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Harissa substitute Options


You can easily recreate your favorite North African and Middle Eastern dishes with a harissa substitute. One of these choices can be an excellent option for those who cannot find this tasty paste in grocery stores. Below, you’ll find a list of the best harissa alternatives to replace the spice with.

white measuring spoon filled with red spice and two spice bottles with label "harissa"

What Is Harissa?

Harissa is a paste created from ground chilis, olive oil, and other spices and is commonly used in curries and stews. This sauce is popular as a condiment, with many people opting to dip in harissa: pizza, sandwiches, and even fries.

In the US, this condiment is usually purchased pre-made. Though, in locations like Morocco and Tunisia, it is typically homemade. Besides offering spicy punch, this paste also has slightly smoky, peppery, garlicky, citrusy flavors.

The consistency between harissa sauces varies from chunky to smooth, depending on the brand and whether or not it’s homemade.

Harissa Types

A few variations of harissa are available for purchase, including paste, powder, and sauce. You’ll likely see both offerings at the grocery store if your store has an extensive international section. Paste and sauce are made with the same ingredients, though the sauce has water added to it for a thinner consistency.

There are also varieties of harissa that vary in heat levels. Some harissa is milder, making it an excellent option for those with lower preferred heat levels, while some are fiery hot. Generally, the container will note how spicy the harissa paste is.

Best Harissa Substitutes

1. Homemade Harissa Paste

Making homemade harissa is the best way to replace store-bought paste. This version is an excellent alternative for those who want to alter the amount of heat present in the paste or who cannot find it in their local store.

The main ingredients in this recipe are chopped red chili peppers, coriander, cumin, caraway, olive oil, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. However, you can add extra spices like smoked hot paprika or hot chili peppers powder to create a paste that agrees with your tastebuds.

Pros

Creating homemade paste allows you to enjoy harissa paste with your desired texture – chunkier or smoother. You can use this paste in any recipe that calls for the store-bought variety.

Cons

Making your own harissa adds additional steps and time to recipes. Plus, you may need to order or purchase other ingredients that you don’t have on your spice rack. This option is not a good swap for those tight on time and who can’t make it to the grocery store.

Cooking Tip:

Use a 1:1 ratio to replace homemade harissa with store-bought.

2. Harissa Sauce

Harissa sauce is another version of harissa paste. This sauce provides a thinner texture making it easier to utilize as a condiment. The sauce makes a great substitute for harissa since the flavor will match, though it will be slightly less potent.

Pros

Use harissa sauce in any recipe that calls for harissa.

Cons

This sauce may be challenging to find at grocery stores, and you will likely need to order this option online before recreating your intended dish.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a 1:1 ratio when replacing harissa sauce and adjust as needed.

3. Hot Sauce

If you’re looking to recreate the tang and color of harissa, hot sauce is an excellent harissa substitute. You likely have this condiment in your refrigerator or pantry, and it will provide a similar heat in recipes.

Pros

Use hot sauce for marinades, meat, and vegetable-based dishes. Hot sauce will also provide a similar color when you use it in dishes.

Cons

This replacement lacks the thickness of harissa. Use this option sparingly and only as a flavoring agent.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a few drops of hot sauce and increase as needed. This quantity will vary depending on the hot sauce you are using.

4. Caraway Seeds + Chili Powder

As caraway seeds are in harissa, this is a great way to replicate the flavor. Caraway seeds provide an earthy, nutty, licorice taste to dishes.

Chili powder helps replicate the spiciness from chili peppers found in harissa. Since this combination lacks the additional ingredients found in harissa, some of the flavor notes like a tanginess will be missing.

Pros

Use this combination in recipes that call for harissa in any form: harissa paste, harissa powder, or harissa sauce.

Cons

If you’re looking to recreate the texture of the paste or sauce version, you’ll need to add olive oil and lemon juice. This adjustment adds a step to the recipe.

Cooking Tip:

Start with a 1:1 ratio to mix chili powder and ground caraway seeds. Then, use this mixture in a 1:1 ratio to replace harissa.

5. Chili Oil

Chili oil is an excellent harissa substitute as it provides richness from the oil and heat from the chili flakes like you would find in harissa sauce. It will be oilier, though, so this may require you to alter the recipe, adding a step to the process.

Pros

Chili oil is easier to find in grocery stores than in harissa. Use this swap as a condiment, marinade, or flavoring agent.

Cons

Some chili oils include additional ingredients like star anise, cinnamon bark, and ginger, creating a noticeable taste difference in recipes. These additions to the chili oil can also make pairing it with a dish a challenge, as some chili oils may work better with specific dishes than others.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust as needed.

6. Ras El Hanout

Ras el hanout is a spice blend that you can use as a harissa powder substitute in many dishes. It provides a similar spiciness and color to recipes that you would typically see with harissa. Some of the ingredients found in ras el hanout offer a similar flavor to harissa.

However, this spice blend includes 12+ spices, offering a much more complex flavor. It will be noticeable in recipes when you use ras el hanout instead of harissa.

Pros

Use ras el hanout for African and Middle Eastern recipes that require harissa.

Cons

You will need to mix ras el hanout with a liquid to create a paste texture. Apple cider vinegar is an excellent option as it will help mimic the acidity of harissa. This swap is not easy to find unless you have a large international section in the local grocery store.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount (once mixed with apple cider vinegar), then adjust as needed.

7. Gochujang

Gochujang is a Korean hot sauce/barbecue sauce that offers a similar texture and heat as harissa. It works well as a marinade for meats and vegetables. It’s also an excellent swap for harissa when you’re looking for a dipping sauce.

Pros

This sauce is sweet, spicy, and tangy, making it have a similar flavor profile to harissa. However, it also offers a tartness that’s not present in harissa.

Cons

While gochujang is becoming easier to find as its popularity grows, some areas may have trouble locating a bottle at their local grocery store.

Cooking Tip:

Use a 1:1 ratio to replace harissa with gochujang.

8. Chili Paste

Sambal oelek, aka chili paste, is another excellent swap for harissa. It includes chili peppers, garlic, and lime juice, which mimic harissa’s heat, taste, and acidic flavor. However, shrimp paste in sambal oelek creates a fishy flavor not found in harissa.

Pros

Use this substitute for harissa in recipes that include seafood or vegetables.

Cons

This swap is another option that may be challenging to find for some. Sambal oelek’s flavor can overwhelm dishes, so it’s best to start with smaller quantities.

Cooking Tip:

Start with ½ the required amount and adjust as needed.

9. Red Pepper Flakes + Olive Oil

Using this combination will provide heat and richness similar to what harissa offers. These items are easy to find in the grocery store or will already be in the pantry, making this substitute for harissa accessible and convenient.

Red pepper flakes provide a crunchy texture to dishes, so there will be a noticeable difference when using this swap.

Pros

Use this harissa substitute for marinades and flavoring meat and vegetable dishes.

Cons

As red pepper flakes do not have much flavor, they will lack the complexity offered by harissa in dishes. Adding garlic, lemon juice, and spices will create a more similar taste though this adds steps to recipes. This option does not provide a red color like harissa.

Cooking Tip:

Combine red pepper flakes and olive in a 1:1 ratio. Then substituting harissa, use one tablespoon of this mixture to replace one tablespoon of harissa.

10. Ancho Chiles

Ancho chiles are an excellent way to add heat to recipes that require harissa. These chiles also provide a delicious smoky flavor and earthy, sweet taste reminiscent of harissa.

These chiles are typically sold dehydrated, so it is best to soak them in water and blend them in a food processor to recreate the texture of the paste. Once you’ve blended it, this works well as a harissa paste substitute.

Pros

You can use ancho chiles in any recipe that calls for harissa sauce.

Cons

These chiles lack an acidic flavor, so adding an acid component will be necessary to better mimic the taste in recipes.

Cooking Tip:

Once a paste has been created, use a 1:1 ratio to replace ancho chiles with harissa paste.

11. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is an excellent substitute for harissa for those looking to add a tangy, acidic flavor to dishes without the spiciness present in harissa. This swap is easily found in grocery stores or pantries, making it convenient.

Pros

This paste also provides a similar bright red color in recipes like harissa. Use tomato paste in sauces, soups, and as the base for dips.

Cons

The tomato paste will need to be altered to mimic the flavor of harissa. Adding spices and olive oil to the paste will help create a similar consistency and taste.

Cooking Tip:

Use ½ the required amount and add more if needed.

12. Pesto

While pesto lacks the color of harissa, it does have similar ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and basil. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to avoid a spicy taste.

Pros

Use pesto for dishes that will be served over rice or noodles.

Cons

Some pesto includes additional ingredients which may not bode well with the intended recipe.

Cooking Tip:

Use a 1:1 ratio to replace pesto with harissa.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between Harissa vs. Gochujang?

There are multiple differences between harissa and gochujang. Harissa includes red chili peppers, olive oil, cumin, coriander, and ground caraway seeds. Gochujang is made from fermented soybean powder, red chili pepper paste, and glutinous rice. With the difference in ingredients, you can expect a different flavor from each, with gochujang bringing a sourer taste to the table.

Can I Use Gochujang Instead of Harissa?

Yes, you can use gochujang instead of harissa. It provides a similar spiciness to that found in harissa. However, the ingredients are different, so there will be a difference in flavor.

Summary

When recreating your favorite harissa dishes, use one of the above swaps for a similar flavor. Opt for homemade harissa or harissa sauce as the top harissa paste substitutes as they will provide the same taste as commercial harissa paste.

Hot sauce is one of the most convenient swaps as it’s easy to find in grocery stores. Otherwise, ras el hanout is the next best harissa replacement if you can find it.

More Ingredient Substitutes

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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