harissa substitutes

7 Harissa Substitutes to Add Some Heat to Your Dishes

Harissa is a spicy condiment made with olive oil, ground chilies, and various spices and herbs. This tasty paste has smoky, peppery flavors with a garlicky and citrusy undertone and a chunky to smooth consistency, depending on the brand. Harissa is excellent for adding a spicy punch to many dishes like curries and stews and you can even serve it alongside bread for dipping.

Harissa is also available in powder and sauce forms and can come in mild to fiery heat. The only catch? It can be a bit difficult to find in local stores. So, if your recipe calls for it and you don’t have the time to make the trip to a specialty store, here are 7 spicy Harissa substitutes that will work just as well in your recipes.

1. Gochujang


Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made with red chili flakes, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It has slightly sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors that work excellently in a variety of dishes. While it’s not the exact taste match to Harissa, it is one of the hottest condiments in the world.

As Gochujang has a similar texture and heat level as Harissa, you can use it as a direct substitute in different recipes. Use it to marinate meats (like chicken) and veggies or to make spicy dips. However, you should remember that it has a distinctly sweet fermented flavor and some tartness, so it may change the overall taste of your dish.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1 teaspoon Gochujang.

2. Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce

Hot sauce is typically made with hot red chilies, spices, vinegar, and salt. It is available in various flavors, so you can use whatever you have on hand to recreate the heat of Harissa in your dish. Make sure you do a taste test when you add it, though, as some hot sauces can pack a powerful spice punch that you’ll feel on your tongue and in your throat and stomach for a long time.

You can use hot sauce in any dish that calls for Harissa. It will add a similar color and tang to your marinades, meat, and vegetable-based dishes, making them taste just as good. However, keep in mind that this condiment has a thinner consistency than Harissa, so it can affect the consistency of your prepared meal. To recreate the sweet-smoky flavor of Harissa, consider mixing in some honey, garlic, and paprika.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce. (Start with a few drops and adjust to taste.)

3. Ras el Hanout

Ras el Hanout

Ras el hanout is a spice blend that features more than 12 spices, creating a complex flavor profile that will tantalize your taste buds. It has a similar color and heat level as Harissa and can thus replace the original ingredient in your dishes in a bind. This spice mix is not always easy to find, though, making this swap a tough one to execute.

You can use Ras el hanout as a direct substitute for Harissa powder in African and Middle Eastern cuisine. However, since Ras el hanout comes in powder form, consider mixing it with a liquid like apple cider vinegar to get a paste-like consistency and to give your dishes a dash of acidity similar to Harissa.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1/2 teaspoon Ras el hanout.

4. Red Pepper Flakes + Olive Oil

Red pepper flakes are made with dried and crushed peppers and are easily available in most grocery stores. They have a fiery aroma and flavor, and you can combine them with olive oil to create a thick paste that can work as a great Harissa substitute in terms of both heat and richness.

A mixture of red pepper flakes and olive oil can be used as a Harissa substitute in marinades for meat and vegetable dishes and yogurt dips. However, keep in mind that it will not replicate the complexity or the gorgeous color of Harissa. You can address this by adding garlic, lemon juice, and honey for a more accurate flavor profile. Additionally, because pepper flakes add some crunch, there will be a noticeable difference in the end result of the dish.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and olive oil mixture.

5. Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is an Indonesian paste made with ground Thai chili peppers, along with vinegar and salt. Some variations may also contain garlic and lime juice. Although it lacks the complexity of Harissa, sambal oelek adds a strong spice punch to foods and can be used as a good stand-in for the original ingredient.

Sambal oelek mimics the heat and acidic flavor of Harissa, so you can use it in dishes like chicken, seafood, and vegetables. It also works well as a dip for pizza and to add to pasta and noodle dishes. That said, if you want a similar taste to Harissa in your dish, we suggest mixing garlic, cumin, and caraway seeds to get some warm aromas.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1/2 teaspoon Sambal Oelek.

6. Sriracha


Sriracha, made with chili peppers, garlic, sugar, vinegar, sugar, and salt, makes frequent appearances in Vietnamese and Thai cuisines. It is a type of hot sauce that has a spicy and pungent flavor profile, similar to the taste of Harissa. This makes it an easy substitute, although there are some differences in consistency.

The peppery and garlicky notes of Sriracha are perfect for sprucing up chicken, stews, dips, and soups. You can also elevate its flavor profile by mixing in small amounts of cumin, coriander, and caraway, which will also help thicken the sauce and give it a more paste-like texture. Be sure to do a taste test before you add it, as some sriracha sauces can be sweet, which you will need to balance with cayenne pepper.

1 teaspoon Harissa = 1/2 teaspoon sriracha.

7. Homemade Harissa

Homemade Harissa

The best way to recreate the exact flavor of Harissa is to make this spicy condiment yourself! It’s very easy to replicate with these ingredients:

• Caraway seeds
• Cloves
• Coriander seeds
• Cumin seeds
• Dried chiles de arbol
• Dried New Mexico chiles
• Lemon juice
• Olive oil
• Sea salt
• Smoked paprika
• Tomato paste
• White wine vinegar

You can use this paste to replace store-bought Harissa in any recipe. The best thing is that you can make it as mild or fiery as you want and even control how chunky or smooth you want it to be!

1 teaspoon store-bought Harissa = 1 teaspoon homemade Harissa.

AboutRibana Hategan

Ribana is a certified pastry chef and passionate home cook who curates and develops recipes that are high on nutrition. She develops and tests cost effective, nutritious meals using quality ingredients to help people better their everyday eating experiences.