Sambal Oelek — a spicy Indonesian paste made from hot red chile peppers, lime juice or vinegar, salt, and sugar — is a condiment that adds spice and flavor to sauces, marinades, salsas, and dressings.
Also popular in Western dishes, sambal oelek is great as a dip for spring rolls and other finger foods. The paste also adds heat and flavor to soups and stews.
Other sauces, pastes, certain spices, and fresh chile peppers make good substitutes for sambal oelek. Or, make your own sambal oelek at home:
- 1 pound chile peppers
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend to a smooth paste. Store in a glass jar in the fridge and use within five days.
Best Sambal Oelek Substitute: Sriracha Sauce
The best substitute for sambal oelek is sriracha sauce. Sriracha is a bright red hot sauce with a flavor similar to sambal oelek.
Although it has less vinegar and more garlic than sambal oelek, sriracha works well as a substitute in sauces, marinades, salsas, and casseroles.
Sriracha is thinner than sambal oelek and makes the consistency of the dish thinner. Use sriracha sauce as a 1:1 replacement for sambal oelek.
Add a little vinegar to match the sour tang of sambal oelek, and use slightly less garlic than called for in the recipe because sriracha contains a fair amount.
Other Sambal Oelek Substitutes, Alternatives, and Replacements
There are several sauces, pastes, and dry ingredients that you can use in place of sambal oelek.
Sambal Oelek Substitutes: Pastes
Harissa Chili Paste
Harissa chili paste is made from chile peppers, garlic, cumin, caraway, paprika, and coriander.
Harissa is a good substitute for sambal oelek because it has a similar texture and level of heat.
However, harissa’s flavor is slightly different from sambal oelek, with overtones of cumin and caraway.
Use harissa as a 1:1 replacement for sambal oelek in soups, stews, marinades, and casseroles, as a meat rub for lamb, pork, or beef roasts, and in chicken dishes.
Gochujang Chile Paste
Gochujang chile paste is a Korean chile paste made from gochugaru, a powder made from gochu chiles.
With a strong, hot flavor, gochujang chile paste makes a good substitute for sambal oelek because the two condiments have the same consistency and add heat to foods.
Because gochujang chile paste is stronger and spicier than sambal oelek, use half the amount in recipes for meat marinades and sauces.
Gochujang chile paste is also sweeter than sambal oelek, so add a little vinegar or lemon juice for tang.
Calabrian Chile Paste
Calabrian chile paste is made from Calabrian peppers and is popular in Italian cuisine.
The paste works as a substitute for sambal oelek because the two condiments are similar in texture and both have a degree of spiciness.
However, Calabrian chile paste is spicier than sambal oelek and Calabrian chile paste’s strong saltiness and smoky flavor stand out.
Use half the amount of Calabrian chile paste when substituting sambal oelek in sauces, marinades, soups, and stews.
This paste is also great for adding flavor to pizzas and eggs and spices a sandwich well.
Sambal Oelek Substitutes: Sauces
Chile Garlic Sauce
Chile garlic sauce has a flavor similar to sambal oelek because both are made with chilies, vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Chile garlic sauce has an added garlic flavor.
Use chile garlic sauce as a 1:1 replacement for sambal oelek in stir-fries, noodles, soups, and stews.
If the recipe calls for garlic, use less than the recommended amount to avoid an overpowering garlic flavor.
Chinese Chile Sauce
Chinese chile sauce comes in different strengths and flavors depending on the type of chile used. Because of its blend of sugar and vinegar, Chinese chile sauce has a subtle sweet-and-sour flavor.
All Chinese chile sauces add heat and spice to a dish and can be used in place of sambal oelek. Use Chinese chile sauce as a 1:1 substitute in marinades, sauces, soups, and casseroles.
Ancho Chile Sauce
Ancho chile sauce, made from ancho chilies, has a spicy, slightly sweet flavor with a chocolatey undertone.
With a similar heat to sambal oelek, ancho chile sauce works as a substitute in soups, stews, marinades, and sauces.
Use ancho chile sauce as a 1:1 replacement for sambal oelek and add a little vinegar to compensate for the sweetness.
Tabasco is a hot sauce that adds spice and heat to salad dressings, marinades, and sauces.
Made with peppers, salt, and vinegar, tabasco sauce has a similar flavor to sambal oelek and makes a good substitute, although tabasco has more vinegar and is more sour.
Because tabasco is hotter than sambal oelek, use half the amount recommended in the recipe, and add a little sugar to compensate for the vinegar’s sour tang.
Sambal Oelek Substitutes: Dry Spices
Although dry spices don’t have the same texture as sambal oelek paste, certain spices provide a similar flavor. When using spices as a substitute, add extra liquid for moisture.
Ground Cayenne Pepper
Ground cayenne pepper is made from dried cayenne chile peppers. With a similar flavor to sambal oelek, cayenne pepper works as a substitute, together with a dash of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Use 1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper in place of 2 tablespoons of sambal oelek in soups, casseroles, marinades, and sauces.
Sweet Paprika and Hot Paprika Blend
Paprika is a ground spice made from dried peppers. Depending on the type of peppers and process used, paprika is either spicy, sweet, or smoky.
A blend of spicy and sweet paprikas in equal parts provides a similar flavor and heat to sambal oelek.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of hot paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika to replace 2 tablespoons of sambal oelek in stews, soups, marinades, and sauces.
Dried chilies are ground into a fine powder to make chile powder, which adds a spicy kick to foods. Chile powder has a similar but spicier flavor to sambal oelek.
Use chile powder sparingly in place of sambal oelek to prevent an overpowering heat. Use ¼ teaspoon of chile powder in place of 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek.
Add a little vinegar and sugar to provide the slightly sweet and tangy flavor of sambal oelek.
Red Pepper Flakes
Red pepper flakes, made from crushed, dried red peppers, don’t have the same flavor as sambal oelek, but they’re nearly as spicy.
This spice works as a substitute for sambal oelek in soups, stews, marinades, sauces, and as a topping on pizza.
Use ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes in place of 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek, and add a little vinegar and sugar to the dish to provide a similar flavor to sambal oelek.
Sambal Oelek Substitute: Fresh Peppers
Fresh peppers have a different consistency to sambal oelek, but many peppers hit the same flavor notes and work as a substitute.
Use one pepper in place of 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek, chopping the peppers finely to add them to soups, stews, and sauces.
Use any of these peppers instead of sambal oelek:
- Jalapeño peppers
- Fresno chile peppers
- Poblano peppers
- Ancho chile peppers
- Thai chile peppers
- Habanero peppers