Cooking with chili sauce is a great way to add a spicy kick to your favorite dishes. It’s a versatile ingredient that adds a unique flavor and heat level to a wide range of dishes from different cuisines, from sweet and spicy chili chicken and Indonesian nasi goreng to simple homemade sauces and dishes. It can take your taste buds on a flavorful journey and is a must-have in any home cook’s pantry.
However, more often than not, you may need to find a chili sauce alternative due to dietary restrictions or because you don’t have any on hand. As a seasoned cook, I have experimented with various chili sauce substitutes and have compiled a list of direct swaps that work well in different recipes.
Finding the right chili sauce substitute can be challenging, as some substitutes may not have the same level of spiciness or may alter the taste of the dish. But with my list of direct swaps, you can easily find the dream swap that works for you and your recipe. First, though, let’s uncover more about what this sauce is.
What is a Chili Sauce?
Chili sauce is a condiment that’s loved by many for its fiery flavor and convenience in cooking. This sauce typically contains a blend of chili peppers, vinegar, sugar, and salt, with some variations having garlic, onion, or other spices to enhance their flavor profile. The ingredients are blended together to create a smooth, thick sauce that can be used as a dip, marinade, or glaze.
The flavor profile of chili sauce is characterized by its spicy, tangy, and slightly sweet taste, with its heat level varying depending on the type of chili peppers used, with some sauces being mild and others packing a serious punch.
The dash of vinegar gives a tangy acidity to the sauce, while the sugar helps to balance out the heat and create its slightly sweet taste.
Why It Is Used in Cooking
Chili sauce is the perfect, low-cost ingredient to add a spicy kick and richness of flavor to various dishes. It can be used as a dipping sauce for appetizers or as a marinade for meats, making it a go-to choice for many cooks. These cooks use them as an ingredient in stir-fries, soups, and noodle dishes, adding a burst of flavor and a hint of spice to them.
Chili sauce is not just a tasty condiment but a healthy one at that, with it being a rich source of capsaicin, a compound with anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. This also means it can help boost metabolism and aid in weight loss.
Best Chili Sauce Substitute
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1/2 tablespoon of sriracha sauce
Sriracha sauce is a popular condiment from Thailand and has become a staple in many home cook kitchens. It’s made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt, giving it a similar flavor to harissa in that it’s both spicy and slightly sweet.
This sauce has a similar taste profile and consistency that can add heat to dishes like stir-fries, marinades, and dressings or as a dipping sauce for appetizers like spring rolls or dumplings. It can even be used as a condiment for sandwiches and burgers.
Though it can prove to be quite spicy. This can be remedied by adjusting the heat level to your preference, using less sauce, or diluting it with other ingredients like honey or lime juice.
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of harissa sauce
Harissa sauce, a condiment from North Africa, is a great substitute for chili sauce in marinades, dips, and soups. Its complex flavor, which is a blend of roasted peppers, herbs, and spices, is both spicy and slightly sweet.
Though this sauce can get quite spicy, you can customize the heat level to your liking by using less sauce or by diluting it with other ingredients such as olive oil or yogurt.
Ketchup and Cayenne
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of ketchup and cayenne
Ketchup and cayenne pepper have proved to be a superb alternative for chili sauce, providing a sweet and spicy flavor that can add a unique taste to your dishes. Ketchup is a common ingredient found in most kitchens, while cayenne pepper is a hot spice available in most grocery stores.
Combining the two ingredients allows you to control the heat level and taste to your liking as both bring their delicious flavors into the mix.
To make this substitute, mix ketchup and cayenne pepper in a bowl until you achieve the desired flavor and heat level. The final product can be used as a dipping sauce for appetizers, a glaze for meats, or a condiment for burgers and sandwiches.
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of spicy ketchup
Spicy ketchup can be a tasty and convenient swap, as it’s found in most retailers and online stores. This version of ketchup can provide a similar level of heat but with a slightly sweeter taste.
It’s particularly useful when making dishes like meatloaf, sloppy joes, or even as a dipping sauce for fries or chicken nuggets.
Spicy ketchup can also prove to be a healthier alternative to chili sauce, as it’s often made with natural ingredients like tomatoes and vinegar and contains lower levels of sodium compared to many brands of chili sauce.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of spicy tomato sauce
Spicy tomato sauce is a fantastic substitute as unlike chili sauce, which is known for its tangy and spicy flavor, tomato sauce offers a milder yet still flavorful option. With this sauce, you can add a touch of heat to your dishes without overpowering the other flavors present. This substitution is especially good when making dishes like chili, tacos, or enchiladas, where chili sauce plays a vital role.
One of the benefits of using spicy tomato sauce is that it’s often less expensive and easier to find. Many grocery stores also carry a variety of tomato sauces, including those with added spices or flavors.
Chili Powder or Flakes
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of chili powder or flakes
Chili powder or flakes is a unique substitute made from dried and ground chili peppers, with a concentrated and intense flavor that can add a delicious spice to your recipes. They do, however, provide a dry and powdery texture that can be used in certain ways.
It can be used to season roasted nuts or popcorn, adding a delicious and spicy twist to your favorite snacks or even used to spice up your morning eggs or breakfast burritos, providing a flavorful and satisfying start to your day.
Regular Hot Sauce
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of regular hot sauce
Regular hot sauce is a popular condiment typically made with chili peppers, vinegar, and spices and can vary in heat level depending on the brand and type.
The flavor profile may be slightly different, as chili sauce is often made with additional ingredients such as sugar and garlic, which can contribute to a distinct taste. However, by adjusting the amount of hot sauce used and tasting as you go, you can still achieve a similar level of spiciness in your dish.
Black Bean Sauce
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of black bean sauce
Black bean sauce is an excellent substitute that offers a different taste as it’s savory and slightly sweet. Made from fermented black beans, garlic, and other seasonings, it’s a popular ingredient in Chinese, Korean, and other Asian cuisines and is available in grocery stores and Asian markets all over.
You’ll need to adjust the other seasonings in your recipe accordingly since it’s less spicy and salty. However, it’s still a great option for those who want to add a rich, umami flavor to their dishes without the intense heat of chili sauce. It’s also perfect for stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces, and it pairs well with meats, seafood, and vegetable dishes.
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1/2 tablespoon of gochujang
Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made from fermented chili peppers, glutinous rice, and soybeans. It has an equally unique and complex flavor that can add a range of flavors to your recipes. Unlike chili sauce, which can be quite one-dimensional in terms of flavor, gochujang has a more nuanced taste that combines heat, sweetness, and umami flavors.
One of the great things about using gochujang as a substitute for chili sauce is that it can be used in lots of ways beyond stir-fries and marinades. For example, it can be used to add a spicy kick to soups and stews, such as Korean-style kimchi jjigae or spicy tofu soup.
It can also be used as a condiment for sandwiches and burgers, adding a bold and tangy flavor to your favorite grilled meats.
Sweet Chili Sauce
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1/2 tablespoon of sweet chili sauce
Sweet chili sauce is a very popular condiment made from chili peppers, vinegar, sugar, and other seasonings. It has a similar sweet and tangy content paired with a mild and fruity taste that can add a burst of flavor to any dish.
This sauce can also be used in various ways other than its traditional Asian dishes. It can be used as a glaze for roasted vegetables or grilled meats, adding a sweet and tangy flavor to your favorite dishes, or as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or fried chicken, providing a delicious contrast to the crispy texture of the food.
Chili Garlic Paste
1 tablespoon of chili sauce = 1 tablespoon of chili garlic paste
Chili garlic paste is a very similar variation of chili garlic sauce but a thicker consistency. Made from a combination of chili peppers, garlic, and other spices, chili garlic paste can be used to add a quite identical kick to soups, stews, and even dips.
You can also easily control the level of spiciness in this paste. Adding more or less paste allows you to customize the heat to your liking. Though it does have a thicker consistency, so keep this in mind when cooking for bulk and texture.
This paste is also available in most grocery stores and Asian markets, making it a convenient ingredient to buy when out shopping.