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Substitute For Sambal Oelek: 10 Best Options

Ready to add a flavorful kick to your meals? Many options can serve as a substitute for sambal oelek.

If you’re familiar with Southeast Asian cuisine, chances are you’ve heard of Sambal Oelek. People use this paste to add a spicy kick and depth of flavor. Join us as we explore the best substitutes and mouthwatering possibilities.

Jars with label Sambal Oelek at the grocery store shelf.

What Is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal oelek is a beloved and traditional Indonesian chili paste best known for its spicy taste.

It typically has hot chili peppers, salt, and vinegar. However, some variations use onion, lemon, and sugar.

In the Indonesian language, the name “sambal” refers to a spicy sauce. “Oelek” means “ground” or “crushed,” which refers to the method of the spice’s preparation.

This paste-like spice has a vibrant red color, intense heat, and a strong chili flavor. It adds a spicy kick and a distinct, slightly tangy flavor to many dishes, including stir-fries and marinades.

The level of spiciness is usually mild to hot but will vary depending on the type of chili peppers it contains.

In Southeast Asian cuisine, sambal oelek proves useful as a condiment and a dipping sauce. It is also a common addition to curries and soups, among others. It can enhance the flavor of almost any other ingredient, whether it’s meat, seafood, or vegetables.

In contrast to other chili pastes, sambal oelek can bring out even the most complex flavors in a dish. Its versatility and taste make it a special ingredient, especially in Indonesian recipes, adding a delightful punch of spice to almost any dish.

Best Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Whether you are looking for the same heat level or want to try something new, you can use other ingredients. Feel free to explore and experiment with them until you get your desired recipe outcome.

Here are your top substitutes for sambal oelek.

1. Homemade Sambal Oelek

Brown bowl filled with red homemade Sambal Oelek sauce.

If you don’t have sambal oelek but really want to use it, you can make your version. It’s easier than many might think.

After all, making homemade sambal oelek might be better than using store-bought ones. This way, you have control over the ingredients. You can adjust them based on the recipes you want to make. Plus, you are sure that it does not contain additives or artificial preservatives.

There are only three ingredients needed to make your own sambal oelek. The good thing is that they are all pantry staples: red chilies, salt, and vinegar.

Pulse them in a food processor, and now you have your batch of sambal oelek to give life to your dishes.


For a tastier sambal oelek, opt for red jalapeños. Use your homemade sambal oelek in a 1:1 substitution ratio.

2. Chili Garlic Sauce

Bottles with chili sauce on the shelf at the grocery store.

Chili garlic sauce is also one of the best substitutes for sambal oelek. It tastes close, though it comes with a kick from the garlic.

The texture of chili garlic sauce is the same as sambal oelek, which is why it works. Plus, the chili garlic sauce can replicate the spiciness of sambal oelek.

What’s best about using chili sauce as a replacement is that it is very accessible. You can easily find it in supermarkets and other local stores.


The chili garlic sauce can replicate the spiciness of sambal oelek. Use the same amount of chili garlic sauce as you would sambal oelek.

3. Chili Paste

Jar with Chili Paste sauce and fresh red peppers and garlic.

Chili paste is a concentrated paste that primarily uses chili peppers combined with other ingredients such as garlic, oil, and spices.

Sambal oelek is a type of chili paste. So, any other paste with chilis you have can be a viable alternative to it.


If you’re after the overall taste of sambal oelek, adding a splash of vinegar to the paste will help. Ideally, you can follow a 1:1 substitution ratio.

4. Sriracha Sauce

Jar filled with Sriracha sauce next to fresh sliced  peppers.

Sriracha sauce is a popular spicy condiment. It contains chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. This sauce shares similarities with sambal oelek as it provides heat and flavor to dishes.

The only difference between the two is that Sriracha has a hint of sweetness. Its sweet flavor is not overpowering, though.


To counter the sweetness, add a splash of vinegar to Sriracha. Doing so will help mimic the taste of sambal oelek better. If you want it sweeter, though, you can add more sugar.

5. Hot Sauce

Tow bottles with hot sauce standing on the shelf at the grocery store.

Any hot sauce will do as a replacement for sambal oelek. A regular hot sauce will add a heat level similar to sambal oelek.

However, the flavor profile and texture may vary. After all, there are many hot sauces available in the market. Select one that works best with the other ingredients in your dish.

Hot sauce is also an accessible option, so it can be a quick replacement in a pinch.


Hot sauce is not as thick as sambal oelek. For this reason, it may water down your recipe, affecting its overall texture. If consistency is not important to your dish, though, you can use it in a 1:1 ratio.

6. Gochujang Chili Paste

Bottles with Gochujang Chili Paste on the shelf at the grocery store.

Gochujang is a fermented chili paste. The texture of gochujang is also thick, like sambal oelek, but it has a more sticky consistency.

It usually contains red chili peppers, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It has a savory taste and hints of sweetness.

Due to its unique flavor, Gochujang paste may not be the best sambal oelek substitute. However, if you’re only after the heat, it will do. It will also work if you need some sweetness in your dish.


Use half the amount you would use of sambal oelek. Using too much gochujang can give your dish a very different taste.

7. Thai Chili Paste

Small bowl with red Thai chili sauce.

Thai chili paste, known as Nam Prik Pao, is a flavorful condiment. This paste combines chili peppers, garlic, shallots, and shrimp paste.

If you want to explore other flavors, this paste is a suitable option. It can add a twist to dishes that call for sambal oelek.

The main similarity that this paste has with sambal oelek is that it also offers heat.

However, Nam Prik Pao’s flavor profile is more complex than sambal oelek’s. In some dishes, this taste can be an advantage. However, not all dishes will taste great with it.


This paste can be overpowering, especially when you use it in large amounts. For this reason, it is best to start with half the amount your recipe calls for. Add more as necessary.

8. Harissa

White bowl filled with harissa paste

Harissa is a flavorful and spicy paste most commonly used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines.

It shares a similar spice level and texture with sambal oelek. So, if these two characteristics are essential to your dish, harissa is one of the best substitutes for sambal oelek.

Do note that harissa has an earthy and complex taste that differs from sambal oelek. It does taste great in savory dishes, though.

Using too much can change the overall flavor profile of your dish.


Add a splash of vinegar to harissa paste if you plan to use it as a substitute. This addition allows it to have a slight tang similar to sambal oelek. Use only half of the harissa for every amount of sambal oelek you need.

9. Tabasco Sauce

Small bowl filled with tabasco sauce.

Most of the time, people add sambal oelek to recipes for its heat. That said, it’s not surprising that Tabasco sauce is also a good option for a replacement.

Tabasco is a spicy condiment that uses tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt. It is known for its tangy and spicy flavor, which is very similar to sambal oelek.

However, the two vary in texture. Tabasco has a thin and liquid consistency, while sambal oelek is a paste. This difference is something to consider when using Tabasco sauce as a substitute.


Since the two ingredients are similar in flavor, a 1:1 ratio is ideal. Tabasco sauce can affect the texture of your dish as it is not as thick as sambal oelek.

10. Achiote Paste

Achiote paste in bowl on wooden background.

Achiote paste, or annatto paste, is a condiment popular in Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. It combines annatto seeds, spices, and often vinegar or citrus juices.

Similar to sambal oelek, achiote paste can add depth and complexity to dishes. They also have a slight tanginess because of the vinegar, which is rarely seen with other sambal oelek substitutes.

Achiote paste can provide a mild heat level and a distinct flavor profile. For this reason, it is a great sambal oelek swap if you need to tone down the heat.


Following a 1:1 ratio for achiote paste is a good starting point. However, take note that achiote paste is a coloring agent. The more you use it, the more your dish will turn a vibrant reddish color.

How To Choose The Best Sambal Oelek Substitute

Choosing the best sambal oelek substitute can be challenging. Sambal oelek has a distinct taste that may be hard to replicate, after all. However, considering the following factors, you can choose the best sambal oelek substitute for your dish.

1. Consider The Heat Level

Think about the heat level that you want for your dish. If you prefer milder heat, go for substitutes with a lower spiciness level, such as achiote paste.

Similarly, if you want the same or even more heat than sambal oelek, choose substitutes with significant spiciness. In this case, your top options are Sriracha and harissa.

2. Pay Attention To The Flavor Profile

A big consideration you should have is the substitute’s flavor profile. Sambal oelek has a distinct chili flavor that other substitutes may not have.

Depending on your recipe, you might have to look for a substitute with the closest flavor. A regular chili paste might be the ideal replacement for the closest flavor match.

In some cases, alternatives that do not taste like sambal oelek are a good option, too. Gochujang and achiote paste are suitable swaps for a twist on your classic recipes.

3. Watch The Texture

Sambal oelek is typically coarse or chunky. Opt for a substitute with a similar consistency to ensure it blends well with the other ingredients. Harissa works best in this case. It also won’t water down your recipes.

However, you can still go for more liquid substitutes if you don’t want a chunky overall texture for your dish. For a less chunky consistency, use Tabasco or Sriracha sauce.

Can I Use Chilli Paste Instead Of Sambal Oelek?

Yes, you can use chili paste as a substitute for sambal oelek in most recipes. The flavor profile may be different from sambal oelek. However, chili paste can still provide a spicy kick and add depth to your dishes.

Is Sambal The Same As Sriracha?

Sambal and Sriracha have some similarities. They both contain chili peppers, and people use them to add heat and flavor to dishes. However, they are not the same. They have distinct tastes and are used in different culinary contexts.

What Spice Level Is Sambal?

Traditionally, Sambal oelek uses cabe peppers. These peppers have a spice level range of 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which is fairly hot. However, the spice level of sambal oelek may differ depending on the recipe. Sambal oelek can range from mildly hot to extremely spicy.


Sambal oelekhas a distinct spicy and slightly tangy taste that helps bring out complex flavors to various dishes. Many alternatives are available if you don’t have any sambal oelek on hand.

Good substitutes include chili paste, hot sauce, and chili garlic sauce. Even crushed red pepper flakes can be a viable option in a pinch. If you want the authentic sambal oelek flavor, you can make your own homemade sambal oelek.

There may be differences in taste and consistency with your chosen substitute for sambal oelek. It’s best to start with a small amount and work your way until you get your desired flavor, texture, and spiciness.

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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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