Best Substitutes for Chili Garlic Sauce

Chili garlic sauce is a popular condiment known for enhancing the flavor of various Asian dishes. This spicy and savory sauce is a versatile ingredient that can be used in stir-fries, soups, and marinades, or as a dipping sauce for dumplings and spring rolls. However, there may be times when you need a substitute for chili garlic sauce, whether it’s because you ran out, have an allergy, or you’re looking for a milder option.

In this article, we will explore some of the best substitutes for chili garlic sauce that can help you achieve the desired taste and spice level in your cooking. By understanding the unique flavors and textures of these alternatives, you can choose the right substitute to enhance your dishes without compromising their flavor profiles.

Key Takeaways

  • Finding substitutes for chili garlic sauce allows for recipe flexibility
  • Understanding flavor profiles helps choose the right substitute
  • Homemade chili garlic sauce can be a personalized alternative to store-bought options

Understanding Chili Garlic Sauce

Role in Different Dishes

Chili garlic sauce is a versatile condiment that adds a burst of flavor to various dishes. Its unique combination of garlic, chili, and other ingredients brings heat, texture, and a delicious flavor profile to your culinary creations. Whether you’re preparing Asian cuisine or spicing up a simple dish, chili garlic sauce can elevate your food’s taste and heat to the next level.

How It Is Made

Chili garlic sauce’s main components are garlic and chili peppers, though vinegar, sugar, and salt may also be added to achieve the desired flavor balance. To make the sauce, fresh garlic and chilies are first crushed to form a coarse paste. Then, the mixture is cooked with sugar, salt, and vinegar until it reaches the desired consistency.

Uses in the Culinary World

In the culinary world, chili garlic sauce is widely favored and used across many cuisines. You can use it as a dipping sauce for dumplings, spring rolls, or other appetizers. It can also be added to stir-fry dishes, noodles, fried rice, and even meat marinades. The spicy, garlicky flavor profile of chili garlic sauce is versatile and can add a punch of heat and depth to your dishes. Experiment with it in your own kitchen to find the perfect balance of spice and flavor to suit your taste buds.

Top Substitutes for Chili Garlic Sauce


Sriracha is a popular chili garlic sauce substitute known for its tangy and slightly sweet flavor. Originating in Thailand, it’s made from red chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. You can use it in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement for chili garlic sauce in your recipes.

Harissa Sauce

Harissa sauce, a North African condiment, is made from roasted red peppers, garlic, spices, and olive oil. It offers a smoky flavor and can be a suitable chili garlic sauce substitute. Depending on the desired spiciness, you can adjust the amount in your recipe accordingly.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian chili paste, is a simple yet flavorful alternative for chili garlic sauce. Made from crushed raw red chilies, salt, and sometimes vinegar, it delivers a similar heat level. To mimic the garlic flavor, add minced garlic to the paste before incorporating it into your dish.

Hot Sauce

Various hot sauces, such as Tabasco or Cholula, can serve as a chili garlic sauce substitute if you’re looking for a quick and easily accessible option. Hot sauces can provide heat, but may lack the depth of flavor and thickness of chili garlic sauce. Add garlic and a pinch of sugar if necessary to better replicate the taste.

Chili Paste

Chili paste, consisting of mainly ground chilies and oil, can be an effective substitute for chili garlic sauce. To add more depth to the flavor, consider incorporating some garlic and vinegar into the paste before using it in your recipe.

Black Bean Sauce

Black bean sauce, a fermented Chinese condiment, offers a unique umami flavor and can be used as a chili garlic sauce substitute. While it doesn’t provide the same heat level, the rich, savory taste works well in many recipes. Combine it with chili oil or crushed red pepper flakes to reach the desired spiciness.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce can be used as a base to create a homemade chili garlic sauce substitute. Combine soy sauce with minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and a touch of sugar to create a quick and simple alternative. Adjust the heat level according to your preference.


Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made from red chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. While its flavor profile is distinct, it can be used as a chili garlic sauce substitute in certain dishes. The thick, sweet, and spicy paste adds depth to any recipe, but be cautious with the amount used, as its flavor can be quite strong.

How to Choose the Right Substitute

When you need a substitute for chili garlic sauce, consider the dish you’re preparing and the desired level of heat and flavor. The right alternative should ideally offer a balance between spiciness, seasoning, and taste while complementing the main ingredients of your dish.

For dips, soups, and stews, you can opt for hot sauce, red pepper flakes, or sriracha. These options can provide a spicy kick without overpowering the individual components of your dish.

In dishes such as noodle dishes, meat, eggs, and seafood, Thai red curry paste, gochujang, and sambal oelek make excellent replacements. These substitutes impart a rich, complex flavor while maintaining an appropriate heat level.

When preparing burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and pasta, harissa paste, cayenne pepper, or chipotle in adobo sauce can offer spicy and tangy notes. Adjust the quantity of these alternatives according to your preferred heat level and flavor.

For simple vegetable dishes, consider using more common spices like ground cumin, paprika, or crushed red pepper. These seasonings can enhance the flavor of your dish without overshadowing the natural taste of the vegetables.

Remember to consider the heat level and flavor profile of your chosen substitute, adjusting the quantity to match both your taste preferences and the character of the dish. By doing so, you’ll achieve a delicious and satisfying result while making the best use of available seasoning options.

Creating Homemade Chili Garlic Sauce

Creating a homemade chili garlic sauce is simple and allows you to adjust the flavors to your liking. This recipe combines just a few key ingredients to make a versatile and delicious sauce perfect for enhancing any dish.

To begin, gather the following:

  • Chili flakes (1/4 cup)
  • Garlic paste (2 tablespoons)
  • Olive oil or soybean oil (1/4 cup)
  • Lemon juice (2 tablespoons)
  • Honey (1 tablespoon, optional)

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over low heat until it is warmed but not smoking. Then, add the garlic paste, stirring constantly to avoid burning the garlic. Cook the garlic for about 1 minute, or until it is fragrant and slightly golden.

Next, add the chili flakes to the saucepan and stir to combine the ingredients. Continue cooking the mixture for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the chili flakes have released their flavor into the oil.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully stir in the lemon juice. This will add a bright, zesty note to your sauce. If you prefer a slightly sweeter sauce, you can also mix in a tablespoon of honey at this stage.

Allow the sauce to cool down for a few minutes, then taste and adjust the flavors as needed. You may want to add a pinch of salt or more lemon juice, depending on your preference. Once the sauce reaches your desired flavor, transfer it to a jar or an airtight container.

Your homemade chili garlic sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Use it as a dipping sauce, stir it into noodle dishes, or add it to marinades for an extra kick of flavor. By making it yourself, you can ensure a fresh and personalized taste that perfectly complements your favorite meals.

Substitutes in Various Cuisines

Using Substitutes in Asian Cuisine

In Asian cuisine, especially Thai dishes, you can use Sriracha sauce as a substitute for chili garlic sauce. It provides a similar level of heat and tangy flavor. You can also make your own chili garlic sauce by combining fresh red chilies, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a food processor.

Using Substitutes in Indonesian Dishes

For Indonesian dishes, consider using Sambal Oelek as a replacement for chili garlic sauce. It has a chunky texture and equally spicy flavor. If Sambal Oelek is unavailable, you can also try Sambal Terasi which includes shrimp paste for a distinct Indonesian touch.

Using Substitutes in North African Dishes

In North African condiments, particularly in Tunisia, Harissa is a great alternative for chili garlic sauce. It is made from a blend of hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, and various spices. To recreate the desired taste, simply adjust the proportions of spices in Harissa to your liking.


Chili garlic sauce is a versatile cooking ingredient that adds a distinctive flavor to your dishes. However, there might be situations where you need substitutes for chili garlic sauce. In those cases, consider the following options:

  • Sriracha: This popular hot sauce can provide a similar kick of heat and garlic flavor, while also being widely available in stores.
  • Sambal Oelek: Another chili paste that delivers a potent mix of heat, garlic, and tanginess, making it a great alternative to chili garlic sauce in your recipes.

Remember that each substitute may have its own characteristics and potency, so you might need to adjust the quantities used in your recipes accordingly. By exploring these alternatives, you can enhance your culinary creations with the desired flavors without compromising on the overall taste of your dishes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I use in place of chili garlic sauce?

You can use Sriracha, sambal oelek, or a homemade mixture of minced garlic, red chili flakes, and a bit of vinegar as substitutes for chili garlic sauce. Choose an alternative based on your taste preference and the ingredients you have on hand.

Is there a difference between chili garlic sauce and Sriracha?

Yes, there is a difference. Chili garlic sauce is chunkier, with a more intense garlic flavor, whereas Sriracha is smoother and slightly sweeter. Both condiments are spicy, but chili garlic sauce has a stronger, more concentrated heat.

Can I use sweet chili sauce as a substitute?

Sweet chili sauce can be used as a substitute if you do not mind altering the final dish’s flavor profile. It will add a sweet and tangy taste, but the spiciness will be milder compared to chili garlic sauce.

What are some alternative options to chili paste?

If you need a substitute for chili paste, consider using hot sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper powder. These alternatives can provide a similar heat level but may alter the dish’s overall flavor. Adjust the quantity according to your desired level of spiciness.

How does sambal oelek compare to chili garlic sauce?

Sambal oelek and chili garlic sauce are similar in taste and texture, but sambal oelek is less garlicky and slightly more acidic. It makes for a suitable replacement if you’re looking for a comparable heat level with a subtle flavor difference.

What is a suitable replacement for chili crisp?

If you need a replacement for chili crisp, you can try using fried shallots or onions mixed with chili flakes and a small amount of oil. Though this option may not provide the exact flavor profile of chili crisp, it does offer a crunchy texture and a hint of spice.

Best Substitutes for Chili Garlic Sauce

Here is a simple recipe for homemade chili garlic sauce:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Seasoning, Substitute
Cuisine Asian
Servings 4
Calories 73 kcal


  • 1 cup dried red chili peppers
  • 1/2 cup garlic cloves peeled
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water


  • Soak the dried chili peppers in hot water for 20-30 minutes until they are soft.
  • Drain the water and remove the stems from the chili peppers.
  • In a food processor, blend the chili peppers, garlic cloves, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt until it becomes a smooth paste.
  • In a saucepan, add the chili garlic paste and water. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  • Let the sauce cool and then transfer it to a clean jar or container.
  • Store the chili garlic sauce in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.


Calories: 73kcal
Keyword homemade garlic chili sauce, substitute for garlic chili sauce
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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