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Best Sambal Oelek Substitute (8 Options to Try)

Sambal oelek is one of the tastiest Asian sauces around. The spice and flavor alone are irresistible, but throwing it in other recipes or using it as a dip is just perfect. But what if you run out? This can happen to anyone. Luckily for you, I’ve got several of the best hand-picked substitutes for sambal oelek.

You can substitute sambal oelek with gochujang, sriracha, chili flakes, harissa, and chili garlic sauce. But these aren’t the only pantry staples you can use, so let’s dive into all the sambal oelek swaps you can use!

🤷 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 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, 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.

A bowl of sambal oelek and chili on the side.

💡 Best Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Make Your Own Sambal Oelek

Crafting your own sambal oelek is the most simple and customizable alternative. It allows you to create a perfectly tailored flavor just for your recipe. 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 flavorful condiment that can be used in tons of homemade recipes.

Click here for the recipe.


1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of sriracha

Sriracha is an equally fiery alternative to sambal oelek with a fantastic tangy and spicy zest. This Thai hot sauce has a combination of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt that’s perfect as a marinade or sauce for pork chops and meats. You can even use some sriracha substitutes if you can’t find any or want an even better flavor.


1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of gochujang

The Gochujang paste makes another delicious appearance on my list as a substitute option. It’s the perfect all-rounder. The mild spiciness, savory goodness, and subtle sweetness come from its blend of fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, and red chili peppers. You can easily swap it for sambal oelek, but if you can’t find any, you can use several gochujang substitutes instead.

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 gives off a bold and zesty taste, combined with a moderate level of heat. Flavor wise it’s great, but it does lack the chunky texture associated with sambal oelek. But you can fix this by using different ways to thicken sauce or by adding ingredients for texture.

Hot Chili Powder

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

This powder is a convenient pantry staple in most home kitchens. It has a perfect level of spice that can match sambal oelek in any way. The powder can be mixed with other ingredients or even with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency if you want a similar consistency to sambal. There are also tons of chili powder substitutes you can use instead if you don’t have or can’t find any.

Chili Flakes

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

Chili flakes are an easy-to-use and convenient option made with dried and crushed red pepper flakes. They have a straightforward spicy flavor with a hint of fruity undertones. You can also mix chili flakes with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency you can use as a dipping sauce, marinade, and even spicy chicken sauce recipes. If you can’t find any, you can use chili flake alternatives instead for a more similar taste to sambal oelek.


1 teaspoon of sambal oelek = 1 teaspoon of harissa 

This spicy little paste, commonly used in North Africa and Middle Eastern cuisine, is a great swap for sambal oelek. With hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices like cumin and coriander it leads the way in both spice and flavor. You can even mix harissa with water or vinegar to create a paste-like consistency that’ll work great in any recipe. You can also use some harissa substitutes for a closer, if not better, flavor swap to sambal oelek.

Chili Garlic Sauce

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

Chili garlic sauce is a fantastic swap for sambal oelek made from chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. It, too, is a type of chili sauce that’s equally spicy as it is tasty. With its spicy, tangy flavor and prominent garlic undertones, you can’t go wrong when swapping it out. If you can’t find this sauce or want a different flavor, you can use some chili garlic sauce substitutes instead.

🧐 FAQs

How spicy is sambal oelek?

Sambal oelek generally falls in the range of 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making it moderately spicy.

What does sambal oelek taste like?

Sambal oelek has a distinct flavor that’s 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.

Where can I buy sambal oelek?

You can typically find sambal oelek in the international foods section of most grocery stores or at Asian markets.

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