Sambal Oelek Substitute

Sambal Oelek is a spicy chili paste made from red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. This chili paste originated in Indonesia, but it has spread worldwide to many countries. Although the paste has earned the respect of chefs, you can always use a sambal oelek substitute when in a pinch.

Besides the chili, vinegar, and salt in sambal oelek, you can add other ingredients to create variations of this chili paste. Sambal oelek is traditionally used as a condiment or side dish in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The paste is typically made with a stone mortar called a “cobek” and a stone pestle called an “ulekan”.

This article will explore suitable sambal oelek substitutes and the best use circumstances.

What Is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste made from chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. Sometimes, ginger, garlic, lime juice, shrimp paste, scallion, shallot, and palm sugar are added to enhance the flavor. 

This chili paste has a spicy flavor that stings the tongue, with a subtle sweetness from the chilis. It is usually thick with a viscous texture and is most often bright red in color.

Aside from homemade sambal oelek, this chili paste is also packaged and sold in jars at Asian food stores. Regardless, you can use both versions of this chili paste in your soup, noodles, and stir-fries. You can also use it as a dip for your grilled squid, spring rolls, fried chicken, and beef strips. 

Sambal Oelek Substitute

This list offers several alternatives that can replace sambal oelek in your dips, stir-fries, noodle soups, and more. Any of these substitutes will work irrespective of whether you want to use sambal oelek as a condiment or the main ingredient.

1. Sriracha Sauce

Huy Fong Foods, the biggest producer of sambal oelek on the planet, also produces sriracha sauce. Aside from its distinct sweetness, you can use this red sauce as a sambal oelek substitute in many dishes.

Sriracha sauce is made from chili peppers, garlic, sugar, salt, and distilled vinegar. This hot sauce is thinner than sambal oelek, with a sweetness reminiscent of ketchup. It also has a rating of 1000 to 2500 Scoville Heat Units, making it reasonably mild.

Sriracha sauce is a good base for meat marinades, but you can also use it on pizzas, fried foods, and sandwiches.

2. Jalapeno Chili Peppers

The Mexican jalapeno is a mild chili pepper with a rating of 2500 to 8000 Scoville Heat Units. And it’s an excellent sambal oelek alternative.

Jalapeno chilis offer the same spiciness as sambal oelek but with an added crunch. Combine a little garlic and onion with your jalapeno chili peppers, and you’ll have a perfect substitute for sambal oelek. This chili pepper works for soups, pizzas, salads, and almost any other sambal oelek dishes. 

3. Gochujang Chili Paste

A Korean home never lacks gochujang chili paste, as it’s the main ingredient in many of their spicy dishes. This chili paste offers the same color and consistency as sambal oelek but with more sweetness. It has a rating of less than 1000 Scoville Heat Units, which means it’s super mild.

When you visit supermarkets, you’ll likely find a version of this chili paste offering various additional savory and spicy flavors. You can use any gochujang chili paste for spicy marinades, stir-fries, noodles, and rice dishes. When using gochujang as a sambal oelek substitute, use half the sambal oelek quantity stipulated.

4. Thai Chili Paste

Thai chili paste originated from Thailand and is a significant component of their native recipes. This paste is made with dried Thai chilies, garlic, oil, shallots, tamarind, sugar, shrimp powder, and fish sauce. And its Scoville rating ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Due to its many ingredients, Thai chili paste offers spiciness with a more robust flavor than sambal oelek. When you use this substitute, use very little and adjust to your taste as it’s incredibly hot. This paste is perfect for stir-fries, soups, fried chicken, and more.

5. Harissa Chili Paste

Originating from Tunisia, Harissa is a significant part of Tunisian cuisine, with a rating of 1000 to 5500 Scoville Heat Units. This chili paste is made from serrano peppers, red peppers, baklouti peppers, and other complementary ingredients like garlic and cumin. 

The various components of harissa chili paste give it a flavor similar to sambal oelek. Since it offers the same red color and consistency as sambal oelek, you can use it for many sambal oelek dishes. You can also use it in soups, grilled dishes, stir-fries, and as a marinade. 

6. Chinese Chili Sauce

Chinese chili sauce is a staple in Chinese cuisine to add spiciness to their dishes. This sauce is red hot with a rating of 50,000 to 75,000 Scoville Heat Units. 

The sauce is made with chili peppers, cooking oil, lemongrass, and other complementary ingredients. Due to its oily nature, it’s best to use it as a sambal oelek substitute in fried dishes. But due to its spiciness, you should use it in moderation.

7. Tabasco Sauce

Tabasco sauce is one of the most popular chili sauces worldwide, so you’ll find it in virtually every supermarket. This red chili sauce is made from tabasco peppers and vinegar, giving it a strong, spicy, and sour taste. This sauce is available in different heat levels, up to 35,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Its strong vinegar taste will be noticeable in your dish, so avoid using too much tabasco sauce. We recommend using a quarter of the quantity you would for sambal oelek. Tabasco sauce is excellent on pizza, fried rice, pasta, fried noodles, beef steak, and more. 


Sambal oelek is a chili paste that’s earned its place as a staple for many Indonesian and Asian dishes. However, you may want to replace it in your recipe if you can’t find it or want a bit more heat. Either way, you’ll find the perfect sambal oelek substitute above to elevate your dish and impress your dinner guests.