7 Best Chili Paste Substitutes
Chili paste is a wondrous ingredient that adds spice, flavor, depth, and complexity to any savory dish. Across the world, people from all walks of life have been making chili pastes in various forms for centuries, because let’s face it… people like their food HOT!
Chili pastes can come in a variety of flavors including smokey, acidic, sweet, tangy, and salty. They can also be smooth, puréed, chunky, or somewhere in the middle. They can also range from mild to incredibly spicy depending on how and where they are made, and from which chilies.
Chili paste is something you probably already have in some form in your home. The simplest form would be a store-bought hot sauce, which includes Tobasco, Frank’s Red Hot, or Sriracha (more on this later). But it is also very easy to make your own simply by blending some hot peppers and water to make a paste.
If you want more depth of flavor, you might consider cooking this liquid down and adding some acid and/or sugar, as well as spices and salt… but we’ll leave that up to you. We’re here to tell you about some exciting alternatives for chili paste if it turns out you don’t have any on hand.
In Mexico, people love chilies ground into salsas or hot sauce; in India, ground chilies go into curries and all sorts of spice blends. In Korea, they tend to ferment their chili pastes. In Africa, they often use dried chilies mixed with water to form a paste.
In America, they are often cooked and sweetened. In some Asian cultures, they are made from the hottest chilies around! Every culture has its own version of chili paste… keep reading to hear some of our favorite chili paste substitutes!
1. Tomato Paste
With or without spice added, tomato paste is NOT chili paste. However, it is the same consistency and color as the best chili pastes around. When a recipe calls for chili paste, you can use tomato paste to get that same red color, and add a bit of thickness.
If it’s spice you’re after, you can also add some cayenne pepper to create your own mild chili paste. To make tomato chili paste, simply mix 1 tbsp tomato paste with 2-3 tbsp warm water, and add 1 tsp cayenne pepper and a dash of salt. You can now use this in any recipe requiring chili paste!
2. Sambal Oelek
This Indonesian condiment is often described as a hot and spicy Indonesian relish and is used on everything from eggs to noodles, to rice and meat dishes. More about Indonesian foods here.
Sambal Oelek (more commonly sambal) is typically made from green and red chili peppers, cooked down with garlic, ginger, shallots, and green onions. It is typically sweetened with palm or coconut sugar and often includes shrimp paste.
For this reason, sambal is not a good substitute for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone allergic to shellfish. It is very popular in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore, but if you open the fridge of any spice lover anywhere in the world, there is a good chance you will find sambal!
Sambal is cooked and cooked but never puréed, so you can still see the chili seeds making this chili paste have a somewhat chunky texture, so depending on its use, you may want to purée it first!
Known as “sot” in Thailand (or Nam prik), sriracha is now a household name for hot sauce. However, true sriracha is made in Thailand using the original recipe developed by a modest Thai woman by the name of Thanom Chakkpak.
She named the sauce after her hometown of Si Racha in Thailand. The original Thai recipe uses red chilis, cooked with vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic.
The mixture is cooled and blended and then cooked down until thick. This results in a well-seasoned, flavorful, deep red hot sauce that is perfect on eggs, in noodle dishes, on rice, and with seafood.
Sriracha is used all over the world but is especially popular in Thailand and Vietnam, where locals are known to carry around a small bottle on key rings or in their pockets.
You can use sriracha as a substitute for chili paste because it is naturally a bit thicker than other hot sauces and has a depth of flavor that will quench any spice lover’s craving.
4. Curry Paste
Curry paste is especially popular in Thai food where red or green chilies are mashed with garlic, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and other spices, and then stirred into a broth, water, or coconut milk to make Thai curries.
Either way, there are plenty of curry pastes you can buy or make at home that will make a great substitute for chili paste because they are equally spicy and are often thick enough to spread or dip. Try adding a spoonful of curry paste to peanut sauce, coconut milk, or red pepper jelly for an instantly delicious condiment that everyone will love!
Harissa is a popular chili paste used in Middle Eastern food to spice up mild foods like yogurt, grilled vegetables, and meats. It derives its name from the Arabic word harasa, which means “to pound,” because to make harissa, the spices and chilies are ground in a clay pot (or mortar and pestle.)
The result is a thick paste that is chunky and has lots of texture. The main ingredients in traditional harissa include chilies, cumin, coriander, caraway, and salt. Authentic harissa made in Maghreb is made primarily from Baklouti chilis, which have a bright, dark burgundy color and higher oil content.
Harissa can be quite spicy and is often stored out of the fridge to let it age, and is topped with a thin layer of oil to prevent spoilage.
If there is one country that knows how to make spicy food it’s Mexico! Mexicans love chilies and it’s no surprise – their climate is perfect for growing a variety of hot peppers year-round.
Mexicans often favor jalapenos and habaneros, which are less spicy than chilies used in Asia or India, but still pack a lot of heat! Hot sauces are often made from green chilies, and salsa is made from a combination of cooked chilies, onion, garlic, and tomato.
This mixture is often seasoned with sugar, salt, vinegar, or lime and can be thin and pourable or quite thick, making it a perfect substitute for chili paste in any kitchen!
This spicy Korean chili paste is the perfect condiment for soups, rice dishes, and meats. It has a serious depth of flavor because unlike the other chili pastes listed here, gochujang takes months (or sometimes years!) to make. This condiment contains fermented rice, soy, and barley malt, which are aged and mixed with chilies.
The result is a paste that is zingy, pungent, and has a depth of flavor that you cannot get from typical hot sauces. Gochujang can range from mild to very, VERY hot, so take note when using this as an alternative to traditional chili paste.
Chili paste has become such a popular ingredient all over the world because a lot of people love spice! Spicy makes life more exciting, and one of the easiest ways to live a spicier life is to try chili paste or any one of these alternatives!