red ones, though around here Red Fresnos are the standard medium hot red chili used by every ethnic group. The photo specimens are actually Holland Red, which look exactly like photos of Prik Chee Fah I've seen taken in Thailand, and they fit the description.

Prik Kariang   -   [Karen Chilis; C. frutescens]
Karen Chilis

These are shorter than prik ki nu, proportionally wider and even hotter. They are a classic "Bird Chili", very small, very hot (H9) and growing point up. They may be green, yellow, orange red or purple, and can sometimes be found from an Asian grower in a farmer's market.

Prik Kaeng   -   [C. annum]
Puya Chilis

These chilis are used particularly in northern Thailand, and an important roasted flake is made from them. They are not yet available in North America, but expert opinion is that Mexican Puya chilis are a fine substitute - about the same size, flavor and hotness (H4-5). The photo specimens are Puya, about 4-1/2 inches long. They are available from some markets serving a Mexican community.

Prik Lao   -   [Mac Pet (Laos); C. annum]
Laotian Chilis

These are the most popular chilis in Laos, thus the name Mac Pet (Hot Chili) with no modifier. They are plumper and longer (up to 3 inches) than the Prik Ki Nu, and usually blunt at the end. They are also significantly less hot (H5-6). They are sold at several stages of ripeness, green, yellow, orange and red.   Photo borrowed from Swedish seed seller Jalapeno.nu, but they don't have any for sale.

Prik e Noo Kaset   -   [C. annuum]
Green Serrano Chilis

These are regular Serrano chilis now grown in Thailand for use in table condiments and hot sauces. They were Introduced to Thailand by visitors and returnees from California. Before Thai chilis were much grown in Southern California we used Serranos for Thai table condiments. Now some restaurants have gone to a 4 cup condiment tray so guests can have both Thai chilis and the more flavorful Serranos. I understand Sriracha sauce is now being made in Thailand from red ripe Serranos. Serranos are thick walled and do not dry well, so are always used fresh. Their hotness is about H6, but somewhat variable.

Prik Yuak   -   [Mac Pet Nyai (Lao); C. annuum]
Yellow-Green Yuak Chilis

This is a fairly large, mild yellow-green to yellow chili, sometimes called "Thai sweet pepper". While mild, it is not completely without heat, but is used as a vegetable rather than as a seasoning. It is similar to low heat Banana Peppers, which would make good substitutes. Mild Hungarian peppers would also work, though they have a blockier shape. Prik Yuak is used extensively in salads and stir fries, and is also often stuffed.   Photo courtesy Susan Slater © .

Prik Luang
This bright orange aromatic chili is fairly mild and larger than prick chee fah. They are used in salads, chili pastes and meat dishes. I have never seen one here in Southern California, but if you must have an aromatic, orange, not-too-hot chili, I recommend the Peruvian Aji Amarillo. It is available whole frozen, and in paste, sauce, dried and other forms. Authenticity? Not to worry, all chilis came originally from South and Central America.

Prik Haeng   -   [Mac Pet Haeng (Laos)]
Thai Dried Chilis

These small, very hot dried red chilis made from Prik Ki Nu, Prik Kariang or similar. Thai recipes using them often end in "Prik Haeng". Those in the photo I dried myself, as I do whenever one of the local markets has a batch of really fine bright red Thai chilis. Very hot, but not quite as hot as fresh chilis of the same type. They are easily available imported from Thailand, and the imports are somewhat hotter than the California grown.

Prik Pasom Sot   -   [Nga yohk kaung (Burma); C. annuum var. grossum]
Bell Peppers

These are regular red, green and yellow bell peppers. Yes, they use them in Thailand, but not to nearly the extent they are used in China. Their hotness is H0, though occassionally one will show a trace of heat.

Prik Fresno   -   ["Red Jalapeno" (U.S. supermarkets); C. annuum]
Fresno Chilis

This is not a Thai chili (at least not yet), but it has been chosen by all ethnicities in Southern California as the medium hot red chili suitable for their cuisines. Their hotness is about H4-5. Use it in place of Prik Chee Fah - unless shape is an issue. If it is, you'll have to track down Holland Reds, sometimes sold in the big chain supermarkets.

Bai Prik   -   [Chili Leaf; Bai Prik (Thai); Bai Mak Pet (Laos); Dahon ng Sili (Philippine)]
Chili Leaves

What variety of chili plant these come from is not very important as they have no heat and little flavor. They are used mostly for color, particularly in Thai Green Curry Paste, to make it bright green without using so many green chilis it is too hot. In Laos They are used in soups and stews, and similarly in the Philippines. I have most often found them in Philippine markets, but I also get them from my own chili plants.

Shishito Chili   -   [C. annuum]
Shishito Chilis

This chili, common here in Southern California, is included on this page because one of my Burmese cookbooks has a photo labeled "Mild Green Chilis". Those chilis looked exactly like Shishitos except much shorter, like the Spanish Padróne, from which both are probably descended. They have almost no heat, except about 1 in 20 can surprise. Burma has common borders with both Thailand and Laos, so these chilis may also be seen in those countries. The longest chili in the batch from which the photo specimens were drawn was 4-1/4 inches, not counting stem.

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