Did you know that there’s one Asian condiment that almost trumped America’s favorite ketchup?
Yes, there is. It’s no other than Sriracha hot chili sauce.
BUT we’re NOT going to talk about that today.
The condiment that we’ll discuss is the other red chili condiment with a rooster label and a green cap in its packaging, which is often displayed right next to Sriracha—Sambal Oelek.
It’s an Asian spicy chili paste regularly used in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine. Due to its versatility, it’s the go-to condiment for an extensive array of dishes like soups, curries, stews, and even pimiento cheese!
Oh, you haven’t noticed that condiment?
Well, that’s maybe because not many grocery stores carry this.
So if your recipe calls for this chili paste, you may have some problems finding a bottle of this in your supermarket. The good news is there are plenty of Sambal Oelek substitutes that you can use for your recipe. (*)
Are you ready to find out what these are? Below are a few substitutes for Sambal Oelek:
1. Homemade Sambal Oelek
To be honest, there is no type of spice that can give you the same texture and flavor as Sambal Oelek. So if you have enough time, the best thing you can do is make your own Sambal Oelek at home.
Making homemade Sambal Oelek involves a few steps, but it won’t be a complicated task, especially if you have a food processor or blender.
The first thing you need to do is put a pound of chili peppers, ¼ cup of vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt in the food processor and blend until you produce a thick paste.
After that, transfer the mixture into a saucepan and let it simmer for around 3 minutes.
Let it cool down and transfer to an airtight container.
- Pro Tip: You can add any type of spice needed to achieve the flavor you want. Most people would add garlic to give the paste a bit more kick.
Get Recipe: chilipeppermadness.com
2. Gochujang Chili Paste
Gochujang chili paste is made from salt, glutinous rice, gochugaru chili peppers, yeotgireum, and meju powder; this Korean red chili paste has a thick texture making it a suitable Sambal Oelek substitute.
Sambalak oelek is a purely spicy paste with a subtle hint of a vinegar taste, while Gochugaru comes in a wide range of flavors—sweet, spicy, and savory.
With its texture, Gochugaru is the perfect substitute for stir-fries, while its sweet taste works best in enhancing the flavors of burger patties and marinades.
- Pro Tip: You need to understand when using this in place of Sambal because it has a richer flavor. Because of this, it’s best that you initially add only half the amount of Sambal needed. Then, you can add more to the taste.
3. Harissa Chili Paste
If you’re working on Asian recipes, then Harissa may just be what you’re looking for.
This hot chili paste is made up of herbs, spices, roasted red peppers, coriander seeds, olive oil, cumin, and Baklouti peppers. The paste gets a sweet and smoky flavor combined with all of its ingredients.
Because Harissa has a more intense flavor than Sambal Oelek, you should err on the side of caution and only a small amount of it at first. Then, you can continue to add more until you’ve achieved your desired taste.
- Pro Tip: Harissa chili paste can be used as a meat rub or added to a wide range of Asian dishes.
4. Nam Prik Pao (Thai Chili Paste)
Also called Thai chili Jam, this chili paste is made by cooking down and charring garlic, shallots, and dried chilies. It’s then mixed with tamarind, sugar, oil, shrimp, and fish sauce. After that, the mixture is grounded to form a paste.
Since it has the same heat level as Sambal Oelek, you can use an equal amount in your recipe. However, when it comes to working with dishes with delicate flavors, you may want to cut back on it a bit since its string savory flavors (from shrimp and garlic) may overpower the original taste of the dish.
- Pro Tip: Because of its spicy-sweet and a savory flavor, this paste is the go-to condiment for boosting the spiciness and flavor of Thai stir fries and soups.
5. Sriracha Sauce
While Sambal Oelek is Indonesian raw chili paste and Sriracha is Thai chili sauce, you can substitute these hot sauces with one another. But please keep in mind that there are many differences between the two.
Sambal Oelek comes in a thick paste form, while Sriracha has a thinner consistency. Another thing is Sambal Oelek is used as either a condiment or flavoring ingredient, while Sriracha sauce is more of a direct sauce.
These sauces differ a bit in flavor too. Sriracha is often sweet, garlicky, and has a vinegar-like taste.
But since it’s widely available, you can easily substitute Sambal Oelek with this. Additionally, you can easily make adjustments to taste more like Sambal.
- Pro Tip: You can make it less sweet by adding soy sauce or fish sauce. To balance off its garlicky taste, you can reduce the amount of garlic the recipe calls for.
6. Tabasco Hot Sauce
If you feel that Sriracha hot sauce doesn’t have enough vinegar-like taste that Sambal does (we agree), try the Tabasco Hot Sauce. Since it’s made with almost the same ingredient—peppers, salt, and vinegar, it tastes almost the same as Sambal.
But there’s a catch: Tabasco hot sauce contains more vinegar so that it may add more acidity and sourness to your meals.
To address this, we recommend using only ½ tablespoon of Tabasco Hot Sauce for every tablespoon of Sambal.
- Pro Tip: Tabasco sauce is best used for a wide range of Western dishes like garlic bread, pizza, salads, and barbecued meats.
7. Chili Garlic Sauce
Same with Sriracha hot sauce, chili garlic sauce contains vinegar and a few sweeteners. Because of this, you may also need to add soy sauce, oyster sauce, or fish sauce to your dishes when you use chili garlic sauce in place of Sambal.
But between the two, it’s chili garlic sauce with the closest texture to Sambal Oelek.
- Pro Tip: Because it has the same texture, you can substitute chili garlic sauce with the amount of Sambal that the dish needs.
8. Chinese Chili Sauce
Like Sambal, this sauce is often used to add spiciness and a silky texture to different dishes. It’s also made from fresh chili peppers, so the flavor profile is quite similar.
However, the biggest difference is that Chinese chili sauce contains oil.
Pro Tip: Due to its oil content, Chinese chili sauce is best added into stir fry dishes, grilled dishes, hotpots, and soupsz.
9. Chili Crisp
This modern version of the Chinese chili sauce is popular among the younger generations because it adds a spicy flavor and a crunchy texture to your meals.
Its crisp texture is brought by the bits of chili peppers that have been crunchy upon cooking. In addition to that, it also contains scallions, onions, garlic, and other types of seasonings.
But same with the other sauces on this list, chili crisp has a stronger flavor than Sambal, so start with adding half of the required amount of Sambal and work from there.
10. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Yes, you can substitute those red flakes that you often see at pizza joints.
So what makes it a great Sambal Oelek substitute?
These flakes are made from dried and ground cayenne chili peppers—nothing more, nothing less. Because of this, it gives off a purely spicy taste. However, the simplicity of its flavor is similar to that of Sambal Oelek.
But since it’s a dry spice, you can only use this in place of Sambal Oelek when it isn’t used as a binder in the recipe. So, for example, you can use crushed red pepper flakes topping on pizza or beef steak.
Since crushed red pepper flakes have a stronger flavor than Sambal, you should use only ¼ tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes for every 1 tablespoon of Sambal that the recipe calls for.
- Pro Tip: To imitate the saucy and silky texture of Sambal Oelek, you can add some liquid—oyster or fish sauce—to the flakes.
11. Cayenne Pepper Flakes
Another dry spice that you can use is cayenne pepper flakes. Like crushed pepper flakes, it will give your dish the heat and vibrant red color that your dish needs. But, just like Sambal Oelek, it also leaves a stinging spicy taste on your tongue.
However, it doesn’t have the same consistency. You can also mix it with a liquid seasoning of your choice to resolve this issue.
Since the spiciness is strong with this one, we recommend adding only ¼ parts of the amount of Sambal Oelek recommended in the recipe.
- Pro Tip: This spice is quite versatile and can be used on many dishes like chili con carne, Indian curry, or cheese omelet.
12. Fresh Jalapeño
It may seem weird to substitute a chili paste with a fresh spice like jalapeño, but it will do if all you want is to add heat to your recipe.
The best thing about using jalapeño is adding an extra crunch to your meal.
The rule of thumb is to use 1 small jalapeño for every 1 tablespoon of Sambal Oelek your recipe needs.
- Pro Tip: Fresh jalapeño works best on savory pies, salads, and burgers.
Wrapping It Up
Sambal Oelek is one of the best condiments for adding a spicy touch to your dishes. However, it has limited use since it’s a base condiment. Additionally, it’s not widely available in supermarkets.
If you wish to harness the flavor of Sambal, the best thing that you can do is use any of the spices, pastes, and sauces that we’ve mentioned.
We’ve already shared with you the tips on when and which dishes you can use these Sambal oelek substitutes for. The only thing that you need to do is choose wisely.