What’s A Good Chili Paste Substitute?

With the popularity of spicy foods on the rise, chili paste has taken on more and more prominence in the kitchen. But unlike its hot sauce cousin, it’s not nearly as easy to pick up at your local grocer.  So what are your options if your recipe calls for chili paste and you have none at hand? What makes a good chili paste substitute for most cuisines? Are there ways you can create an alternative for chili paste via common refrigerator and spice rack ingredients? Let’s take a look at your options.

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Your best substitute: A named chili paste

Don’t only look for the term “chili paste” when you are at the grocery store. There are many types of chili paste available in the international section that you may not be aware of due to their exotic names, like sambal oelek, harissa, or gochujang. Or there are pastes out there from specific regions, like Thai chili paste. All are pastes, but each has a very different flavor, so be careful with what you choose. Consider your dish carefully. But, as a whole, this is your best chili paste substitute.

If your recipe calls for a simple chili paste, we recommend sambal oelek if it’s available to you. Sambal oelek is made with four total ingredients (chilies, salt, vinegar, and water), so it’s about as simple as it comes, so the taste will be basic enough to work across many recipes. Harissa and gochujang are comparatively much more spiced, but can work in some circumstances.

Curry paste can also work as it’s primarily made of chilies. But it, too, is heavily spiced beyond the chilies used. It can include the likes of onion powder, coriander, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, and more.

For the kitchen master: Make your own

If you have fresh red chilies available to you, it’s not that difficult to make your own homemade chili paste. Follow our sambal oelek recipe as it’s the simplest. It’ll work for nearly any chili paste use case in recipes.

Quick from the spice rack: A red pepper flake paste

You can simply use red pepper flakes to add spice to a meal, but what if you’re also looking for that paste thickness? Making an ad hoc chili paste with red pepper flakes is possible. This spicy condiment recipe is often used as a gochujang substitute, as it’s very sweet, but it can also work as a general chili paste substitute in certain circumstances. Just consider the sweetness against your recipe and consider whether it works. What you need:

  • One tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Soy sauce
  • Sugar

Add a dash or two of soy sauce to the red pepper flakes, then add a few pinches of sugar to provide some thickness to the paste. Muddle the mix to create more of a paste-like texture and stir it well.

If this red pepper flake mixture isn’t hot enough for you, you could also add in ground cayenne pepper. Ground cayenne sits at an upper-medium level of spiciness (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units), so start conservatively with adding it. You can also add in additional spices like earthy cumin to give depth to the paste.

There are two big differences between hot sauce and chili paste. The most obvious is thickness. Hot sauces aren’t nearly as paste-like (obviously), but if the only reason your recipe needs chili paste is for heat, you could use a hot sauce instead.

The other big difference is the amount of vinegar used. This is especially true for Louisiana-style hot sauces which are vinegar-based (like Tabasco sauce or Original Louisiana Hot Sauce). Chili pastes don’t typically have that level of vinegar tang, so when looking for chili paste alternatives among hot sauces opt for those that go light on the vinegar.

We recommend Sriracha sauce as a very good chili paste alternative. It’s thicker than most hot sauces and rich in chili pepper flavor. You could also thicken it further by adding in paprika to the Sriracha sauce. Sriracha is a chili garlic sauce with only a small amount of vinegar, so as flavors go, it’s a reasonable match.

Only if you must: Spicy tomato paste, spicy tomato sauce

Both are not recommended solutions, but (and it’s a big but) if your need relies on the ingredient having more of a paste-like consistency, then you could opt for spicing tomato paste with red pepper flakes and/or chili powder. You could also opt for a spicy tomato sauce and thicken it up in a pan over medium-high heat.

Note, there will be a distinct flavor differences here as tomatoes have an acidic tang that’s quite different than chili paste. Consider all other options before going either or these routes, as it will most definitely change the expected flavor of your recipe. This could, though, work in soup or stew that already has a tomato base.

  • Our Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 types of chili peppers on our list. Search them by name, heat level, flavor, use cases, and more.
  • Homemade Sriracha: Yes, you can make this chili sauce at home, and it’s fun to do!
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: We rank over 100 hot sauces by flavor, heat balance, usability, and collectibility. Search by rank, name, chili peppers used, and crafter location.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on July 2, 2022 to include new content.
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My chicken vindaloo recipe calls fir 20 red peppers. Can I substitute Thai red chili paste, and how much paste =1 pepper? Thanks