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Top 7 Enchilada Sauce Substitute Options

Enchilada sauce is a key ingredient in many Mexican dishes, specifically enchiladas. But what happens when you can’t find it at your local grocery store? Don’t worry; there are many options for an enchilada sauce substitute.

Whether you’re looking for a milder or a more accessible swap, plenty of options will work for your recipe. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best choices so you can still enjoy your Mexican dishes.

Dish with baked enchiladas topped with herbs.

What Is Enchilada?

Enchilada comes from the Spanish word “enchilar.” Enchilar translates to “to season (or decorate) with chili.”

At first glance, you may say that an enchilada is just a burrito. However, enchiladas typically use corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas.

Both dishes are tortillas rolled around fillings, though. But with enchiladas, people cover the filled tortillas with an enchilada sauce.

People top them with cheese and then bake it. Some prefer baking them covered for a softer tortilla texture. Some leave the enchiladas uncovered to get a crisp tortilla.

People also have different preferences on how to eat this dish. Some eat them with their bare hands. But those who don’t want to get their hands dirty use a fork and a knife to eat enchiladas.

What Is Enchilada Sauce?

Enchilada sauce is a widely-used condiment in Mexican cuisine. Obviously, its most popular use is as an ingredient in an enchilada.

Red enchilada sauce is the most common. But green enchilada sauce that uses tomatillos is also an excellent option.

The sauce is versatile, so there are many other dishes aside from enchilada where you can use it.

  • For example, you may use this sauce in burritos and tamales too.
  • It also works for soups, casseroles, and nachos. Enchilada sauce can provide a burst of flavor to vegetable dishes as well.
  • Finally, you can use it as a dipping sauce for almost anything.

There is a canned enchilada sauce that you can buy in stores. But, as always, with food, homemade is always best.

What Is Enchilada Sauce Made Of?

Enchilada sauce is typically made with a roux of flour, oil, chilis, and spices. Some recipes count on tomatoes or tomato paste for their distinct red hue.

Pureed chilis are usually the main ingredient. Store-bought versions are generally thinner and gluten-free, as they come without the roux.

There is no one-size-fits-fits-all recipe for an enchilada sauce. People make it according to their preferences, so there are many variations.

The most common ingredient for enchilada includes the following:

  • Flour (or cornstarch for a gluten-free version)
  • Broth (beef, chicken, or vegetable)
  • Oil (such as vegetable, canola, or avocado)
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Dried chilis
  • Creative recipes also use cinnamon and apple cider vinegar. Some even require Mexican chocolate for a unique twist.

Red Enchilada Sauce Vs. Green Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is available in two main variants – red and green. What makes these two sauces different is the type of chili used.

Red enchilada sauce usually contains chili powder, garlic, onion, and broth. Some red enchilada sauces also have vinegar, oregano, and cumin.

What gives it that red color is the mild, medium, or hot red chilies. Most recipes call for Chili de Arbol, Chipotle, and Anaheim peppers.

Green enchilada sauce’s main ingredient is tomatillos. This ingredient is responsible for the green color. The tomatillos also lend a slightly herbal, fruity, and tart flavor to the sauce. On top of that, it uses chilies like serrano and jalapeno, which help achieve the green hue. Onion, garlic, vinegar, cumin, and cilantro are also common ingredients in this sauce.

People commonly use green enchilada sauce in chicken dishes.

Conversely, red enchilada sauce is a better option for ground beef. But the choice of sauce depends on the dish’s ingredients and personal preference.

That said, these sauces are interchangeable.

Why You Need A Substitute For Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is a popular and spicy sauce used in many Mexican dishes.

Its taste may not be everyone’s favorite. Some people may prefer milder flavors than enchilada sauce offers.

Also, enchilada sauce is usually hot and spicy. People who cannot handle the heat of spicy food might need a substitute.

Another reason why someone might need to replace enchilada sauce is its unavailability. Store-bought enchilada sauce is not always available in some regions.

And you may not have the time to make a homemade version. For these reasons, a swap for enchilada sauce will come in handy.

Top Enchilada Sauce Substitutes

1. Homemade Enchilada Sauce

Undoubtedly, a homemade enchilada sauce is the best substitute for enchilada sauce.

It’s highly customizable. It allows you to adjust the spice level and flavor profile to your liking.

Most importantly, you’ll know its ingredients if you make your own. You make it free of preservatives, artificial flavors, and other additives. So you can make a healthier, fresher, and more authentic sauce.

Secondly, making your sauce is often less expensive. If you make your own enchilada sauce, you may buy ingredients in bulk and make larger batches.

This move makes sense if you regularly use enchilada sauce or enjoy Mexican cuisine.

Thirdly, making homemade sauce can be fun and rewarding cooking. It can also help you learn about different ingredients and cooking methods.


Homemade enchilada sauce is just enchilada sauce but better. That said, you can use it in all dishes that call for the original ingredient. Use it to moisten you enchiladas, add it to burritos, and use it as a dip for chips or a salad dressing. The possibilities are endless.

2. Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce can be a great replacement for enchilada sauce, too. After all, it is readily available. And it is a versatile ingredient you can use in various dishes beyond enchiladas.

For this reason, tomato sauce is a pantry staple that is always useful to have on hand.

Plus, it is a blank canvas you can easily transform into a flavorful sauce. All you have to do is use the right spices and seasonings.

You can start with regular tomato sauce. Add enchilada seasoning or Mexican seasoning. Garlic and chili flakes are among your top choices for seasonings.


The best practice is to heat the tomato sauce separately. This way, you can gradually add your spices and liquids before adding the sauce to the enchiladas. Do a taste test. Using tomato sauce as a base can be a healthier option as it is lower in calories and fat.

3. Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce is an excellent substitute for enchilada sauce as well. It has similar ingredients – tomatoes, chili, garlic, and onion.

The main difference between these sauces is the amount of tomatoes. Ranchero sauce has more tomatoes.

That said, it offers a slightly different flavor and texture. But this makes it a great option for those who do not like spicy food or prefer a milder flavor.

Ranchero sauce tastes great as a topping for enchiladas. It is also a great base sauce for other Mexican dishes.

It’s sauce is perfect as a dipping sauce and a dressing as well. More importantly, it complements vegetables or meats like pork, beef, or chicken.

Ranchero sauce is easy to make at home. So, you can adjust the recipe to your liking by playing with the amount of chili, garlic, and other seasonings.


Heat it separately before adding it to enchiladas, just like tomato sauce. This step will ensure a delicious and flavorful dish.

4. Picante Sauce

Picante sauce is another option for an enchilada sauce alternative. This sauce has a similar flavor profile but with added freshness from lime and cilantro.

The tomatoes, onion, jalapeno chili, and chili powder give the sauce a spicy and savory taste. And this flavor is perfect for Mexican-inspired dishes.

The lime juice and zest add a tangy and bright flavor to the sauce that can enhance the taste of any recipe.

Picante sauce is widely available, but it is also an easy recipe to recreate at home. Making this sauce at home gives you flexibility. It allows you to adjust the amount of chili powder and hot pepper sauce.

For more depth, you can also add other ingredients like roasted garlic or roasted peppers.


Aside from its flavor, the versatility of picante sauce also makes it a good choice. You can use it as a dipping sauce or a topping for fajitas, burritos, and tacos.

Picante sauce also does a good job as a base sauce for enchiladas, adding an extra layer of flavor to the dish.

5. Sofrito Sauce

Sofrito sauce is among the best enchilada sauce substitutes. After all, it is versatile and offers a range of flavors.

Unlike enchilada sauce, sofrito is not just a sauce. Rather, it is a way of cooking that adds depth and complexity to dishes.

Because of these characteristics, sofrito sauce is a staple ingredient in cuisines worldwide. You can find it in Spanish, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban dishes.

Sofrito sauce consists of onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic you cook with olive oil. And depending on where it’s from, it can also have chili peppers, coriander, bay leaves, black pepper, and cilantro.

For example, Yucatan sofrito sauce includes habanero chilies. So, you can use it as an enchilada sauce substitute if you enjoy spicy flavors.

If fresh chilis are not your thing, you may add chili powder to any other sofrito sauce for a spicier kick.


The versatility of sofrito sauce makes it a great pair for stews, beans, soups, and stocks. Some people even use it as a filling for empanadas.

6. Taco Sauce

Some common ingredients in taco sauce include tomato sauce, vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Most recipes also have oregano, onion, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, and paprika. These ingredients give taco sauce a different flavor compared to enchilada sauce.

Still, you can use it as a swap for enchilada sauce. In fact, people use these two sauces interchangeably in many Mexican dishes.

It’s important to ensure enough taco sauce to cover your enchiladas. After all, taco sauce comes in smaller bottles.

Note that taco sauce is usually thicker than enchilada sauce. Thin it with water or chicken broth first for a closer texture match. If the dilution leaves your sauce bland, you can quickly fix it. Add some enchilada seasoning to enhance the taste.

After a taste test, add your sauce freely to tacos, burritos, nachos, and of course, enchiladas.


As with any other swap, experimenting with different spices and seasonings is always best. This step can help you achieve the perfect taste for your dish.

7. Salsa

Salsa is one of the best substitutes for enchilada sauce. It typically contains tomatoes, chilies, garlic, onion, cilantro, salt, pepper, and chili powder.

You may opt to adjust the amount of ingredients and flavors, too. Doing so ensures that it complements your enchilada dish.

The texture of salsa is usually chunkier compared to regular enchilada sauce.

Note that there are many variations to salsa. But as an enchilada sauce swap, restaurant-style or oven-roasted salsa are both great.

Salsa is usually just a dip rather than a sauce, so you may need more to cover the enchiladas. That said, buy or make lots of salsa if you plan to use it to replace enchilada sauce.

Another option is to stretch whatever salsa you have by adding water or broth. After diluting it, you might need enchilada seasoning to enhance the flavor.

You can use salsa as a condiment or sauce for soups, stews, salads, tacos, and tortillas.


Salsa and enchilada sauce do not taste the same. So, using salsa as a substitute for enchilada sauce will result in a different flavor and texture. But it is a great option for those looking to add variety to their meals.

Best Substitute For Green Enchilada Sauce

If you want a similar flavor and texture to green enchilada sauce, salsa verde is a good option. It has a similar color and tangy taste from tomatillos, like green enchilada sauce.

But if you want a less spicy swap, you can use picante or taco sauce. Both of these sauces are tomato-based. And they have a milder heat level and a thicker consistency than green enchilada sauce. They lack the green color, though.

Ultimately, the best substitute for green enchilada sauce will depend on your recipe. Of course, your preference also plays a big role in that decision.

Best Substitute For Red Enchilada Sauce

One of the best substitutes for red sauce is to use canned tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes as a base and add spices. Cumin, chili powder, oregano, and garlic powder will mimic red enchilada sauce.

Another top red enchilada sauce alternative is picante sauce. It contains tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeño chili, and lime juice. So, it can add a fresh twist to your enchilada recipe.

Recipes with Enchilada Sauce

Mexican Pizza

Recreate the Taco Bell Mexican Pizza using enchilada sauce or any substitute. Put cooked ground beef, diced tomatoes, and some beans on top of a tortilla.

Add some cheese and enchilada sauce. Place another tortilla on top. Bake until the cheese melts or until the crust is crispy.

Cheese Enchiladas

Cheese enchiladas are surely a treat for cheese lovers out there. To make these enchiladas, dip corn tortillas in warmed enchilada sauce first. Then, fill them with shredded cheese, and roll them up.

Arrange the rolled tortillas in a baking dish, and pour more enchilada sauce. Bake until the cheese melts.

Wet Burrito

A wet burrito is what it sounds like. It’s a burrito that you cover with enchilada sauce. To start making a wet burrito, make a regular burrito first. Stuff a large flour tortilla with your choice of fillings.

Roll it up and place it in a baking dish. Then, pour enchilada sauce over the burritos and top with more cheese. Bake until the sauce bubbles.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

For a vegetarian option, you can fill the tortillas with sautéed veggies. Your top choices are zucchini, bell peppers, and onions. Top with enchilada sauce and cheese before baking.

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros is a classic Mexican breakfast dish. To make it, lay a warm tortilla flat on a plate and spread a layer of refried beans. Then, you put a fried egg on top and pour enchilada sauce.

For an added flavor, sprinkle with cheese and fresh cilantro before serving. Add other toppings as you like.

Is Enchilada Sauce Just Taco Sauce?

No, enchilada sauce is not just taco sauce. These two sauces do share common ingredients like tomatoes and spices. But the two sauces have distinct flavors and consistencies. Enchilada sauce is typically thicker and richer. It also has a deeper chili flavor, so it is spicier and hotter. Taco sauce, on the other hand, is thinner and tangier. Plus, it has a more tolerable and milder heat.

What Does Enchilada Sauce Taste Like?

The base of an enchilada sauce is chili peppers, so this sauce tastes like chili. But enchilada sauce is not necessarily too hot, as you can use mild peppers to make it. Enchilada sauce uses different spices too, so it has a spicy flavor as well. Ultimately, the taste of enchilada sauce will depend on the ingredients you will use. It can taste sweet, spicy, hot, and earthy.

Is An Enchilada just A Burrito With Sauce?

No, an enchilada is not a burrito with sauce. An enchilada is a tortilla you stuff with fillings, cover with sauce and bake. A burrito is a flour tortilla wrap with fillings inside too, but it is not covered in enchilada sauce. And you do not necessarily need to bake it.


Enchilada sauce is a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine. But it’s not something you can’t do without. Homemade enchilada sauce is the best option if you want to customize flavor and spice level.

Other substitutes include salsa, tomato, ranchero, and taco sauce. Choosing an enchilada sauce substitute depends on the dish and personal preference. Enjoying Mexican food without sacrificing flavor is always possible, regardless of your choice.

Dish with baked enchiladas topped with herbs.

Enchilada sauce substitute.

Natalia-Flavorful Home
Homemade enchilada sauce is the best option if you want to customize flavor and spice level. Other substitutes include salsa, tomato, ranchero, and taco sauce.
5 from 1 vote


  • Homemade Enchilada Sauce
  • Tomato Sauce
  • Ranchero Sauce
  • Picante Sauce
  • Sofrito Sauce
  • Taco Sauce
  • Salsa


  • Pick the best substitute that works for your recipe.


Choosing an enchilada sauce substitute depends on the dish and personal preference.
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Natalia | Flavorful home
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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