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Best Sambal Oelek Substitute (8 Options to Try)

Sambal oelek has started to become my favorite ingredients to use in cooking, as I love to experiment with different spicy flavors. This traditional Indonesian chili paste adds a spicy kick to any dish, from marinades and delicious sauces to stir-fries and soups. 

But, sometimes, I run out or simply can’t find it at my local grocery store. In these situations, finding a sambal oelek substitute becomes essential. The best substitute for sambal oelek is to make your own or use chili garlic sauce. But I’ve got a load of others. So, join me as I guide you through them so you can find the perfect match.

What Is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal Oelek is a chili paste that’s widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It’s made from ground fresh red chilies, salt, and vinegar with a bright red color and a spicy, tangy flavor. The most popular brand of Sambal Oelek is Huy Fong, which is known for its iconic rooster logo. The company’s Sambal Oelek is made from high-quality ingredients and has a balanced flavor that is not too spicy.

How to Make Sambal Oelek

To make Sambal Oelek, start by coarsely chopping fresh red chili peppers and removing their stems. In a blender or mortar and pestle, combine the chopped chilies with a pinch of salt and grind them into a coarse paste.

Transfer the paste to a clean jar, ensuring there’s a bit of space at the top. Cover the jar loosely and let it ferment at room temperature for a few days to develop its flavors, shaking or stirring occasionally. Once fermented to your desired taste, seal the jar and store it in the refrigerator.

Sambal Oelek vs Chili Garlic Sauce

While Sambal Oelek is primarily a blend of fresh red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt, resulting in a fiery paste, Chili Garlic Sauce combines these chilies with minced garlic, offering a more nuanced flavor profile that balances heat with aromatic garlic undertones. Both sauces add a kick to dishes, but Chili Garlic Sauce introduces a thicker layer of garlicky richness.

Best Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Make Your Own Sambal Oelek

Crafting your own sambal oelek is the most simple and customizable alternative, allowing you to create a unique condiment tailored to your taste preferences. All that’s required are fresh red chilies, vinegar, and salt. 

By blending the chilies into a paste and mixing in vinegar and salt, you can create a versatile and flavorful condiment that can be used in tons of homemade recipes. Homemade sambal oelek can even be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month, making it a convenient addition to your culinary repertoire.

Click here for the recipe.

Sriracha

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of sriracha

Sriracha is a popular substitute for sambal oelek due to its similar spiciness and texture. This Thai hot sauce is made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt and is commonly used as a condiment or cooking ingredient.

If you want to use it for chicken, beef, or tofu marinades, mix it with soy sauce, honey, and garlic to create a flavorful blend for grilling or stir-frying. You can also add sriracha to sauces for rice or noodle dishes, giving your favorite recipes a fiery boost. You can also mix it with mayo or sour cream to make a spicy dip for vegetable dishes or use it as a topping for tacos and burgers.

Gochujang

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of gochujang

Gochujang paste is a unique substitute for sambal oelek with a lower spiciness and a distinct flavor profile. Made from fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, and red chili peppers, it’s commonly used in Korean cuisine for stir-fry dishes, marinades, and dips.

You can also use gochujang as a base for a spicy barbecue sauce by combining it with ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Another way to incorporate gochujang into your cooking is to mix it with honey, garlic, and soy sauce to create a glaze for roasted vegetables or tofu. You can even add gochujang to your favorite soup or stew recipes to add a spicy and savory kick.

Tabasco Sauce

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1/2 teaspoon of tabasco sauce

Tabasco sauce can effectively replace sambal oelek thanks to its comparable spiciness and thinner texture. It’s made from Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt and is often used as a condiment for dishes such as pizza, eggs, and seafood or as an ingredient in cooking.

You can also create a tangy and spicy chicken, pork, or beef marinade by combining Tabasco sauce with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. You can even add Tabasco sauce to dips and dressings, giving your favorite recipes a spicy twist.

Hot Chili Powder

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of hot chili powder

If you don’t have sambal oelek, mix hot chili powder with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency and use it in the recipe instead.

The spiciness may vary depending on the type of chili powder you are using, so start with a small amount of chili powder and adjust to taste. You can also add other ingredients, such as garlic or ginger, to the chili powder paste to mimic the flavors of sambal oelek.

Chili Flakes

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1/2 teaspoon of chili flakes

Chili flakes are made with dried and crushed red pepper flakes and are often used as a seasoning. You can also mix chili flakes with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency, and use it as you would sambal oelek.

The level of spiciness may also differ when using chili flakes since sambal oelek is made from fresh chilies, which have a distinct heat level from dried chili flakes. You should begin with a small amount of chili flakes and adjust the flavor to how you like it. You can also add other ingredients like garlic or ginger to the chili flakes paste.

Harissa

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of harissa 

As a spicy paste commonly used in North Africa and Middle Eastern cuisine, harissa has proved to be a more than superb substitute for sambal oelek in a range of dishes. 

With hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices like cumin and coriander as their primary ingredients, harissa can be mixed with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency that works great as a marinade.

However, it does have a distinct flavor profile that includes garlic and spices, unlike sambal oelek, mainly made from chilies and vinegar, though the heat level is comparable.

Chili Garlic Sauce

1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of chili garlic sauce

Chili garlic sauce is a popular condiment in Asian cuisine made from chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. It’s a great substitute for sambal oelek in many recipes, although its flavors are different. 

This sauce has a flavor profile that includes garlic and sugar, while sambal oelek is made primarily from chilies and vinegar, so be wary of this before deciding on using it. To use chili garlic sauce, simply mix it with a bit of water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency, and use it in the recipe as you would sambal oelek.

FAQs

How spicy is sambal oelek?

Sambal oelek is generally considered to be a very spicy sauce. It is made from ground fresh red chilies, which are known for their heat. However, the level of spiciness can vary depending on the brand and the specific ingredients used. Some sambal oelek sauces may be milder than others, so it is always a good idea to taste the sauce before using it in a recipe.

What does sambal oelek taste like?

Sambal oelek has a distinct flavor that is both spicy and slightly sweet. The fresh chilies used in the sauce give it a bright, tangy flavor that’s balanced by the sweetness of sugar or other sweeteners. The sauce may also have a slightly sour taste, depending on the type of vinegar used.

What are the differences between sambal oelek and chili garlic sauce?

Sambal oelek is made from ground fresh chilies, while chili garlic sauce may also contain garlic, sugar, and other seasonings. Sambal oelek has a brighter, tangier flavor, while chili garlic sauce has a more complex flavor profile. Chili garlic sauce is even thicker and more paste-like, while sambal oelek is usually a thinner sauce.

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