Chili Paste Substitute? Here Are Some Ingenious Options!

What makes a good chili paste substitute? It is an interesting question, as our desire for spicy dishes is seemingly insatiable.

Of course, there are a lot of spicy ingredients that can provide this particular flavor, such as curry powder and garam masala. However, for those who want to get a “generic” and “all-round” spice, then chili paste is a good option. It is easy to get in the market, as it’s pretty common, and you will definitely want it in your kitchen’s spice rack. But sometimes, things just don’t go on your way and however badly you want it for your Asian dishes, this ingredient is sometimes unavailable. I was appalled when this precious spice went missing from my kitchen last week. However, it did not really dishearten me because I knew how to find alternatives to it.

If you know all the possible substitutes for chili paste, you will never have to worry anymore. After all, a creative mind and a pair of ingenious hands will allow you to create culinary wonders. For starters, here are some “surrogates” to chili paste, if it is missing from your spice rack. 


Chili Paste Substitutes

Possible Chili Paste Substitutes

Exotic Variants

Harissa Paste

When choosing a chili paste, we usually look for those bottles or containers with “chili paste” on the label, as it is the name we are fervently looking for. However, chili paste can come with different labels and names that you may not recognize at first. In fact, you might have even walked past it while you were busy scouring every section of the market.

Sometimes, it comes in different identities. For example, it could come in the form of harissa, gochujang, or sambal oelek. All of these are just regional counterparts of chili paste and it is worth knowing that they have a similar composition, although their flavor might vary slightly. You can expect that each of these variants has been made with different ingredients. When using them, always make sure that the recipe you are making is compatible with these foodstuffs.

For standard chili paste applications, I recommend that you choose sambal oelek, which is composed of four ingredients. Therefore, its simplicity and nuances are similar to chili paste. Gochujang and harissa are, however, quite complex spices. 

Hot Sauce

Sriracha Sauce

Although they are both capable of spicing up a delicacy, chili paste and hot sauce are quite different to each other. One of the biggest of these differences is their thickness, as chili paste is denser and thicker than hot sauce, which is typically smooth and fluid.

This difference might affect both the overall appearance and physical trait of your food. But if you don’t mind this and just want the heat of chili paste, use hot sauce without a second thought.

Another important distinction between these two condiments is the vinegar used in them. One of the best examples that I can give you is the Louisiana hot sauces, which are reliant on vinegar, just like Tabasco sauce is. On it’s own, chili paste can be made with a small tang of vinegar, which you need to be aware of or your dish could be compromised.

When choosing a hot sauce that can be used as a chili paste substitute, get one that has a light vinegar content, like Sriracha sauce, as it is thick and doesn’t contain too much vinegar. If you want to thicken it even more, just add paprika. 

Spicy Tomato Paste

I am not really suggesting that you use this as an alternative to chili paste regularly, but it can do the job in an emergency. Although both of them are considered to be a “paste”, their flavors and texture do not really match up, so only consider using this one if you are really pushed. You can include this in your recipe if you want to recreate the paste-like texture of the chili paste, but the spicy tomato paste cannot be a chili paste substitute on its own. You need to add some other ingredients to the condiment, like chili powder or red pepper flakes to create the spiciness of a chili paste.

But despite the fact you can do this, always remember that the flavor of chili paste and spicy tomato paste are different. One of the biggest reasons for this is the acidic taste produced by tomato. Chili paste doesn’t have this kind of tang. So only consider this paste as your last resort or if the options that I have listed above are not available.

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed red pepper flakes are a great alternative to chili paste if the only thing you care about is the spiciness. They are made out of dried cayenne, which has been crushed until the seeds are exposed.

However, you should be aware that red pepper flakes tend to be extremely hot. In the Scoville index, cayenne is rated on the range of 10,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is insanely hot. If you want something that has a moderate taste, you should think twice about using this option. But if you are up to the challenge, then the burning sensation of red pepper flakes is the right choice for you.

DIY Red Pepper Paste

If you think that your cooking skills are up to scratch, then you can make a chili paste substitute by yourself. All you need are some simple ingredients and you are ready to go.

Specifically, you need to add red pepper flakes to this recipe. The spiciness of this ingredient is sufficient to match the heat that chili paste can give you. But you will need to thicken it up, and then add soy sauce and sugar.

Here is the specific amount of ingredients that you should use:

  • Crushed red pepper flakes (one tablespoon).
  • Soy sauce (one or two dashes).
  • Sugar (5 pinches).

Mix all the ingredients up properly until you attain a paste-like thickness and texture.

This particular recipe is an excellent substitute for gochujang because of its innate sweetness. However, it could also supersede chili paste, given that the dish you are creating is compatible with this flavor. The only thing that you have to bear in mind is if it is OK to sweeten the food you are creating.

Alternatively, you could replace soy sauce and sugar with ketchup, which has a thickness that is similar to chili paste. If it is mixed with red pepper flakes, then ketchup can be a consistent chili paste replacement. 


Finding a chili paste substitute is quite tricky as most of the options out there can have a different impact on the dish that you are creating. Moreover, most of its regional counterparts might not be available in your market.

The best thing that you can do right now is to try out a variety of combinations (just like the ones that I have shown you). In this way, you will have total control over the tang and texture of the condiment.

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