What’s The Difference: Thai Chili Vs. Siling Labuyo

Both are called bird's eye chili but only one is the real siling labuyo.
Thai chili (left), siling labuyo (right)

Is it or is it not a siling labuyo

The general confusion between what is a siling labuyo is not entirely our fault. Labels that claim it’s a siling labuyo are not totally wrong either. There are some chili peppers in other countries that are also called bird’s eye chili, too. 

These peppers are said to be brought to Southeast Asia by the Spanish and the Portuguese to give our dishes a delightful heat and so the Philippines may not be the only country that inherited this kind of pepper. The sili you have in your kitchen may be is a siling labuyo, or it could be a Thai chili! They look a lot alike, but there are some differences.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between siling labuyo and Thai chili:

1 The siling labuyo is hotter than the Thai chili. 

red and green sili
Photo by Isi Laureano

The level of spiciness of a pepper variety is rated on the Scoville Scale, a tool created by Wilbur Scoville which uses a standardized unit of measurement to determine the pungency or the heat of a pepper. It measures the concentration of capsaicinoids, which is responsible for the heat and irritation we feel on our tongue when we eat a pepper. This standard unit of measurement is called a Scoville heat unit (SHU)

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On this scale, the siling labuyo scores 100,000 up to 225,000 SHU (9 to 10 on the scale) while the Thai chili scores 50,000 up to 100,000 (7 to 9). This means that the tiny siling labuyo is actually hotter, spicier than the Thai variety of chili peppers. 

According to the chart, the Thai chili spicy level ranges from “hot” to “spicy hot” and are hotter than the jalapeño, tabasco, serrano, and even the cayenne chili peppers. The siling labuyo meanwhile is “spicy hot” to “very hot” and are similar in heat to the infamous Scotch bonnet, habañero, and the Devil’s tongue red chili peppers. 

2 Siling labuyo is smaller than Thai chili.

siling labuyo with a measurement noting that they're 1-1.5 inches
Photo by Shutterstock

Our native siling labuyo grows small, around 1 inch up to 1.5 inches in length. The Thai chili can grow longer than this and usually measures up to 2 inches in length. This is one of the reasons why it can be confused with the siling labuyo since even the size is close to the other. 

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3 Siling labuyo is rounded while the Thai chili is long and pointed. 

thai chili pepper
Photo by Shutterstock

Just by looking at the chili pepper, you can tell it’s which is a siling labuyo and what is. That’s because the Thai chili pepper is small but is long and narrow in shape with a pointed end. The siling labuyo is the opposite of these: it’s small but it is short with a rounded tip. 

Still confused? That’s okay! Whether you’re using the real siling labuyo or the Thai variety, your recipe will still be a spicy one. Just add more if you want to experience the real heat of the siling labuyo if you think it’s not the real thing. 

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