Best Chili Paste Substitutes

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If you’re a fan of spicy cuisine, chili paste is a must-have ingredient. With flavors ranging from hot to sweet, some type of chili paste can be found in almost every grocery store. But if you don’t have it on hand or you ran out, what can you use instead? It turns out there are lots of good options.

The best substitutes for chili paste are: crushed red pepper flakes, hot sauce, ketchup with cayenne pepper, Sriracha sauce, spicy tomato sauce, tabasco sauce, homemade chili paste, or curry paste.

What is Chili Paste?

Essentially chili peppers that have been ground into a paste, pure chili paste is free of spices, flavorings or other ingredients. But cuisines around the world have their own variation, flavoring the paste with spices traditional in their country or region. You may have heard of Harissa (Middle East/Africa), Sriracha (Thailand), Sofrito (Spain/Italy/Portugal) or Ancho (Mexico). All flavored versions of chili paste.

Besides the heat level, flavored chili pastes will have one of several “undertones”. Ancho, for example, is moderately hot and sweet. Some Asian pastes are “fishy” (like Nam Jim) and the popular Harissa paste is considered hot and “spiced.” There are even fermented pastes like Gochujang, a Korean staple.

Our substitutes for chili paste are, for the most part, spice-less and are meant to add that touch of heat your recipe calls for. To mimic specific chili pastes, you can add additional spices or flavorings.

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed or whole red pepper flakes are dried cayenne peppers. With a hot, peppery flavor, you can easily sprinkle more (or less) into your dish. If you need a paste or don’t want flakes in your food, mix crushed flakes in tomato paste, soy sauce with sugar or ketchup. You can easily control the heat by adding more or fewer red pepper flakes.

Hot Sauce

Hot sauces are a liquified form of various hot peppers. Adding a few drops to your recipe will provide the heat you’d get from chili paste. If you need a paste, mix hot sauces with tomato paste or ketchup.

Tabasco Sauce

Technically a hot sauce, we’re mentioning Tabasco sauce separately since it’s easy to find. Moderately hot, you’ll also get a bit of tang thanks to the vinegar that’s used to make Tabasco sauce. Use right from the bottle or mix with tomato paste or ketchup to make a paste.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper isn’t pepper at all. It’s dried and pulverized cayenne peppers, a moderately hot pepper used in a variety of recipes. Add one or two teaspoons of ground cayenne pepper to a cup of ketchup to make a fiery paste. Or sprinkle cayenne pepper to taste in your dish.

Spicy Tomato Paste

If you have some spicy flavored tomato paste, you’ve got what I like to call “chili paste light” – as in light on the heat but a match on the texture. Add hot sauce, cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes if you like it even hotter.

Flavorings for Selected Chili Paste Varieties

We’ve included a few flavored chili pastes along with their primary flavoring ingredients. If your recipe calls for any of these chili paste varieties, add some of the spices to create a substitute.

Nam Jimshrimp paste and fish sauce
Harissavinegar, lemon, tomato paste, garlic, coriander, allspice, nutmeg
Shattatomatoes, cilantro, garlic, cumin, pepper, parsley
Gochujangrice powder, fermented soybeans
Anchogarlic, cumin
Srirachavinegar, garlic, sugar

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