Sambal oelek is an Asian chili paste made of ground chili which is flavored with vinegar and salt. It’s so simple yet so flavorful. One of the main reasons why you may need to look for sambal oelek substitutes is that it’s gaining popularity, and many more recipes call for it.
Secondly, you may hardly find it in your local stores. So, consider these alternatives for your spicy and savory dishes. And lastly, not many people want to buy a jar of sambal oelek just for a few recipes and if you are among them then you can consider substitutes that you have on hand.
Best Sambal Oelek Substitutes
1. Sriracha Sauce
The best and most available substitute is the hot sriracha sauce. You can easily find it in many supermarkets. This sauce comes with the same level of hotness and bright red color, which are the most important features of sambal oelek. They both are made of red chilies.
Compared to sambal, sriracha contains less vinegar and additional spices such as garlic. Another difference is in the textures: sambal is a paste, while sriracha is a sauce. This means that you can use sriracha only in recipes that go well both with pastes and sauces.
2. Chili Garlic Sauce
Another awesome substitute is the chili garlic sauce. As you see, it has chilies in it, therefore it will provide a similar taste and flavor as sambal oelek. It’s a good option for almost all recipes with sambal. It contains chilies, vinegar, salt and garlic. Sometimes sugar is also added in it for a better taste.
If you don’t mind the strong flavor of garlic, then you can often use it instead of sambal oelek. You can even make it at home using fresh ingredients and enjoy with a number of dishes.
Avoid using any artificial garlic flavor or spicy powder while making this sauce, if you want to have the desired taste and aroma in your dish.
3. Harissa Chili Paste
Harissa chili paste is made not only from chilies but also from some other ingredients that make it so rich in flavors and taste. This African paste contains roasted red pepper, baklouti pepper, and serrano pepper. It may also contain coriander seeds, olive oil and other spices.
Harissa chili paste can substitute sambal especially in meat dishes such as roasted, grilled or cooked rub on beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.
While the hotness is almost the same, the flavor is usually different from sambal. The texture of both pastes is the same.
4. Gochujang Chili Paste
Gochujang is a popular Korean paste made of chilies and spices that provide it with savory and slightly sweet flavors. It is not as hot as sambal but you can try to use it in spicy rice cakes, bibimbap, fried chicken and meatballs. It is suitable for the same dishes that go well with sambal oelek.
Gochujang chili paste can serve as a dipping sauce for grilled and roasted meat dishes. You can try to use it with burgers and meat marinade too. One of the main reasons why it can substitute sambal is that it offers the same texture and thickness.
Use half amount of gochujang when choosing it instead of sambal.
5. Tabasco Sauce
Tabasco is an American brand sauce made of hot tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt, but compared to sambal it contains more vinegar. This sauce is especially familiar to pizza and pasta lovers. It is one of the most popular chili sauces served in restaurants.
The process of making tabasco sauce makes it different from sambal oelek. Mashed and salted tabasco peppers are flavored with lots of vinegar and are aged in oak barrels for three years. Thanks to this technique it gets a distinct taste. It can substitute sambal in dishes where you want to add some spiciness.
Both have the same ingredients but if you choose tabasco instead of sambal then make sure you use half amount because it contains more vinegar in it.
6. Thai Chili Paste
The main ingredients of Thai chili paste are dried chilies, garlic and shallots which are cooked down and blended with salt, oil, sugar, tamarind, sugar, fish sauce, and shrimp paste.
You can substitute it with sambal oelek in many Asian dishes. It has a rich flavor and makes dishes taste spicy, salty, sweet and sour at the same time.
7. Chinese Chili Sauce
Chinese chili sauce is a mixture of several spicy ingredients, additives, oil and spices. It is made of dried chilies, salt, soy beans, black beans, water and oil. You may also find lemongrass in some recipes of chinese chili sauces.
Since it contains too much oil, you can use it in stir-fried dishes, hot sauces, where sambal oelek is required. It can serve as a dip for finger foods or a side sauce to add more hotness to dishes.
This sauce comes not only with a spicy taste but also with bright red color, which makes meals look more eye-catching. It is perfect especially for roasted and grilled meat.
8. Red Pepper Flakes
Crushed red pepper flakes come for help when you don’t have any of the above-mentioned sauces or pastes on hand. While it won’t provide the same consistency, it still offers hotness and spicy taste.
Just a few dishes calling for sambal oelek may go well with red pepper flakes, but if your dish doesn’t require a paste or sauce-y like ingredient, then use this substitute to bring hotness to the meal. You can choose it as a topping for pizzas or meat dishes.
9. Cayenne Pepper Flakes
Like any other kind of pepper, cayenne also has a special aroma and taste. It comes with a bright red color and tastes quite spicy. You can’t eat it at once but you can use it as a great alternative for sambal in several dishes.
Cayenne peppers serve as topping as well as go well with fish sauce or oyster sauce. Instead of sambal you can use these peppers in Mexican fajitas, tacos and enchiladas.
10. Fresh Jalapenos
Jalapenos are green or red peppers with similar hotness to chilies. While they don’t work the way sambal paste works in dishes, they can still add the desired spiciness and fiery touch. Green jalapenos offer less spiciness than red ones.
Serve your dishes with fresh slices of jalapeno or mix it with sauces to make them spicy. Unlike pastes and sauces, fresh jalapenos provide dishes, salads and meals with a crunchy texture. You can use them in salads, guacamole and chutney recipes.
11. Chili Crisp
Chili crisp is another spicy sauce found in many stores. You can choose it instead of sambal oelek but its texture is somehow different. It is an oil-based sauce mixed with small pieces of hot chili peppers, scallions, garlic and onions as well as other spices.
If you don’t mind the tastes of garlic and onions, then this could be a good choice as a dipping sauce. You can also use it with noodle dishes, pasta, meat and dumplings.
12. Homemade Sambal Oelek
Now, let’s see how you can make sambal oelek sauce at home. It’s quite easy to make as it contains just a few ingredients: 1 pound of crushed raw red chiles, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
All you need is just mixing them in a blender for a few minutes until it gets a paste texture. Pour the paste into a jar and keep in the fridge for several hours to make the flavors mingle with each other.
FAQs on Sambal Oelek Paste
Is sambal oelek hot?
If you buy it from stores, it won’t be too hot. If you make it yourself, then the result may be spicier because of the fresh ingredients. A lot depends on the amount of chilies you use in it.
Your personal heat-tolerance range will help you rate the level of hotness of this food. Just keep in mind that compared with many other hot sauces sambal doesn’t contain sugar and other mild ingredients. It just holds the taste of hot and spicy chilies. The more they are, the spicier the paste will be.
Is Sambal oelek paste healthy?
Since it is not highly processed and doesn’t contain sugar, it is considered as a healthy food to use in everyday meals. Sambal oelek paste is a low-calorie spicy food that can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Is chili paste and sambal oelek the same?
Chili paste usually contains one more ingredient in it and its garlic. The traditional sumbal doesn’t contain garlic. So, chili paste comes with another taste and flavor because of garlic, which means they are not the same.
Sambal oelek is used in many recipes including stir fries, roasted, grilled or cooked fish and meat, noodles, burgers, and tofu. It provides dishes with strong aroma and a pleasant spicy taste, and It also makes many dishes achieve a better taste.
Depending on what you are planning to make, you can choose one of the sambal oelek substitutes. In case, you don’t want to replace it with another paste, sauce or spice, you can make it at home just following the above-described steps.