I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different chili bean sauce substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding chili bean sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitute for chili bean sauce (also known as Doubanjiang) is toban djan or a mixture of black bean paste and chili. You can also get away with using miso paste plus hot sauce, gochujang, or sambal oelek. For a non-spicy alternative, try doenjang. Oyster sauce plus chili flakes is good in a pinch
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made mapo tofu to test out seven chili bean sauce substitutes.
Chili bean sauce is a staple condiment in Sichuan cooking made from chilies and fava beans, it’s also called doubanjiang. It adds a fiery kick and a savory, umami flavor to your dishes.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Toban djan||Replace chili bean sauce in your recipe with a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Black bean paste + chili oil||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, adjusting the spiciness to your preference.||10/10|
|Miso + hot sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, then add hot sauce to taste.||9/10|
|Gochujang||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Sambal oelek||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Doenjang||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Oyster sauce + dried chili peppers||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, then add dried chili flakes/hot sauce to achieve the desired spiciness.||7/10|
Common dishes that use chili bean sauce and their substitutes
Chili bean sauce is the base for most dishes in Sichuan cuisine. Popular dishes that use it are mapo tofu, Sichuan shrimp, Kung pao chicken, and Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
But it’s also used in:
- Stir-fried veggies, meats, and rice – toban djan, black bean paste + chili oil
- Dipping sauces – toban djan, black bean paste + chili oil, miso + hot sauce
- Hot pot soup – toban djan
Toban Djan is chili bean sauce’s sibling originating from the Canton province in China.
It shares a similar flavor profile with chili bean sauce, but what differentiates it is the heat level.
It’s noticeably less spicy, making it perfect for those who want to enjoy the complex flavors of chili bean sauce without the intense spiciness.
And the best part about this sub? You can easily find this condiment in your local Asian grocery store – a famous brand is Lee Kum Kee!
Pro-tip: want to amp up the heat? Add chili flakes or a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with Toban djan.
Black bean paste + chili oil
The basis of chili bean sauce is fermented beans.
So an easy substitute is to mix another fermented bean paste (like black bean paste) with something spicy like chili oil.
The great thing about this sub is you have complete control over how spicy you want it to be.
I usually add a small amount of chili, especially when cooking for guests. And then I’ll serve the meal with chili oil on the side so people can up the spice level if they want.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with a mixture of black bean paste and chili oil or paste, adjusting the spiciness to your preference.
Miso + hot sauce
Initially I didn’t have much faith in this substitute, but it worked like a charm!
The miso paste had a slightly salty and earthy flavor profile with lots of umami, while the hot sauce made up for miso’s lack of heat and spice.
The beauty of this combo is you can experiment with the different types of miso and hot sauce brands to find the perfect flavor balance.
I used yellow miso and Tabasco for this experiment, but I highly recommend trying red miso if you want a saltier bite.
You can also try chili oil instead of hot sauce for more Asian flair.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe with an equal amount of miso, then add hot sauce to taste.
Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made from fermented red soybeans and red chili pepper flakes, which gives it a similar earthy flavor to chili bean sauce.
It’s very pungent, with a thick texture making it a great substitute option for rich dishes where you want lots of depth.
The catch is that gochujang is noticeably sweeter than chili bean sauce. But you can correct for this with a splash of lemon juice or some extra chili flakes.
Related: best substitutes for gochujang
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with Gochujang.
Sambal oelek is an Indonesian condiment that has recently grown in popularity (and it’s easy to see why).
Sambal oelek is brighter and more chili-forward than doubanjiang, but it will still bring complexity and depth of flavor (while also introducing a tangy, garlicky twist).
Psst… there’s no fermented ingredients in sambal oelek, so if you have any fish sauce or soy sauce to hand, adding a splash can up the ‘funkiness’.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe with half the amount of Sambal Oelek (because it’s spicier).
Looking for a sub that won’t set your taste buds on fire?
Try doenjang, a Korean fermented condiment, which boasts an earthy, salty taste reminiscent of chili bean sauce without the fiery kick.
It’s also slightly thicker than chili bean sauce, giving your saucy dishes a richer, more robust consistency.
Pro-tip: you can add a dash of red pepper flakes if you still want just a hint of heat.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with doenjang.
Oyster sauce + dried chili flakes
Oyster sauce isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about chili bean sauce, but this staple condiment can save the day in a pinch.
The oyster sauce provides a rich, savory flavor with a hint of sweetness that will complement many dishes, while adding the chili flakes makes up for the missing spice.
I’ve had success using this for stir-fries, but it may lack the depth of flavor you need for richer dishes like soups and stews.
How to substitute: replace chili bean sauce in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with oyster sauce, then add dried chili flakes to achieve the desired spiciness.
Best Chili Bean Sauce Substitutes [Tried and Tested]
- 1 tbsp toban djan
- 1 tbsp black bean paste + chili oil, adjust to taste
- 1 tbsp miso + hot sauce, adjust to taste
- 1 tbsp gochujang
- 1 tbsp sambal oelek
- 1 tbsp doenjang
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce + chili flakes, adjust to taste
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen chili bean sauce substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.