What’s a Good Harissa Substitute?

Harissa is a spice blend of roasted peppers, caraway seeds, baklouti peppers, coriander seeds, olive oil, and cumin. This spice blend is native to the people of Tunisia in North Africa, and the first canned version was produced in 1948. But if you are looking for a harissa substitute, several alternatives are available.

It is a common ingredient in the recipe for stews and curries in North African countries like Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. And it’s spicy, smoky, and slightly sweet, making an excellent dip for fries.

In this article, we’ll give you an insight into the available options that make a fantastic substitute for harissa and how to use them.

What Is Harissa?

Harissa is coined from the Arabic word “harassa,” which means “to pound”. When the term “harassa” was used as far back as the 7th century, it referred to porridges made from spices and pounded wheat. Baklouti pepper, a major ingredient in harissa, is grown in the Maghreb region of Tunisia.

This paste is added to stews and curries as a spicy condiment. When a blend of rose petals is added to this spice, it is called rose harissa. Sometimes, the spice is mixed with yogurts and tahini to make a dip for pitas, falafel, and more.

It’s also often used to substitute paprika or berbere when a recipe calls for them because of their shared flavors.

Harissa is rated on the Scoville scale between 1,000 and 5,500, making it mild like jalapeños but milder than serrano peppers.

Harissa Substitute

You’ll find a list of excellent substitutes for harissa here that will give your meal equal flavor, increased spiciness, or balanced heat. When a recipe calls for harissa, an alternative option is always available. Therefore, finding a replacement that will work for you is easy.

1. Sriracha

Also known as rooster sauce, sriracha makes a great harissa alternative. Sriracha has a Scoville rating of between 1,000 to 2,500 units. That’s slightly below the heat range of what is obtainable from harissa.

However, it’s sweeter than harissa because sugar is one of the ingredients used in making it. And while baklouti peppers are used in harissa, chili peppers are the main ingredient of sriracha. But it makes an ideal harissa substitute when you want your recipe to be less spicy.

You can use it to replace harissa in a recipe at a 1;1 ratio. And it’s perfect as a condiment or a dipping sauce.

2. Tabasco Sauce

This sauce is over 150 years old and can be used to substitute harissa in equal parts. Add tabasco sauce to your stews or curries to make them spicier.

There are various types of tabasco sauce on the market, ranging from very mild to hot. But overall, tabasco sauce has a Scoville rating of anywhere between 100 to 7,000 units. As such, it is typically above the heat range of what you will get from harissa. Therefore, tabasco sauce will most often increase the spice level of your dish.

3. Tabil

Tabil is a spice mix containing similar ingredients to harissa. And it’s also from Tunisia. This spice blend is in a similar heat range to harissa. And it makes a perfect substitute for harissa in stews, bakes, dips, or as a topping.

It’s sweet and so delicious that you might want to add a tablespoon of this spice mix to all your cooking. But it should be noted that one of the primary ingredients in tabil is garlic. Therefore, this may not be the best substitute for you if you’re not a fan of garlic.

You can incorporate one tablespoon of tabil as a substitute for one tablespoon of harissa in your recipe.

4. Sambal Oelek

In essence, the name “sambal oelek” is Indonesian for ground chili sauce. Sambal oelek typically has a Scoville rating of approximately 3,000 heat units. That means it’s slightly hotter than harissa paste.

Sambal oelek is a bit sweet but very spicy. And it’s often used as a substitute for harissa when you’re looking for a bit more spice. However, its flavor differs from harissa when using them as a substitute. 

Due to the cumin and nutmeg, harissa offers a warmer taste with earthy notes. While sambal oelek is predominantly spicy as chili is the chief ingredient. But you can use sambal oelek as a harissa substitute at a ratio of 1:1 in your recipe.

5. Berbere

This spice is a North African blend named after the Berber people of Ethiopia, where it originates. 

Berbere has a Scoville rating of between 30,000 and 50,000 heat units. That means it is much hotter than harissa. But it contains a variety of flavors from the multiple ingredients it’s made from. 

If you’re allergic to garlic, ginger, or fenugreek, you might want to skip this substitute for harissa. If not, you can use it as a harissa replacement for a dip or topping in equal parts.

6. Gochujang

This fermented pepper sauce native to Korea has been in use as far back as the 17th century. 

Gochujang has a Scoville rating under 1,000 units, making it less spicy than harissa. It’s slightly salty, spicy, and has a mild sweetness from the fermentation process. This sauce is low in fat and cholesterol-free but contains a little sugar.

About a tablespoon of gochujang will serve as a substitute for one tablespoon of harissa.


You might not enjoy harissa, or perhaps you’ve run out of harissa, and your recipe calls for it. Maybe you just want to increase or decrease the heat level of the recipe by replacing the harissa. Whatever the case, you will find an excellent harissa substitute on this list that is sure to be perfect for your recipe.