Our Best Substitutes For Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek is a popular Indonesian chili paste known for its vibrant color and spicy kick. It’s made from a blend of crushed raw red chilies, salt, and vinegar, and is often used in Southeast Asian recipes to add heat and flavor. However, there might be times when sambal oelek is unavailable at your local grocery store, or you simply want to try something new to spice up your dishes.

Exploring sambal oelek substitutes allows you to discover diverse chili pastes from different culinary traditions, as well as homemade alternatives. In this article, we will discuss various sambal oelek substitutes, such as Sriracha, Gochujang, and Harissa. Additionally, we’ll explore how to use these substitutes effectively and make adjustments to create the perfect flavor profile for your dishes.

Key Takeaways

  • Sriracha, Gochujang, and Harissa are potential sambal oelek substitutes
  • Homemade chili paste options provide versatility and customization
  • Successfully using sambal oelek substitutes involves adjusting flavor profiles for each dish

Understanding Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is a popular Indonesian condiment that has gained worldwide recognition for its versatility and robust flavor. This chili paste is made from freshly ground red chili peppers, salt, and vinegar, giving it a vibrant, spicy, and tangy taste. As a staple in Indonesian cuisine, Sambal Oelek is often used to add heat and depth of flavor to various dishes, ranging from stir-fries to soups and sauces.

When you use Sambal Oelek in your cooking, you can expect a consistent level of heat, thanks to its simple and pure ingredient list. The absence of additives and extra spices allows the chili paste to bring a clean, fiery heat that doesn’t overpower the dish’s original flavors. With its thicker consistency, Sambal Oelek can also add a bit of texture to your recipes.

In addition to being a vital component in Indonesian cuisine, Sambal Oelek’s distinctive qualities have led to its incorporation into various cooking styles around the world. This chili paste serves as a perfect addition to different types of dishes, offering a quick and easy way to spice up your meals and lend them an authentic Indonesian touch.

So, if you find yourself in need of a Sambal Oelek substitute during your culinary adventures, bear in mind the traits that make it unique: a versatile, straightforward chili paste that delivers a balanced combination of heat, tanginess, and texture. A suitable substitute should aim to replicate these characteristics as closely as possible.

If you have gone to reach for this ingredient only to discover that you don’t have any available, or your local supermarket doesn’t have it in stock you will be pleased to know that there are several substitutes available. We have listed 5 of the best options below, most of which are easy replacements.

When looking for Sambal Oelek substitute, some of the best alternatives for Sambal Oelek are crushed red chili flakes, chili pepper, sriracha, and gochujang. Whilst they won’t be exact replications of the sauce, they will be fairly similar and it is likely that most people will not notice a huge difference. If you don’t have any of these substitutes, you may add a small amount of harissa paste instead.

Alternatively, some people may choose to substitute a shop bought jar of this sauce with their own homemade version. This option isn’t going to be overly challenging and it allows you to control what ingredients are added to it. If you possess a food grinder or blender then you are good to go.

The substitute that you choose will be determined by the dish that you are making. You may find that some of the following ingredients complement your dish better than others.


Gochujang is a red chili paste that comes in savory, spicy, and sweet varieties. It is becoming increasingly popular in Western supermarkets. It is created through a fermentation process and is made from meju powder, yeotgireum, gochugaru, salt, and glutinous rice.

Some brands create very spicy versions of this sauce. Because of its texture, it works particularly well when used as a substitute in stir-fries, whilst the taste enhances the flavor of marinades and burger patties.

It is worth noting that gochujang has a richer flavor so you will need to be careful with the amount that you add to your dish. For this reason, we would recommend that you begin by adding half the quantity of Gochujang than what the recipe originally calls for sambal oelek. You can always increase the amount that you add if you feel as though it needs more flavor.

Red Pepper Flakes

As implied by its name, this substitute is made from crushed chili peppers. Because this is a dry spice it does not share the same consistency as a sauce, however, this is an ideal option for those who are looking for a quick and convenient replacement. For the best results, we would recommend adding some liquid to the flakes such as oyster sauce or fish sauce as this will make them a little more moist.

Crushed red pepper flakes have quite a prominent spicy flavor which may not appeal to all individuals.


Sriracha is possibly one of the most popular types of hot sauce or chili sauce. In fact, you will likely find that the majority of supermarkets are stocked up on it. It is made from garlic, salt, sugar, distilled vinegar, and chili peppers.

It is bright red in color and can be used in virtually any recipe that uses sambal oelek. The taste of this sauce can vary between brands. Generally, it tends to have a rather tangy but sweet taste with a spicy element, however, the garlic gives it a kick of flavor too.

It is likely that some people may notice a difference in taste between sambal oelek and sriracha due to the sweetness of the latter. To overcome this issue, you can easily make slight adjustments to the amount that you add to your recipe.

If desired, you can balance out this sweetness by adding some soy sauce or salt. If you aren’t a fan of garlic, you can either opt for a different substitute or you can add less to your dish.


A hot chili paste made from roasted red peppers, herbs, spices, Baklouti peppers, coriander seeds, cumin, and olive oil, harissa has a deep spicy flavor though it can sometimes taste smoky or sweet. It works well in savory dishes and Asian recipes. Aside from this, you can also use harissa as a substitute in a meat rub.

As the flavor of harissa is quite intense, we would recommend that you begin by adding a small amount to your recipe. You can then taste it and if necessary you may wish to add more. Adding too much may affect the outcome of your dish as it is likely to overwhelm it.

Make your own sambal oelek

For those that aren’t restricted on time, homemade sambal oelek is a great option. Although there are a few steps involved, it isn’t an overly challenging task. You will require the use of a food blender or processor.

Begin by adding around a pound of chili peppers, a sprinkle of salt, and ¼ cup of vinegar. You will then need to blend the ingredients until they create a paste with a thick texture. Nex, you can add these ingredients to a saucepan and allow them to simmer for a maximum of 3 minutes.

As you are making your own version, you can decide whether you want to add any additional ingredients to enhance the flavor. For example, you may wish to add some garlic for more of a kick. So long as it is stored correctly in an airtight container, it can last for a considerable amount of time in the refrigerator.

What is sambal oelek used for in cooking?

As previously touched upon, this sauce is commonly used in Malaysian and Indonesian recipes, with stir-fries being a particular flavor. As it is quite flavorsome it adds a noticeable bite and will strengthen the overall taste of the dish.

If you decide to make a stir fry using sambal oelek, we recommend that you add it to the pan as it is cooking as doing so will lock in more flavor. Some people may also decide to use sambal oelek as a condiment. It adds a great taste to meats and fish.

Now sambal oelek is gaining popularity in Western style recipes that could benefit from a hint of spice. Those that do not like a lot of spice should be cautious when adding it to their food because it can be a little overwhelming and may end up ruining the authenticity and overall taste of the dish.

The recipe that you are following will more than likely state the exact amount of sambal oelek that you need to use. However, you may wish to begin by adding a small amount before tasting it. You can then add some more for a greater kick if you don’t think it is hugely noticeable.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several substitutes available that can be used in many dishes instead of sambal oelek. Some will be very similar to this sauce in regards to the taste and texture, whilst there will be subtle but noticeable differences between others.

You may find some of these substitute suggestions nicer tasting than others, so it is important to choose the type that caters to your personal preference. If you don’t like the flavor of a particular substitute that we have listed above, you can choose another.

You also have the option of making your own homemade version where you have full control of the ingredients that are added to it. You can make your own with red pepper flake, thick sriracha sauce, cayenne pepper, and tomato paste. This should make a delicious chili paste.

Our Best Substitutes For Sambal Oelek

These options are sure to be a hit. So, gather your family and friends and enjoy. Let us know your thoughts!
4.86 from 7 votes
Total Time 9 minutes
Course Seasoning
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 112 kcal


  • Gochujang
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Sriracha
  • Harissa
  • Make your own sambal oelek
  • Sweet Chili sauce
  • Thai Chili Paste
  • Miso Paste
  • Chinese Chili Sauce
  • Rice Vinegar


  • Try our substitute for Sambal oelek


Select your option.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.


Calories: 112kcal
Keyword sambal oelek substitute, substitute for sambal oelek
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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.
Cassie Marshall
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