10 Best Harissa Paste Substitutes

Need a Harissa paste substitute? I have compiled a list of the ten best harissa paste alternatives. You probably already have several of these solutions in your spice rack!

Glass jar filled with homemade harissa paste substitute.

What is Harissa?

Harissa is a spicy chili paste that originated in Tunisia. Harissa has a complex flavor; the heat level can vary depending on the pepper, recipe, or combination. The main ingredients are roasted baklouti peppers, garlic, olive oil, salt, cumin, coriander, and caraway.

Harissa paste is a popular seasoning used for almost everything in Tunisia, from meats to vegetables and grains. It has also become popular as a spread for sandwiches and wraps.

What Is Rose Harissa?

Rose harissa is the same as paste, but rose petals, or water has been blended. While rose might sound strange, it is a popular ingredient in the Middle East. If you have had traditional Lebanese baklava, chances are good it was sweetened with rose water. 

What Does Harissa Taste Like?

The flavor of harissa is a unique blend of spicy, earthy, and slightly smokey flavors. While having a reputation for being spicy, the flavor profile overall is very complex.

Glass jar filled with homemade harissa paste substitute surrounded by red peppers.

10 Best Harissa Paste Substitutes

Now, on to the big question: what is the best substitute for harissa paste? In many cases, that depends on what spices you have in your cabinet or the flavor you prefer. Keep reading to find the best substitute for you.

1. Sriracha

A bowl filled with sriracha and chili peppers in the background.

Sriracha is a hot sauce that originated in Thailand and has become popular worldwide. It is a bright red sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. Sriracha has a medium heat level, and the chili peppers used make it an excellent substitute.

Sriracha Paste Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1/2 cup sriracha, 3 cloves garlic (minced), 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp honey, and 1/4 cup olive oil
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients In a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

2. Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek in a bowl

Sambal oelek is a spicy chili paste that blends red chili peppers, salt, and vinegar. The peppers in sambal oelek are typically ground into a coarse paste, giving it a chunky texture. Sambal oelek is a popular paste from Indonesia and a staple in Thai food.

Sambal oelek has a bright red color and a high level of heat. It is popular in soups, stews, stir-fries, or noodle dishes to give the dishes an extra kick. Sambal oelek is a popular sauce in the US and is in stock at most grocery stores in the Asian aisle.

Sambal Oelek Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1/2 cup sambal oelek, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tbsp brown sugar, and 1 tbsp soy sauce.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients In a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

3. Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper made into a paste.

Cayenne pepper is made from dried and ground red chili peppers and is often used to heat dishes. It has a hot and intense flavor and works well in spicy dishes like chili or curry. It can be used as a substitute for harissa in dishes that require a hot and spicy kick, such as scrambled eggs or roasted vegetables. If you want to lighten the heat, I recommend blending paprika and cayenne pepper.

Cayenne Pepper Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon of ground caraway seeds, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 1 clove of garlic, minced.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

4. Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

A bowl filled with chipotle peppers blended into a sauce.

Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapeño peppers often sold in adobo sauce made from tomato, vinegar, garlic, and spices. The peppers have a smoky and slightly sweet flavor; You might be familiar with the flavor due to the popularity of Chipotle Grill. They work well as a substitute for harissa in dishes that require a smoky and spicy flavor. Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce are sold in small cans, usually near the canned green chiles in the Hispanic aisle.

Chipotle Pepper Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (cans are sold in a 7-ounce can), 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, and 1 tsp oregano.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients In a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Substitute at 50% of the regional recipe. Increase to desired taste.

5. Red Pepper Flakes

A bowl filled with red pepper flakes.

Red pepper flakes are made from crushed and dried red chili peppers and are popular for pizza and pasta seasoning. The chili flakes have a hot and slightly fruity flavor and work well as a substitute for harissa in dishes requiring mild to medium heat levels, such as marinara sauce or roasted cauliflower.

Red Pepper Flake Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1/4 cup red pepper flakes, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 cloves garlic (minced), and 1 tsp salt.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

6. Gochujang

A spoon filled with gochujang.

Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made from chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It has a thick and sticky texture, and it’s often used as a marinade or dipping sauce for meat, fish, and vegetables. Gochujang can usually be found at most grocery stores and comes in red, similar to a plastic red ketchup bottle. I can find gochujang in the Asian section of my local Kroger. 

It is important to note that gochujang does have a subtle tart flavor. This can change the flavor of your overall dish. Use this substitute only if you are familiar with its flavor profile.

Gochujang Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1/2 cup gochujang, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 cloves garlic (minced), and 1 tbsp grated ginger.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at a 1:1 ratio.

7. Chili Oil

A bowl filled with chilies in oil.

Chili oil is made from chili peppers and oil, and it’s often used as a seasoning for noodles, dumplings, and stir-fry. It has a hot and fragrant flavor and works well as a substitute for harissa in dishes that require a rich and flavorful taste, such as fried rice or roasted mushrooms.

Chili Oil Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1 cup dried chili peppers, 1 cup vegetable oil, 2 cloves garlic (minced), 1 tbsp grated ginger, and 1 tsp salt or kosher salt.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at 50% of the regional recipe. Increase to desired taste.

8. Homemade Chili Paste 

A spoonful of homemade chili paste.

Sometimes, making a blend at home is the best solution. In this instance, you probably already have the ingredients in your pantry. Mix caraway seeds, chili powder, garlic, salt, and olive oil to create your version of a harissa paste substitute.

Homemade Chili Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 3 garlic cloves, minced, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/4 cup olive oil.
  2. Instructions: In a dry skillet, toast the cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds over medium heat until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Be sure to stir the seeds constantly to prevent burning. Transfer the toasted seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle them into a fine powder. Combine the ground spices with paprika and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Add the tomato paste, minced garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil to the spice mixture and stir until well combined.
  3. Substitute at 50% of the regional recipe. Increase to desired taste.

9. Aleppo Pepper

A tablespoon filled with Aleppo peppers.

Aleppo pepper is made from dried and crushed Aleppo chili peppers. The flavor is mild but has a lot of flavor complexity. This pepper is also easily found at most grocery stores.

Aleppo Pepper Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 3 garlic cloves, minced, and 1/4 cup olive oil.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at 50% of the regional recipe. Increase to desired taste.

10. Chili Powder

Chili powder that has been made into a thick paste.

Traditional chili powder is a spice blend you probably already have in your pantry. This blend contains ground chili peppers, cumin, and other spices. It has a mild heat level and can add a smoky flavor to your dishes.

Chili Powder Paste Recipe

  1. Ingredients: 1/4 cup chili powder, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika.
  2. Instructions: Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk into a smooth sauce.
  3. Substitute at 50% of the regional recipe. Increase to desired taste.

Substitute Flavor Comparison Chart

There is a lot of information above. To help you out, I have made a quick reference chart with the overall flavor. Use this to determine which substitute is best for your recipe quickly.

Harissa SubstituteFlavor Description
SrirachaSpicy, tangy, slightly sweet
Sambal OelekSpicy, slightly sour, slightly sweet
Cayenne Pepper Sweet, tangy, slightly spicy
Chipotle Peppers in Adobe SauceSmoky, sweet, slightly spicy
Red Pepper FlakesHot with a slightly fruity flavor
GochujangSpicy, savory, slightly sweet
Chili OilSpicy, tangy, slightly sweet
Homemade Chili PasteVaries on the spices used
Aleppo PepperMild pepper flavor, slightly spicy
Chili PowderSpicy, savory, tangy
Spices in a market

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Ruth,
    I made the sriracha paste as an alternative for harissa paste because I couldn’t get any locally. I want to use this as a marinade or directly adding to a Moroccan lamb recipe.
    My question is: how much of the paste do I use for either marinating or adding to a recipe.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Susie, that is a good question and I am sorry I did not have that information in the blog post. You can use the substitute at a 1:1 ratio. I will update the post so the information is there going forward.

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