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Calabrian Chili Paste Substitute: 9 Zesty Alternatives

Calabrian chili paste is a popular ingredient in many dishes, known for its spicy and tangy flavor. In this article, we will explore some alternatives that can be used as Calabrian chili paste substitute to add a similar depth of flavor to your recipes.

Pepper enthusiasts are in for a treat with today’s featured pepper, the Calabrian chili. These peppers are fiery hot and have a smoky, fruity flavor that can elevate any dish. They are the star ingredient in Calabrian chili paste, a spicy Italian condiment.

Plate with red Calabrian Pepper Sauce Spread

What Is Calabrian Chili?

Calabrian peppers are chili peppers native to the Calabria region of Italy. These peppers are small to medium-sized with a bold red color. There are three main varieties of Calabrian peppers, which vary in appearance. 

Sigaretta, is the most common variety, it has a long, thin, and narrow shape.

The second common variety resembles a cone, earning the name naso di cane.

Lastly, the third variety, carasella, is more cherry-like in appearance.

Because of this depth of flavor, Calabrian peppers have gained a following in Italy. In fact, some pasta, pizza, and tomato sauce recipes call for these fiery peppers.

These peppers are not easy to find outside of Southern Italy. You can get seeds from specialty growers or buy a few jars of Calabrian chili paste online. 

How Spicy is Calabrian Pepper?

Although the spiciness of each variety differs, Calabrian peppers have notable heat.

Each Calabrian chili can range from 25,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units. But, the heat is still manageable compared to the habanero pepper’s 150,000 SHU rating.

Even though Calabrian peppers pack heat, the flavor is still enjoyable. They are smoky and fruity with a spiciness that slowly spreads around the mouth. Other Calabrian chili varieties also have hints of sweetness.

What Is Calabrian Chili Paste?

Calabrian chili paste is a sought-after spice in Italian cuisine. The traditional chili paste recipe involves crushing dried Calabrian chili. Afterward, local producers infuse the chili powder in olive oil, vinegar, and salt.

Calabrian chili paste is famous for its smoky, fruity, and umami flavors. This layered flavor profile goes well with seafood, which is abundant in Calabria. It does wonders for sweet and tangy recipes like tomato sauces. 

Although this chili paste is often sold commercially, you can make your own at home. Calabrian chili paste is usually stored in airtight jars and can last up to one month.

But we recommend storing the chili paste in the fridge once the jar is open. It can last up to six months in the fridge when unsealed.

Best Calabrian Chili Paste Substitutes

You can find Calabrian chili past online or at a Whole Foods market or Italian specialty store. If you’re in a pinch, you can use one of these many Calabrian chili paste substitutes:

1. Harissa

Harissa is the best Calabrian chili paste substitute. It’s a traditional chili paste from Maghreb. It consists of red peppers, Baklouti peppers, and spices. These spices include garlic paste, coriander seeds, cumin, and olive oil.

Harissa’s flavor profile is more complex but has the same smoky and savory notes. It’s also milder in heat than Calabrian chili at 5,500 Scoville heat units. Harissa is excellent in soups, stews, and dry rub for meats.

2. Sriracha Sauce

Sriracha sauce can also work as an easy alternative to Calabrian chili paste. This hot chili sauce is available anywhere at an affordable price. It’s become a popular condiment for burgers, hotdogs, and other snacks. But you can also use this hot sauce in place of chili paste.

Sriracha has the same heat levels as Harissa. This hot sauce also has similar smoky, savory, and sweet flavors that you need in chili paste. We recommend using this hot sauce in stews, casseroles, or meat marinades.

3. Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is another excellent sub for Calabrian chili paste. This Indonesian chili paste shares the same ingredients as Calabrian chili paste. Sambal Oelek consists of crushed red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt.

Sambal Oelek only offers mild heat and a tart flavor. Locals use this paste to spice up dishes like stews, noodles soups, and tofu dishes. If you happen to have this condiment in your pantry, you can use it as a substitute for Calabrian chili paste. We recommend using this chili paste in stir-fries or dipping sauces for fried foods.

4. Jalapeño Pepper

Jalapeño peppers are also a worthy Calabrian chili alternative. You can crush fresh jalapeño peppers and season the paste with salt and vinegar. This recipe is the perfect choice if you want a milder chili paste. 

But if you’re out of jalapeños, Anaheim peppers can work as a substitute. Both options will give you a paste that’s sweet, earthy, and moderately spicy.

5. Red Chili Flakes

Red chili flakes are also a quick and clever Calabrian chili substitute. Mix chili flakes with olive oil and salt, and you have a chili paste that’s like the real deal. Remember that without vinegar, you won’t get the same zesty flavor.

Chili flakes work best if you’re short on time and want to add heat to a recipe. Chili flakes don’t look intimidating, but they hold some heat. So be sure to use the right amount. 

6. Red Pepper Flakes

Feel free to use red pepper flakes if you don’t have chili flakes. The main difference between the two is their ingredients.

Red chili flakes are made from chili, while red pepper flakes are a mix of different peppers. But you can use the two interchangeably as they have the same flavor and heat.

7. Serrano Pepper

Serrano peppers are another perfect Calabrian chili substitute. In terms of heat, they are the spicier version of poblano peppers, with at least 10,000 Scoville heat units. But the serrano pepper is still milder in heat than the habanero pepper.

Serrano peppers are best served roasted and added to hot sauces. So they make excellent ingredients for chili pastes. To create a chili paste, mix dried serrano peppers with olive oil and salt.

Serrano pepper has a smoky, earthy, and slightly sweet flavor, especially when roasted. We recommend adding serrano pepper to sauces, pastes, and fresh dips.

8. Cayenne Pepper and Ketchup

If you need a quick alternative from your pantry, a simple mix of cayenne pepper and ketchup will do. The ketchup can replicate the consistency of chili paste. Adding the cayenne pepper gives it some mild heat.

But this alternative won’t have the same flavors as Calabrian chili paste. Ketchup is distinctly sweet, and it will reflect on the overall dish. Even so, this is an easy fix to most chili paste recipes.

9. Spicy Tomato Paste

Spicy tomato paste is the closest to Calabrian chili in terms of consistency. It will do as a substitute if you can buy one at your local grocery store. But you can also make your version at home.

To make the paste, mix chili flakes with tomato paste. You can also use cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.

How To Use Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste

Calabrian chili paste is incredibly versatile. You can add it to dips, sauces, or hummus to give it an extra kick. You can also use it as a condiment for pizza or as an ingredient for pasta. But it tastes best when paired with tomato-based recipes. 

And remember, this paste hails from Calabria, a region surrounded by the ocean. Use the paste in seafood recipes like grilled lobster and shrimp fra diavolo, and thank us later! 

Calabrian chili paste also pairs well with creamy ingredients. You can pair it with cheeses like brie or mascarpone. You can also infuse the paste with honey to create a sweet chili sauce. 

Can I Make My Own Calabrian Chili Paste?

Yes, you can make your own Calabrian chili paste. Crush dried Calabrian chili and infuse it with oil, vinegar, and salt.

How Do You Store Calabrian Chili Paste Properly?

You should store Calabrian chili paste in an airtight container. Keep it away from direct sunlight, heat, moisture, or exposure. Leaving it open will also expose it to insects and bacteria.

How Long Does Calabrian Chili Paste Last?

Calabrian chili paste can last up to a month in your pantry. But we recommend storing it in your fridge once opened. This will help the chili paste last from six to nine months.


Calabrian chili paste is a zesty blend of Calabrian chili peppers, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. But it’s more than a spicy condiment. It can brighten any dish and give it a good balance of heat, earthiness, and smokiness. 

The best Calabrian chili paste substitute depends on your needs. If you’re short on time, a mix of cayenne pepper and ketchup will do. But better options would be harissa or serrano peppers.

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Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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