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Sambal oelek is an excellent cooking condiment for those who want to make their food spicy and flavorful. However, it is an Asian spicy chili paste primarily found in Asian stores — though you might get lucky to see it randomly.
But what if you don’t? What if there isn’t a nearby Asian store?
Are you willing to abandon your recipe halfway and embark on a 10-15 min drive for a chile paste? Well, I don’t know for you, but I’d rather save my time, energy, and gas, opting for other Sambal Oelek substitutes.
And there are many alternatives to choose from, some of which are more flavoring with an alluring aroma than the regular grounded raw chili paste with boring vinegar and salt addition.
The most suitable alternatives to sambal Oelek are chili garlic sauce, hot sriracha sauce, harissa chili paste, hot Tabasco sauce, gochujang chili paste, cayenne pepper flakes, crushed red pepper flakes, or fresh jalapeño.
Sambal Oelek Substitutes
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these alternatives if they are worth your money.
1. Homemade Sambal Oelek
For most people, adding something other than sambal Oelek is taboo. And we can’t deny you that, which is why a fresh Sambal Oelek made by your hand would be the best option.
No doubt, you can purchase the already made Sambal Oelek from the grocer, but nothing bits fresh. You will never want to buy from the stores again when you realize how easy it is to make your spicy chili paste.
It takes only just a few minutes and three essential ingredients:
- One pound of chili peppers
- Two tablespoons of vinegar
- One tablespoon of salt
Put all the ingredients in a blender and grind until it becomes a paste. Then put the mixture in a jar and then in the fridge for a few hours before use.
But hold on, what if I tell you the second substitute might be great as the fresh Sambal Oelek?
No cap! See for yourself.
2. Sriracha Hot Sauce
Sriracha Hot sauce is arguably the most popular spicy condiment on this list. But when the line is drawn on the sand between it and the sambal oelek, the two fiery Asian flavors go head to head.
The ingredients and heat levels are pretty similar. Taste-wise, Sriracha will bring a sweeter flavor with traces of garlic undertones. Meanwhile, the sambal oelek relies solely on the chili pepper flavor along with a touch of more vinegar.
Furthermore, Sriracha is a sauce, while sambal oelek is more of a paste. You can use both interchangeably straight as a dipping sauce, drinks, Eggs/Cheese, Meats/Marinades; for noodles, soups, and stews.
But sambal oelek will much better fit if you’re looking for an additive to thicken up a dish. I’ve also seen many avid cooks reduce the Sriracha garlic flavor by adding little vinegar. So you too can.
3. Chili Garlic Sauce
Chili garlic sauce does not have the same flavor, but you can easily use it in most Sambal Oelek recipes. They share almost the same ingredients like chilies, vinegar, and salt; only the Chili garlic sauce has some sugar and garlic addition with other seasonings.
And this explains why they are spicier, slightly sweet with a chunky texture.
So if you don’t care about that extra flavors, go ahead and swap the quantity as sambal oelek. You won’t even notice the difference.
You can use the Chili garlic sauce for noodles, stir-fries, grilled fish, meat, and tofu.
4. Tabasco Hot Sauce
Tabasco hot sauce is also made with key ingredients like chili pepper, vinegar, and salt like the sambal oelek, making it an excellent substitute.
Keep in mind that this option has more vinegar than the Sriracha sauce and sambal oelek. So if you’re going for it, use only half the quality than you would with sambal oelek.
Otherwise, your dish is will be overrun with too much acidity. Try this Tabasco hot sauce on your salads, curry, and pasta sauces; Sprinkle on fajitas, tacos, burritos, pizza, garlic bread, or even barbecue.
5. Harissa Paste
Harissa is a hot chili paste from Tunisia, North Africa. I can vouch for the harissa paste as a great sambal oelek substitute if used as a meat rub on beef, pork, lamb, or poultry.
While they might not taste the same, both have equal heat levels and textures. Harissa paste has a slightly sweet, smoky, and tangy cumin flavor.
And this doesn’t go well in all recipes. However, you can try it on roasted vegetables, salad dressing, pasta, burgers, and hummus. But start by adding little until you get the desired result.
6. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Red pepper flakes are another excellent sambal oelek substitute. While it won’t bring you close to the taste or consistency of Sambal Oelek, it mimics the pungency.
The crushed red pepper flakes will gladly step in in areas where sambal fails to act efficiently as an addictive. You can use it in pickling blends, spaghetti sauce, chowders, pizza sauce, beefsteak, soups, and sausage.
It is sharp and somewhat earthy with a decent dose of spice; it is best to use ¼ tablespoon for every one tablespoon of sambal oelek.
7. Gochujang Chili Paste
You might consider using the Gochujang chili Paste if you don’t have any of the above sambal oelek substitutes.
The Gochujang is a Korean red chili paste with a rich fermented savory and slightly sweet taste.
This paste and the sambal oelek are distinctively different in taste due to their key ingredients.
However, you can still use the Gochujang instead of sambal oelek for all of your favorite Korean dishes like Dakgalbi, Tteokbokki, Budae Jjigae, and more.
Aside from those, it is ideal for amping up dipping sauces, slathered on as marinade for chicken, meats, or intensified soups.
Since it has a strong flavor profile, we recommend using half the amount you would for sambel.
8. Cayenne Pepper Flakes
Another flake you might want to try is the Cayenne pepper flakes — similar to the crushed red pepper flakes but can replace the sambal oelek.
Again, this alternative doesn’t have the same flavor or consistency as sambal oelek, but it brings fiery to your dish.
You will relish it more in Mexican cooking, for example, in traditional dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas.
You can also use it for cheese omelettes, meat marinades, or to flavor robust spicy sauces.
Like crushed red pepper flakes, you want to use a quarter amount.
9. Fresh Jalapeno
Lastly, if you don’t have any of the above sauces or pastes for substitution, all hope is not lost yet.
You can dice a few FRESH Jalapeño peppers for some heat and crunchy addition in all recipes.
You can use it as a sambal oelek substitute raw in salsas, salads, chutney, or guacamole; cooked in main dishes, baked into cornbread, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Sambal Oelek Made Of?
Sambal Oelek is a simple spicy Indonesian chili paste with three essential ingredients: hot red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. Some other variations could contain onion, garlic, lemon, sugar, etc.
How Hot Is Sambal Sauce?
Sambal oelek offers a mild heat — not too intense; not sweet. Even the garlic variations are not intensely flavored. Generally, sambal oelek is fairly hot like the cayenne or Holland Chile of about 30,000 to 50,000 SHU.
Suppose you are making a homemade sambal sauce; you could experiment with different hot chilies depending on your desired heat level or what’s available at that moment.
Is Sambal Oelek Unhealthy?
The fact that it lacks sugar content makes it a healthy option compared to spicy paste or sauce condiments. This sugar-free sauce lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is also a low-calorie condiment that helps alleviate pain, rhinitis and releases mucus during the cold attack.
Warning! That doesn’t give you the go-ahead if you’re suffering from colitis or ulcers. You either avoid it or use it sparingly.
How Long Does Fresh Sambal Last?
Sambal is pretty perishable. So putting it in the refrigerator will help extend its self-life. But the harsh truth is: not for so long. You have just about 2 weeks to 1 month to reserve your larger batches for later use. Just ensure you store it in an airtight jar or container.
Think about it for a moment; sambal has never even made it that long without being eaten.
With so many Sambal Oelek Substitutes within your grasp, making a pick could be somewhat confusing.
Of course, you can’t choose all!
It would help if you concentrated more on what works best for you and the one available at that moment. That way, it will be easy to make a choice.
Besides, all of the above Chile paste and sauces will make an excellent sambal oelek substitute, although some might differ in consistency, taste, or texture. Or better still, you can make a homemade sambal oelek all by yourself.
The ball is in your court!