I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different hot sauce substitutes to find the best one.
Whatever your reason for avoiding hot sauce is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitutes for hot sauce are making your own, fresh chilis, or sambal oelek. You can also go with ground spices, sriracha, or spicy ketchup. For pepper-free options, try horseradish, mustard or wasabi.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made a spicy mayo dip to test as many different hot sauce substitutes as I could find.
Hot sauce is a simple mixture of chili peppers and vinegar. It’s the go-to condiment when you want to add a fiery kick to your dishes.
I was looking for something that cold replicate the clean, spicy flavors.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Homemade hot sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Sambal oelek||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Fresh chilis||3-4 dashes hot sauce = 1 teaspoon minced chilis||9/10|
|Ground spices||3-4 dashes hot sauce = 1/8 teaspoon dried spices||8/10|
|Spicy ketchup||3-4 dashes hot sauce = 1 teaspoon spicy ketchup||6/10|
|Horseradish||3-4 dashes hot sauce = 1/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish||8/10|
|Mustard||3-4 dashes hot sauce = 1/8 teaspoon mustard powder||8/10|
Common uses for hot sauce and the best substitutes
Here are some common use cases for hot sauce and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a stand-alone condiment – sambal oelek, spicy ketchup, sriracha
- For marinades and sauces – homemade hot sauce, fresh chilis, sambal oelek, mustard
- For soups, stews, and braises – fresh chilis, ground spices, mustard
- For cocktails – homemade hot sauce, spicy ketchup, fresh chilis
Homemade hot sauce
At a basic level, all hot sauces are a mixture of the same ingredients: chili, vinegar, water, and salt.
If you’re into spice, you probably have some chili in your kitchen. If you also have some vinegar, you can easily make your own hot sauce!
Here’s a great recipe that only takes 15 minutes.
Your homemade hot sauce won’t have much complexity, but it will add heat. And if you enjoy the process, you can get more creative and make different styles of hot sauce.
How to substitute: replace hot sauce in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade version.
Sambal oelek / sriracha / garlic chili sauce
These condiments are like cousins to your favorite hot sauce.
They’re made with similar base ingredients (chili, vinegar, salt) so have the same underlying flavor.
I found sambal oelek to be the most like hot sauce, with a clean chili flavor. Sriracha was a touch sweeter, and chili garlic sauce was (you guessed it) more garlicky.
I would try them all and see which one’s your favorite!
How to substitute: replace hot sauce in a 1:1 ratio with sambal oelek.
Fresh chilis are an excellent way to naturally add heat to your dishes.
Go with jalapenos, poblanos, or Anaheim peppers for a milder kick. They’ll add just the right amount of heat without overpowering the other flavors in your dish.
Or if you want to crank up the spice, try some habanero peppers or Thai bird’s eye chilies.
Finely chop or mince the peppers and add them into your dish as you’re cooking…
Or create a simple chili paste by blending fresh chilis with garlic, vinegar, and salt. This is what I did for my spicy mayo.
How to substitute: use 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh chili for every 3-4 dashes of hot sauce.
No hot sauce? Don’t run to the store just yet – your spice cabinet will come to the rescue!
Spicy powders are a quick and easy way to jazz up your dish with a fiery heat. They work great as a hot sauce substitute in soups, stews, sauces, and marinades.
And why stop with just one spice? You can create a blend to give your food more depth of flavor. I went with a mix of red pepper flakes and peppercorns.
Check you cupboards for:
- Crushed red pepper flakes – these are great if your dish is already flavorful and you only want to add heat. You can also try getting your hands on Aleppo pepper flakes which have a subtle sweetness.
- Peppercorns – these are slightly hot with a touch of sweetness. I recommended you buy whole peppercorns and grind them as you need them for the spiciest flavor.
- Curry powder – curry powder will bring a bright, warm flavor to your dish. The flavor will be more complex than a straightforward hot sauce, but that isn’t always a bad thing.
- Chili powder – this one’s self explanatory!
- Cayenne powder – cayenne peppers are pretty hot, so this one’s for the spice lovers. And the powder has a slight fruitiness to it.
You can sprinkle your choice of spices straight into your dish or mix them with a neutral-flavored oil to turn them into a paste.
How to substitute: a few dashes of hot sauce (three or four) equals about 1/8th of a teaspoon of dried spices.
If you’re looking for a less spicy alternative to hot sauce, spicy ketchup has your back.
It’s got the same comforting sweet-but-tangy taste of regular ketchup, but with an added kick to wake up your tastebuds.
And it goes with everything. From standard burgers and fries, to your morning eggs!
Your favorite ketchup brand probably makes this condiment, but you can easily get away with mixing standard ketchup with a dash of chili powder.
Psst… chili sauce will also work.
How to substitute: use 1 tablespoon of spicy ketchup for every teaspoon of hot sauce called for in the recipe.
I was skeptical when I first heard about horseradish as a hot sauce substitute. But boy, was I surprised!
Horseradish doesn’t rely on capsaicin for its heat, instead providing a different kind of spiciness that makes your throat tingle adds a zesty tang to your dish.
You have two options when it comes to horseradish: you can grate the fresh root straight into your dish or opt for prepared horseradish.
I’ve tried both, and they each have their own charm. Fresh horseradish has a more intense flavor, while prepared horseradish is milder and easier to use.
How to substitute: use 1/4 teaspoon of prepared horseradish for every 3-4 dashes of hot sauce.
Mustard is another excellent capsaicin-free substitute.
There’s a wide variety of mustards to choose from, but I highly recommend spicy brown mustard if you’re looking for intense heat that can rival hot sauce.
Made with brown mustard seeds, it’s the most pungent of the bunch and will definitely set your tongue ablaze.
Aside from heat, mustard also brings a rich, earthy flavor that’ll add complexity to your dish.
My mustard mayo was delicious!
How to substitute: a few dashes of hot sauce (three or four) equals about 1/8th of a teaspoon of mustard powder.
Other substitutes to consider
The options in the list above were my top picks, but they’re not the only condiments that can bring delectable heat to your dish.
Here are other options you can try if you have them on hand:
- Thai sweet chili sauce – this is another option if you’re not a fan of spice. This substitute only has a subtle heat and it’s best used as a dipping sauce or in stir fries.
- Chipotle paste – this comes from canned chipotle peppers blended with the adobo sauce. It’s sweet and tangy, with a mild spice and just the right smokiness.
- Wasabi – a non-pepper option that’ll bring intense heat to your dish. Regular wasabi pastes are usually made with mustard and horseradish, but if you can opt for an authentic one. The heat won’t linger as much.
- Chimichurri – chimichurri is made from a mix of chilis and fresh herbs so it has a fantastically bright flavor. It’s perfect for marinated meats or drizzling over grilled vegetables.
Substitutes to avoid
Not all chili pastes can replace your average hot sauce.
The below substitutes were frequently recommended, but I didn’t think they’re a good swap for hot sauce.
Both have a much more complex flavor profile than hot sauce, which will require you to build the dish around them rather than being a simple source of heat.
- Gochujang – this Korean chili paste is tasty but has a very different flavor profile to regular hot sauce. It’s funky, salty, and deeply savory. You can’t use gochujang as a stand-alone condiment, it needs to be cooked into a dish.
- Harissa – this classic North African condiment is loaded with warm, earthy spices that will bring a bold smoky flavor to dish. It’s made with a mix of things like cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds so can be overwhelming.
Homemade Hot Sauce [+ 12 Other Alternatives]
- 200 g fresh chilis peppers sliced lengthways
- 2-3 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 tsp salt adjust to taste
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vinegar apple cider, white wine, rice wine
- Pour vinegar and water into a saucepan and add the peppers, salt, and garlic.
- Bring the mixture to the boil and reduce to a simmer until peppers are soft (10 mins).
- Put everything in a blender and blend until combined.
- Taste and add more peppers or vinegar if needed.