Harissa paste adds a spicy kick to tons of dishes. It can be used as a marinade, vegetable seasoning, or a condiment for sandwiches, and also pairs well with grilled meats, couscous, roasted veggies, or a delicious breakfast egg.
This makes it a superb ingredient to keep around, but when it’s unavailable, what can you substitute for harissa paste?
Thankfully there are several great harissa substitutes to choose between, each with its unique flavor profile. Some replacements are readily available in most grocery stores, though others may require a trip to a specialty store or making it from scratch.
While each of these harissa alternatives may not be an exact replica, they can still add a delicious spicy element to your dishes.
Best Harissa Paste Substitutes
Homemade Harissa Paste
Making a basic harissa paste at home is an excellent alternative if you want a convenient and constant supply. It also allows you to adjust the spice level and flavor profile to your liking (and keeps surprisingly well in the freezer!).
- 8-10 dried chili peppers (choose the type or types depending on your desired spice level)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Soak the dried chili peppers in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them; I like to use whatever type I find at the H-Mart.
- Remove the stems and seeds from the chili peppers.
- Combine the chili peppers, garlic cloves, cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, and salt in a food processor.
- Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.
- While the food processor runs, slowly pour in the olive oil until the mixture becomes a paste, similar to making a pesto sauce or chimichurri.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
It’s the perfect condiment to add a spicy kick to soups, stews, and marinades or as a dip for vegetables and bread. This paste can also be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or up to 6 months in the freezer.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of chili oil
Chili oil is a versatile ingredient that can add a spicy kick to soups and stews, providing a depth of flavor that perfectly complements any dish needing a hint of spice. You can also use it as a finishing oil to add heat to roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or scrambled eggs.
Chili oil is effortless to make at home, as well and you can tailor it to suit your preferences. You can also experiment with various chili peppers, add other spices and herbs, or even infuse the oil with fresh rosemary or thyme.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of sriracha
Sriracha, a hot sauce made from chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and sugar, can serve as a tasty replacement for harissa paste. It has a tangy and slightly sweet taste with medium heat, though be sure not to buy a store brand, as I’ve found that they tend to taste much more bland (I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s).
This type of hot sauce has a different flavor profile than harissa paste, with a unique taste that complements Asian cuisine and many other dishes. It’s also a great ingredient to add to marinades, sauces, and dips and can be used to season roasted vegetables or as a topping for pizzas. I particularly like it when making spicy mayo.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1/2 tablespoon of hot sauce
Hot sauce is an abundant and equally spicy ingredient made from chili peppers, vinegar, and other spices. And while it may not possess the same complexity as harissa paste, it can provide a comparable level of spiciness and be used in many of the same ways.
These ways can include enhancing the taste of your favorite dishes, such as burgers, sandwiches, or scrambled eggs. It’s also ideal for Mexican cuisine, Asian stir-fries, Indian curries, or even Italian pasta dishes.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1/2 tablespoon of sambal oelek
Sambal oelek is a chili paste originating from Indonesia; it’s made from ground chili peppers, vinegar, and salt and has a spicy and slightly tangy taste. When using sambal as a replacement for harissa paste, it’s essential to note that the flavor profile is slightly more pungent.
It has a unique taste that complements Indonesian cuisine, though it’s also suitable for other types of dishes and cuisines. It’s the perfect ingredient to add to your cooking, where it can be used to season roasted meats and vegetables, as well as other dishes like stews or casseroles.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Thanks to their unique smoky flavor and availability in most retail stores, chipotle pepper sauce can make for a delicious and convenient alternative to harissa. The adobo sauce is made from dried chili peppers, vinegar, and spices, and when combined with chipotle peppers, it creates a distinctive taste comparable to harissa.
They do, however, have a different flavor profile than harissa paste, as they have a medium level of spiciness and a smoky and slightly sweet taste.
While they’re commonly associated with Mexican food, you can also add them to your chili, casseroles, or even mac and cheese to give them an extra kick. Moreover, they’re perfect for making a spicy barbecue sauce or glaze for grilled meats.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of berbere sauce
Berbere is a spice blend from Ethiopia with a complex blend of spices, including chili peppers, cumin, coriander, and ginger. It also has a unique and rich smoky flavor with a medium spiciness that’s a great option for those who prefer milder heat. It also has a distinctive flavor profile that can season air fryer vegetables, grilled meats, or even popcorn.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of gochujang
Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made from chili peppers, fermented soybeans, and other ingredients and has a sweet and savory taste with a medium level of spiciness.
The flavor profile is also quite different. It has a unique taste that complements Korean cuisine but can also be used in other dishes. It’s an excellent ingredient to add to stir-fries, soups, and stews and can be used as a dipping sauce or drizzled over roasted veggies.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of chili garlic paste
This flavorful Asian sauce has a very similar flavor profile to harissa, making it a great substitute in a pinch. If you’ve never had it, chili garlic sauce is very comparable to sriracha sauce, though with markedly less sweetness and a bit thicker, like harissa.
Chili garlic sauce makes for a great addition to stir-fries and soups, and is an effective way to add some heat to your cooking. For those who enjoy spicy cocktails, adding a small spoon of chili garlic sauce can give a unique twist to your favorite drink, as well.
Tomato Paste + Chili Powder
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of tomato paste + 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Even if you don’t have or can’t find harissa, every supermarket will have tomato paste and some kind of hot pepper powder on hand. With just these two common ingredients, you can make a darn good substitute for harissa with minimal effort.
I’ve found that adding about 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (plus 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika, if you like the smokiness of harissa) per tablespoon of tomato paste makes for the best texture. Though also note that you can use the same amount of a hotter pepper powder for a more spicy harissa substitute.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of peri-peri sauce
Peri-Peri sauce is a hot sauce originating from Africa that’s made by blending chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and other spices. It has a tangy, slightly sweet taste with high heat that’s perfect for fiery individuals.
This sauce has a tangy and sweet taste that pairs well with grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables or as a marinade, dipping sauce, or seasoning. The high spiciness in this sauce can also be customized to your liking by adjusting the amount used in your recipe.
Red Pepper Flakes
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are a convenient and versatile ingredient made by crushing dried red chili peppers, commonly used as a seasoning in various dishes. These pepper flakes can also add some heat to your cooking with their spicy and mildly smoky flavor, but they are much drier than harissa.
Additionally, these flakes do lack the complexity of flavor that harissa paste offers. Nevertheless, it can still add a delightful spice to your pasta dishes, pizzas, and soups or sprinkle them as a topping for roasted vegetables.
1 tablespoon of harissa paste = 1 tablespoon of bomba calabrese
For those seeking a harissa paste substitute with a fiery kick, bomba calabrese is just what you need. This Italian condiment is made from a blend of spicy Calabrian chili peppers, olive oil, and other flavorful ingredients.
It’s typically served as a spread or dip for bread, but it can also be used as a seasoning for pasta, pizza, and other dishes. Bomba calabrese also has a bold, spicy flavor that pairs well with rich, savory ingredients like cheese, cured meats, and any blend of roasted veg.