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Siling labuyo: an at-risk Filipino pepper with many uses

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In the vibrant tapestry of Filipino cuisine, few elements ignite the palate quite like the renowned siling labuyo pepper. With its compact size and remarkable heat, this pepper has etched its mark in culinary traditions and cultural practices. 

Facts about
Siling labuyo

Heat level:
Capsicum frutescens

What are siling labuyo peppers?

Siling labuyo peppers are a small pepper widely embraced in the Philippines. They are used to add spice to many dishes, have been used historically in traditional medicine, and are still used in some modern medical contexts.

What is siling labuyo in English?

The term “siling labuyo,” rooted in Tagalog, simply translates to “wild chili” in English. If you are looking for them in the United States, they will simply be called siling labuyo, labuyo chili, or they are sometimes referred to as Filipino bird’s eye chilis.

What do siling labuyo peppers look like?

Siling labuyo peppers at a Philippine supermarket

When it comes to appearance, the siling labuyo peppers and their plants have some interesting features. The plants grow to be about a meter tall (roughly 3.3 feet), which is pretty typical of chili peppers. 

When fully grown, the fruits measure around 2.5 cm long and 0.75 cm wide. They start as lively green and gradually mature to vibrant red as they ripen. There are several other varieties, however, that evolve into yellow, purple, and black. 

How hot is siling labuyo?

While tiny in size, siling labuyo packs impressive heat, ranging from 80,000 to 100,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). To put it in perspective, they share a similar spiciness level with the hotter end of Thai bird’s eye chilis, which fall in the 50,000 to 100,000 SHU range. These peppers might be a tad much for those sensitive to spice, but for the heat enthusiasts, they deliver an exciting and pleasant kick to your culinary endeavors.

Siling labuyo vs. Jalapeños

Siling labuyo peppers are significantly hotter than jalapeños, clocking in at a scorching 80,000-100,000 SHU. In comparison, jalapeñosrange from a more subdued 2,500 to 10,000 SHU. That’s a significant difference – we’re talking about 10 to 40 times hotter for the siling labuyo! So, if you’re seeking an adventure in spice, the siling labuyo is ready to bring the heat.

Is siling labuyo the same as Thai chilis?

While siling labuyo and Thai chilis share similarities, they’re not quite identical. 

Siling labuyo tends to be hotter on average than Thai chilis, adding an extra punch to your palate. Visually, siling labuyo peppers are a touch smaller than their Thai counterparts, and they have a more rounded end, while Thai chilis sport a pointed tip. 

However, they look similar enough that mix-ups often happen, with siling labuyo being labeled as Thai chilis.

Flavor profile

When it comes to flavor, siling labuyo peppers are all about the heat – they take center stage without sharing much of the spotlight with other flavor notes. Like all peppers, they are slightly vegetal, and as they mature, a hint of sweetness joins the mix. 

Yet, their primary role in the culinary world is to bring the heat, spicing up dishes with their fiery nature. 

Common culinary uses

Siling labuyo chilis take the spotlight in Filipino cooking, making their flavorful appearance both when they are green and red. Found in various dishes, these chilis, known for their heat, have earned a special place in the hearts of Filipino cooks. One classic example is the aromatic chicken tinola, where they contribute to the distinct spiciness.

These chilis also shine in a popular chili condiment, blending siling labuyo with vinegar, garlic, ginger, and onion. This mixture creates a sensational accompaniment that adds a burst of heat to a multitude of dishes. 

Other uses of siling labuyo

Siling labuyo peppers hold a multifaceted role beyond culinary uses and are also embedded in the fabric of traditional Filipino medicine, particularly for treating conditions like arthritis and toothaches. 

In contemporary contexts, studies indicate their potential to alleviate pain and enhance knee functionality (Paterno et al., 2019). They also exhibit antimicrobial properties, demonstrating efficacy as disinfectants and inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Aspergillus fumigatus(David & Tan, 2012).

Beyond their culinary appeal, siling labuyo peppers demonstrate a versatility that bridges tradition and modernity, underscoring their importance in Filipino culture.

Where to get siling labuyo peppers

While siling labuyo holds cultural importance in the Philippines, finding genuine ones is getting tougher due to imported alternatives flooding the market. 

In the US, local grocery stores don’t usually carry them, and you’re unlikely to even find dried peppers on Amazon. 

Your best bet is to grab seeds from a trusted seller like Seed Savers and grow them yourself. As their availability dwindles, growing your own ensures authenticity and helps keep the cultural and culinary legacy alive.

Substitutions for siling labuyo

When it comes to replacing siling labuyo, Thai chili peppers (bird’s eye) step in as a popular alternative. They offer a comparable flavor profile, but here’s the catch: Thai peppers are often milder than the fiery siling labuyo. So, while they share similarities, be prepared for a potential difference in heat level when opting for Thai chilis as a substitute.

As we conclude our exploration of the versatile siling labuyo pepper, we recognize the threads it weaves through the rich fabric of Filipino gastronomy and culture. From traditional dishes to medicinal applications, this small but potent ingredient continues to inspire. 


David, P. D. M., & Tan, L. A. U. (2012). Assessing the antimicrobial activity of Capsicum frutescens Linn. (Siling labuyo) crude fruit extract. (thesis).

Paterno, E. R., Pangilinan, C. A., Arollado, E. C., & Rosario, R. M. (2019). A preliminary study on the safety, efficacy and acceptability of the community preparation of Siling Labuyo (capsicum frutescens) liniment in the management of knee osteoarthritis in a six-week, active-controlled community-based clinical trial. Acta Medica Philippina, 53(4).

Main image credit: File:Capsicum ‘Siling Labuyo’ (Mindanao, Philippines) 1.jpg” by Obsidian Soul is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.