I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different chili paste substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding chili paste is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitutes for chili paste are different styles of chili paste like samal oelek or harissa, a homemade version, or hot sauce. Ground spices and tomato paste are convenient options to try. For pepper-free alternatives, try prepared horseradish or mustard.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a spicy sauce to test 12 chili paste substitutes.
Chili paste is a versatile ingredient made from ground-up chilis. It’s spicy, so it’s mainly used to add heat to different dishes.
I was looking for a substitute that would bring a similar spice and depth of flavor to my sauce.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Other named chili pastes||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Homemade chili paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Hot sauce||Add into the finished dish to taste||10/10|
|Ground spices||Use 1/2 the amount of ground spices + 1 tbsp of neutral-flavored oil||9/10|
|Tomato paste||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with tomato paste, add spices to taste (if desired)||9/10|
|Prepared horseradish||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Mustard||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
Other types of chili paste
There are many kinds of chili paste from different cuisines, and most of them are an easy swap for standard chili paste.
Each one will bring a slightly different flavor of course, but here are some options you can use to spice up your dishes (I used sambel oelek):
- Sambal oelek – this Indonesian condiment is the closest tasting to regular chili paste. It’s made with just three ingredients – peppers, vinegar, and salt – so it has a straightforward and clean flavor.
- Harissa – this has a much more complex flavor profile than regular paste. It’s seasoned with earthy spices like cumin that give it a smoky flavor and also has a subtle brightness. It’s normally used in African and Middle Eastern dishes.
- Gochujang – this fermented chili paste is spicy, sweet, and chock-full of umami goodness that goes superbly with Asian dishes. It’s potent, so if you use gochujang expect it to be the main flavor of the dish.
- Calabrian chili paste – this is spicy, smoky, with a bright, tangy flavor that’s perfect for Italian dishes. It’s what gives nduja its spicy kick!
Give your chili paste a taste test before using it in your dish to check the spice level – then adjust the amount you add accordingly.
But for most use cases, you’ll be able to replace the ingredients in a 1:1 ratio.
How to substitute: replace store-bought chili paste in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your preferred chili paste.
Homemade chili paste (with fresh or dried chilis)
Making homemade chili paste is not only a breeze, but it also allows you to customize the heat level to your liking based on what peppers you use.
Fresh jalapenos are always a safe option because they’re not too spicy. And dried chilis are the way to go if you want to add a smoky dimension to your dishes.
I personally love using guajillo chiles because they strike the perfect balance between sweet, tangy, and spicy notes.
To make your chili paste, simply blend your chosen chilis with a bit of oil and vinegar. Easy peasy!
Pro-tip: if using dried chilis, rehydrate them in water first before blending everything.
How to substitute: replace store-bought chili paste in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade chili paste.
Your trusty bottle of hot sauce is a super convenient substitute for chili paste!
Just like all the different types of chili paste, different hot sauces have varying flavors and heat levels. Pick on your know you like and that you think will go best with the other flavors in your dish.
Here are some of the most common options you’ll see on the market:
- Louisiana-style hot sauce (e.g tabasco) – this is the most basic type of hot sauce. They’re spicy but also have a prominent vinegar taste, so you may need to reduce the acids in other areas of your recipe to keep the flavors balanced. Tabasco and Frank’s Red Hot are famous brands.
- Sriracha – this cult-favorite packs a hot, spicy flavor just like Louisiana-style hot sauce, but with an added garlicky twist and more sweetness. It also has a thicker texture than most hot sauces, making it a good substitute for chili paste.
- Mexican-style hot sauce – this style of hot sauce is made with a blend of chili peppers and uses less vinegar, which gives it a more peppery taste. Cholula and Tapatío and popular brands.
- Peri-peri sauce – this South African sauce is spicier than your average chili paste but also brings a zesty kick that’ll perk up your taste buds. It’s got a complex flavor, so will work best in dishes where there aren’t too many competing ingredients.
The major problem with hot sauce is the difference in texture – it’s much thinner and can’t be ‘cooked’ into the dish in the same way.
How to substitute: make your dish without the chili paste, then add in hot sauce to taste towards the end.
Ground spices are a life-saver when you run out of chili paste and can’t go to the store.
You can use them as they are and sprinkle them straight into your dish for an instant spicy addition.
Or you can mixing them with a neutral-flavored oil and a dash of salt to better replicate chili paste.
Raid your cabinet to see if you have these spices on hand:
- Red pepper flakes – these pepper flakes won’t add flavor to your dish, only heat. But you can always mix them with other spices to add flavor.
- Cayenne powder – this is hot and spicy, with a background hint of fruitiness.
- Chili powder – chili powder is generally made with a blend of chili peppers so has some depth to it, and it’s milder than cayenne powder.
- Habanero powder – this is not a common household spice, but it’s a great thing to have if you love spicy food. It has a Scoville rating of 150,000 – 575,000 units but has a subtle sweet kick that helps cut through the heat.
Ground spices are more concentrated than chilis in paste form, so you won’t need to add as much to get the same heat.
How to substitute: replace store-bought chili paste in your recipe with 1/2 the amount of ground spices.
While it might not be the most ideal substitute, tomato paste can save your dish in a pinch.
It shares a similar texture with chili paste, so you don’t have to worry about altering your dish’s consistency.
And it’s a great way to jazz up your dish if you want to avoid adding heat (tomato paste has a surprising amount of umami in it!).
You can also combine it with a dash of red pepper flakes or a pinch of cayenne if you do want spice.
Pro tip: brown the tomato paste to get the most out of its flavors.
How to substitute: replace chili paste in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with tomato paste, and then add spices to taste.
Craving heat without the peppers? Prepared horseradish might be the answer you’re looking for.
It’s not an exact flavor match, but it has a peppery spice that will give you the same tingling sensation on your tongue.
You can find it at most grocery stores, or you can use grated horseradish if you can get your hands on a fresh root.
Just remember the flavor is more potent when you use it fresh!
Pro tip: this substitute works best in creamy sauces, dressings, and meat marinades.
How to substitute: replace chili paste in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with prepared horseradish.
Another good pepper-free substitute for chili paste is mustard.
There are loads of different options, but I went with a classic Dijon mustard for my experiment.
It has less acidity than other prepared mustards, which means you cam enjoy the warmth of the spice without an overpowering tang.
Psst… brown mustard is the hottest option, or try whole-grain mustard for a milder flavor.
How to substitute: replace chili paste in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with mustard.
Other substitutes to consider
The substitutes I listed above are my top picks, but here are some other options you can use if you already have them on hand:
- Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – these peppers are mildly spicy with a prominent smoky flavor. You can blend the peppers into the adobo sauce for more flavor.
- Spicy ketchup – this is just like your regular bottle of ketchup, but with added spices to give it a mild but prominent kick. This works best as a condiment to add some last minute heat.
- Chili sauce – this sauce packs more of punch than spicy ketchup, and you can use it to cook with. But it’s only suitable for tomato based dishes.
- Wasabi paste – most brands of wasabi sold in the USA are actually a mix of horseradish and mustard. Wasabi has a peppery spice, and it works great in most Asian dishes.
Substitutes to avoid
Not everything you read on the web is good advice! I tried these two substitutes because I saw other people recommending them, but they didn’t work in my sauce.
- Salsa – this condiment’s consistency was too watery to replace chili paste and it’s not spicy enough. Save the salsa for your chips instead!
- Curry paste – curry paste has a delectable heat and warm flavor, but it has a much more complex flavor profile than your average chili paste and the spices included can easily overpower your dish.
Best Chili Paste Substitutes [+ What To Avoid]
- 1 tbsp other named chili pastes
- 1 tbsp homemade chili paste
- 1 tbsp hot sauce
- ½ tbsp ground spices + 1 tbsp of neutral-flavored oil, adjusting to taste
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
- 1 tbsp mustard
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen chili paste substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.