I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different Calabrian chili paste substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding Calabrian chili paste is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
The best substitute for Calabrian chili paste is making it from scratch – it’s easier than you think. But if you want a ready-to-use option, go with sambal oelek, sriracha, or Tabasco. You can also use fresh peppers such as anaheim, fresno, or serrano peppers. A last resort option is red pepper flakes.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a basic cream sauce to try out twelve different Calabrian chili paste substitutes.
This Italian chili paste is made from Calabrian peppers, giving it a fiery kick with sweet, smoky notes. I was looking for a substitute that could replicate the flavor notes of the paste, while adding some sort of heat.
Here’s what I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitute||Sub 1 tsp of Calabrian chili paste for||Verdict|
|Homemade Calabrian chili paste||1 tsp||10/10|
|Anaheim peppers||2 tsp||9/10|
|Sambal oelek||1 tsp||8/10|
|Garlic chili sauce||½ tsp||6/10|
|Fresno peppers||1 tsp||8/10|
|Serrano peppers||1 tsp||8/10|
|Crushed red pepper flakes||1 tsp||7/10|
Common dishes that use Calabrian chili paste and their substitutes
Calabrian chili paste is a common ingredient in Nduja, an Italian meat. But it’s very versatile!
Here are some common uses for Calabrian chili paste and the best substitutes for that situation:
- Condiment/garnish: homemade Calabrian chili paste, sriracha, tabasco sauce
- Pasta sauces, stews, and soups: homemade Calabrian chili paste, sambal oelek, fresh chili peppers (anaheim or serrano)
- Marinades, dipping sauces, and vinaigrettes: homemade Calabrian chili paste, sambal oelek
Homemade Calabrian chili paste
The best substitute for Calabrian chili paste is to make your own!
Jarred Calabrian chilis are easier to find than the paste and making it from scratch is simple.
Chili Pepper Madness has a quick recipe that only calls for four ingredients: Calabrian peppers, garlic cloves, olive oil, and salt.
Sadly the DIY paste only lasts for about five days so just make what you need.
And for those lazy days (we all have them!), you can simply chop up the jarred Calabrian peppers and add them straight to your dish. It’ll be a tad spicier but it’s effortless.
Psst… if you can find Calabrian chili oil, this will work well too.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 1 tsp homemade Calabrian chili paste
Anaheim peppers aren’t very spicy and the heat they do have doesn’t linger.
But they’re very close in flavor to the Calabrian pepper, which makes them the perfect alternative for anyone that can’t handle heat.
They have a slightly fruity and earthy flavor, with a subtle spiciness.
And my top tip? Roast or grill the peppers to bring out their natural sweetness and add a smoky flavor to your recipe. I did this for my cream sauce and it was delicious!
If you want heat in your dish as well, sprinkle in some chili flakes or mix in some bird’s eye chilis.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 2 tsp chopped anaheim peppers + chili flakes for spice
According to the Pepper Scale, serrano peppers clock in at 10,000-23,000 Scoville units compared to the Calabrian peppers 25,000-40,000 units, so they’re not as spicy.
But they have similar flavor notes to the Calabrian pepper with fruity, earthy undertones.
You can chop these peppers up and incorporate them into your dish, crush them to make your own paste (this is what I did), or go with a serrano pepper sauce.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 2 tsp chopped serrano peppers
Another fresh pepper you can use in place of Calabrian chili paste are Fresno peppers. They’re very popular in Mexican and Southwestern cusine.
They’re not as spicy as Calabrian peppers – I would say they’re just above jalapeños in terms of heat level.
And they have a bright, tangy flavor profile that will remind you of Calabrian chili paste.
Try them and see!
Psst… you can also try habanero peppers or birds eye chilis if you want lots of spice.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 1 tsp chopped Fresno peppers
Sambal oelek (chili paste)
If you’re not interested in messing around with fresh peppers, sambal oelek is the next best thing. It’s an Indonesian chili paste.
It’s got a spicy flavor with a hint of sweetness just like Calabrian chili paste, but it also has a subtle sour note (thanks to the addition of vinegar).
Both sauces have a chunky texture.
But the best part is sambal oelek is just as versatile as Calabrian chili paste – I especially love smearing it over a slice of pizza.
Psst… any chili paste will do – but this is my favourite which is why I’m suggesting it.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 1 tsp sambal oelek
Harissa is a hot chili paste from Tunisia and is a mainstay in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines.
While the flavor isn’t the same as Calabrian chili paste, it’s got a similar depth and complexity to it.
It packs an intense heat and has some smokey notes thanks to the addition of warming spices like cumin, coriander and caraway seeds.
Harissa also has a hint of fresh citrus.
Pro tip: if you like harissa, you should also try peri peri sauce (check out my substitutes for peri peri sauce here)
How to use: 1 teaspoon Calabrian chili paste = 1 teaspoon harissa (or slightly less if you want a less intense heat)
Chili garlic sauce
Chili garlic sauce is an acceptable substitute for Calabrian chili sauce, but it’s not amazing.
Despite sharing similar ingredients, the two sauces have pretty distinct flavor profiles.
Calabrian chili paste has a fruity and slightly smoky flavor, while chili garlic sauce has a more pronounced tanginess and garlic taste. It’s also not as spicy.
But it will bring a background heat to your dish so it’s okay to use if you’re really stuck.
Read next: best chili garlic sauce substitutes
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 1 tsp chili garlic sauce
Crushed red pepper flakes
If all you want is Calabrian chili paste’s fiery heat, you can keep things simple and use crushed red pepper flakes instead.
Don’t expect them to add much depth to your dish though.
According to Bon Appetit, most bottles of red pepper flakes are made with cayenne peppers which are all about spice and heat.
And as Epicurious’ recommends, I usually add them in the beginning of cooking to get maximum heat, but you can also add them towards the end if you want a more subtle flavor.
Pssst… if you can find aleppo pepper flakes, use these instead! They’re less hot than red pepper flakes, but they have a prominent earthy, fruity flavor that will elevate your dish.
How to use: 1 tsp Calabrian chili paste = 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Other substitute options
Here are some other substitute options I tried. These substitutes are moving away from Calabrian peppers in terms of flavor.
But they’ll all still add a nice flavor to your dishes.
- Ancho peppers (or poblano peppers) – these are another mild pepper option with an earthy, smokey twist to them that’s somewhat similar to Calabrian chilis. Ancho peppers are the dried form of poblano peppers.
- Chipotle paste – chipotle paste comes from North Africa and has a complex flavor. It’s rich, smokey, spicy, and fresh all at the same time. You dish won’t taste as expected, but it will still be super tasty.
- Sriracha – sriracha doesn’t taste like Calabrian chili paste, but it’s an easy substitute that works in a pinch! It’s not as spicy as the chili paste, but it still adds prominent heat to your food with an added sweet-sour flair.
Substitute To Avoid – Tabasco sauce
Tabasco (or other similar hot sauces like Franks) were suggested as a substitute for Calabrian chili paste by other blogs, so naturally I had to check it out.
But I thought the results were lack-luster.
Tabasco is more of a finishing sauce, and it’s a lot more vinegary and sharp than Calabrian paste which has an oil base.
The amount of vinegar was too much for me when I was expecting something with more depth.
Psst… looking for substitute ideas for tabasco? Check out my suggestion.
Calabrian Chili Paste Substitutes [And One To Avoid]
- 1 tsp Homemade Calabrian chili paste
- 2 tsp Anaheim peppers + extra chili flakes
- 1 tsp Sambal oelek
- 1 tsp Garlic chili sauce
- 1 tsp Harissa
- 1 tsp Fresno peppers
- 2 tsp Serrano peppers
- 2 tsp Sriracha
- 1/2 tsp Crushed red pepper flakes
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen Calabrian chili paste substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.