I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different chili garlic sauce substitutes to find the best one, whatever your reason for avoiding chili garlic sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer:
The best substitute for chili garlic sauce is sriacha or sambal oelek. Sriacha is slightly milder, while sambal oelek is hotter. You can also try harissa, chili crisp, or your favorite hot sauce. In a pinch, chili flakes will work. For something less spicy, try Thai sweet chili sauce.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a basic dipping sauce for dumplings to put eleven chili garlic sauce substitutes to the test.
Chili garlic sauce is a sauce made from chili peppers, garlic, and vinegar. It has a tangy and spicy flavor with a chunky texture.
I was looking for something that could replicate the mix of flavors, and of course deliver some heat (although I also include some non-spicy options).
Here’s what I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitute||Sub 1 teaspoon for?||Verdict|
|Sambal oelek||1 tsp + extra garlic to taste||10/10|
|Garlic paste||1 tsp + extra chili to taste||7/10|
|Louisiana-style hot sauce||1 tsp||9/10|
|Mexican-style hot sauce||1 tsp||8/10|
|Chili crisp||1 tsp||8/10|
|Fresh peppers||1 tsp + garlic to taste||7/10|
|Spices (chili flakes, garlic powder)||1 tsp||7/10|
|Thai sweet chili paste||1 tsp + a splash of vinegar||7/10|
|Homemade chili garlic sauce||1 tsp||10/10|
Srircha and sambal oelek were the best substitutes in terms of replicating the flavor of chili garlic sauce. Making your own chili garlic sauce is also a great option.
The other subs all added flavor or heat (or both), but were moving away from the original taste.
Pro tip: you can mix and match these substitutes and add in extras like fresh chili, fresh garlic, or vinegar if you feel like the substitue is missing something.
Common dishes that use chili garlic sauce
Here are some common uses for chili garlic sauce and the best substitutes:
- Dipping sauces and marinades: sriracha, sambal oelek, harissa, chili crisp, fresh peppers
- Noodle and stir-fry sauces: sambal oelek, harissa, garlic paste, fresh chilis
- As a condiment – sriracha, sambal oelek, hot sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce
Sriracha lovers rejoice! This popular condiment is a GREAT substitute for chili garlic sauce.
It’s made with the same ingredients, so it’s no surprise the flavor profiles are so similar. Both the sauces are garlicky and spicy with a sour kick. Although sriracha is slightly more mild.
But there is a difference in texture.
The bits of garlic and chili peppers are strained out in sriracha, giving it a silky smooth consistency.
Psst… you might find you actually prefer sriracha.
Related: substitutes for sriracha
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon sriracha
If you’re allergic to garlic or simply don’t like its prominent flavor in chili garlic sauce, sambal oelek is your best bet.
This Indonesian sauce is made with similar ingredients – chili peppers and vinegar – minus the garlic, resulting in a brighter more fiery kick.
Like chili garlic sauce, this condiment is also unstrained, so you’ll get bits of chopped chili peppers running through your dish.
It’s as versatile as chili garlic sauce too – I love stirring a tablespoon into some mayo for a quick spicy dip for my French fries.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon sambal oelek + extra crushed garlic to taste
Harissa is a hot chili paste from Tunisia and is a mainstay in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines.
It’s garlicky, just like chili garlic sauce. But it has a more intense heat and a more complex flavor thanks to the addition of warming spices like cumin, coriander and caraway seeds.
Harissa also has a hint of fresh citrus instead of tangy vinegar.
It’s most commonly found in paste form, but you can also find powdered harissa.
Pro tip: if you like harissa, you’ll probably also like peri peri sauce. It has a similar depth and complexity.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon harissa (or slightly less if you want a less intense heat)
This condiment uses oil instead of vinegar as the base, so it doesn’t have the same tangy flavor as chili garlic sauce.
But it’s boldly spicy with garlicky undertones (and incredibly addictive).
You can buy a bottle of this condiment in stores, but I like making it from scratch so I can balance the flavors to suit me.
Despite being oil-based, you can use chili crisp in all the same ways as chili garlic sauce – my favorite use for it is in pasta sauce!
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon chili crisp
If you can’t handle the spice from chili garlic sauce, stick with plain garlic paste.
You’ll get all the wonderful garlic flavor, with none of the heat.
You can also go with freshly crushed garlic or garlic powder.
And I would recommend adding a tiny amount of fresh chili or chili powder to the mix. Not enough to make the dish spicy, but enough to get the fruity flavor notes from the chili.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 garlic paste + extra chili to taste
Louisiana-style hot sauce
Louisiana-style hot sauce has a similar base to chili garlic sauce, but with less garlic. And the sourness from the vinegar is more prominent.
A massive plus for this substitute is that it’s available anywhere and there’s loads of brands to choose from.
You can never go wrong with classic Tabasco, but according to the Washington Post, other popular brands are Crystal’s, Louisiana, and my favorite, Frank’s Red Hot.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce (to offset the sourness, consider adding a drop of honey)
Mexican-style hot sauce
According to Serious Eats, this style of hot sauce is “smooth and uses a blend of peppers” instead of one type.
This gives it more depth of flavor compared to chili garlic sauce, but again it’s lacking the garlicky element.
Of course, you can always add your own garlic in!
Vavrevah says Mexican-style hot sauce uses less vinegar than other varieties, so the peppers’ natural flavors shine through more.
Some brands you might be familiar with include Cholula, Tapatio, and Valentina. Spice level will depend on the exact hot sauce you have, but I found it to be less spicy than the chili garlic sauce.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon Mexican-style hot sauce (+ extra chili and garlic to taste)
Fresh chili peppers
If all you want is to add heat to your food, fresh chili peppers should do the trick.
I used green jalapeno peppers because I had them, but you can use whatever you have to hand.
Green jalapenos are on the lower end of the Scoville Scale, clocking in with a spice level of 2,500-8000 units, so they’ll add a mildly spicy kick to your dish.
But if you’re a spice fiend, go with habanero peppers… and have a glass of milk on standby because these babies’ heat level measures 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville units.
You can also add in garlic powder or fresh garlic.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno peppers + garlic to taste
Another option if you only want to add heat to your dish are spices like red pepper flakes, chili powder, or cayenne pepper.
You likely already have them on hand, saving you a trip to the grocery store.
But don’t expect any of these to add depth to your dish – they’ll bring spice but none of the sour, garlicky notes you get with chili garlic sauce.
Again, you can improvise by mixing in a splash of vinegar and some garlic to the dish yourself.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, powdered cayenne or chili powder + garlic powder to taste
Thai sweet chili sauce
My sister isn’t too much of a spicy food lover, and Thai sweet chili sauce does the trick for her!
This classic condiment is sweet and tangy, with a faint background heat.
You can buy this in bottles at your local grocery, but making it from scratch is easy with this recipe from Daring Gourmet.
Psst… if you’re trying to cater for multiple spice levels you can try mixing sweet chili sauce with other, spicier hot sauces to adjust the heat.
How to use: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce = 1 teaspoon Thai sweet chili sauce )+ extra vinegar if you don’t want it too sweet)
Homemade chili garlic sauce
Making your own chili garlic sauce is actually pretty easy.
Maggie Zhu from Omnivore’s Cookbook has a fantastic recipe that I’ve tried, and it tasted exactly like the popular Huy Fong version.
- Chili peppers (red jalapeno peppers are best)
- white distilled vinegar
- Cornstarch (for thickening)
- A blender.
As you can see, most of the ingredients are cupboard staples!
The only hard-to-find ingredient is the red jalapeno peppers.
These are the peppers you need if you want an authentic tasting sauce, but you can go with any peppers you like. Or a blend!
I’ve had success with Fresno peppers.
How to use: use exactly as you would chili garlic sauce from the store. Once you’ve made the sauce, it will last for up to a month in the fridge.
Non spicy alternatives to chili garlic sauce
There are plenty of non-spicy substitutes for chili garlic sauce. You could go with straight garlic paste, ketchup, or a Thai style sweet chili sauce. Or you could try adding sugar to the chili garlic sauce to balance out the heat. Or make your own chili garlic sauce using a milder pepper.
If you go for ketchup or garlic paste, consider adding a very small amount of chili in so you get some of the flavor without any of the heat.
And with Thai sweet chili sauce, I always mix a splash of vinegar in to take away the sticky sweetness.
Best Substitutes For Chili Garlic Sauce [11 options]
- 1 tsp Sriracha
- 1 tsp Sambal oelek
- 1 tsp Harissa
- 1 tsp Garlic paste + extra chili
- 1 tsp Louisiana-style hot sauce
- 1 tsp Mexican-style hot sauce
- 1 tsp Chili crisp
- 1 tsp Fresh peppers + extra garlic
- 1 tsp Spices (chili flakes, garlic powder)
- 1 tsp Thai sweet chili paste + extra vinegar
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen chili garlic sauce substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.