Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Sambal Oelek Substitutes: Best and Worst Alternative for 2024

Sambal Oelek is a beloved Indonesian chili paste. It has gained international acclaim for its remarkable flavor profile. Bursting with vibrant spiciness and a tangy kick. This versatile condiment has become a kitchen staple for those who savor a bit of heat in their dishes—crafted from a simple yet harmonious blend of red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. Sambal Oelek holds the power to elevate the taste of your culinary creations.

Primarily utilized in Indonesian cuisine. It imparts a depth of flavor to stir-fries and soups. What sets Sambal Oelek apart? Its ability to provide a consistent heat level without overpowering other ingredients. Its thick, textured consistency enhances the character of various recipes. Making it a versatile ingredient in both traditional and fusion dishes.

While acquiring a jar of this Indonesian treasure is the preferred option. There are times when ingenuity in the kitchen is required. This article delves into the art of substitution. We offer you a selection of top-notch substitutes for those moments when you find yourself without Sambal Oelek. Whether you’re seeking a similar taste or a milder option, our guide will help you make an informed choice. 

Join us as we explore a variety of substitutes for Sambal Oelek, each with its unique twist. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

What Is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal Oelek is a type of chili sauce made from chilies and salt. Some versions also have a bit of vinegar or sugar to balance the spiciness. It gives a touch of sourness or sweetness.

In the old days, people used mortar and pestle to crush the chilies and salt. Also, they called it cobek and ulekan in their local language. The word “oelek” on the jars is a Dutch-influenced way of spelling “ulek.” Now, let’s talk about Sambal Oelek substitutions!

Sambal Oelek Substitutes

When you need a Sambal Oelek substitute, try crushed red chili flakes, chili pepper, Sriracha, or gochujang. While not exact, they offer a similar flavor. If those are unavailable, a bit of harissa paste can work.

Some opt to make their own. It’s simple if you have a food grinder or blender. The choice depends on your dish. As some substitutes may complement it better than others.

Although, you can buy Sambal Oelek in stores or online if you don’t have it, here are the best substitutes to try:

Red Pepper Flakes

Crushed red pepper flakes are made from crushed chili peppers. It offers a quick and convenient replacement. While they’re not a sauce and are dry, adding some liquid like oyster or fish sauce can moisten them.

Remember that crushed red pepper flakes have a strong, spicy flavor. It might only suit some people’s taste.


Sriracha is a widely available hot sauce. It is made from salt, chili peppers, sugar, garlic, and distilled vinegar. It’s bright red and can replace sambal oelek in many recipes.

Sriracha’s taste varies among brands, usually tangy, sweet, and spicy, with a garlic kick. Some may notice a difference due to its sweetness. You can adjust by adding less or balancing with soy sauce or salt. If you’re not a fan of garlic, consider a different substitute or use less in your dish.


Gochujang is a red chili paste with a savory, spicy, sweet taste. It is increasingly found in Western stores. It’s fermented through meju powder, yeotgireum, gochugaru, salt, and glutinous rice.

Some brands offer very spicy versions. Its texture makes it excellent in stir-fries and enhances marinades and burger patties. Use it cautiously; it has a richer flavor. Start with half the amount the recipe suggests for sambal oelek, and add more if needed.

Chilli Garlic Flakes

Chili Garlic Sauce is a popular Asian condiment. It offers a slightly sweet, moderately spicy, and wonderfully garlicky flavor.

This sauce typically includes red chilies, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Unlike Sambal Oelek, this sauce is cooked. It results in a delicious and complex flavor that’s less fresh-tasting. It also has a coarse, paste-like texture similar to Sambal Oelek.

Chili Garlic Sauce is an excellent recipe substitute and can be used as a table sauce. You can spoon it over finished dishes to add a spicy flavor boost. It makes it a great option when you’re looking for a flavorful alternative to Sambal Oelek.

Thai Chilli Paste

Thai chili paste, nam prik pao, is another spicy paste from Southeast Asia. It’s made by pounding chilies and ingredients like garlic and shallots. Sometimes, strong flavors like shrimp paste, fish sauce, or tamarind.

This paste has a thick texture and a more complex and pungent flavor, like sambal bawang. Adding shrimp paste brings a unique umami taste that sambal oelek doesn’t have.

While Thai chili paste differs from sambal oelek, you can still use it as an intriguing alternative in many recipes. It will add a more complex flavor to your dishes, which can be a good thing.

Tabasco Hot Sauce

Tabasco Hot Sauce can be a surprisingly good substitute for Sambal Oelek.

Tabasco sauce is made with vinegar, salt, and red peppers, similar to Sambal Oelek. The heat of tabasco peppers falls within the same range as cayenne pepper on the Scoville scale. While Tabasco sauce is thinner in texture, it has a flavor akin to Sambal Oelek. Some people even associate it with the taste of oysters, making it a natural match.

You can also consider other hot sauces that contain acidic, salt, and chili peppers. Drizzle Tabasco sauce or a similar hot sauce over your finished dish. Adjusting to taste when using it as a substitute for Sambal Oelek.

Chilli Crisp

Chinese chili crisp is an oil packed with various crispy ingredients, including fried chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and spices. It has a garlicky flavor with hints of ginger. Sometimes, the numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns is also produced.

Although chili crisp has a different taste and texture, it’s a versatile ingredient and a great alternative to sambal oelek as a table sauce instead of trying to change its flavor to match sambal oelek. Embrace the unique, crunchy chili oil. You can use it in dipping sauces or generously spoon it over your noodles instead of sambal oelek.

Sweet Chilli Sauce

Sweet Chili Sauce is a condiment. Made from red chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and additional flavorings. Thai sweet chili sauce is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It is often used as a dip, marinade, or sauce for noodles.

As the name implies, sweet chili sauce is notably sweeter than Sambal Oelek and tends to be less spicy. If you’re seeking a milder and slightly sweet alternative to Sambal Oelek. Sweet chili sauce can be a good choice for your recipes.

Note: Sweet Chili Sauce may not be an exact match for Sambal Oelek. But it can work well as a cooking substitute and table condiment, especially when introducing some added sweetness to your dishes.

To use sweet chili sauce as a Sambal Oelek substitute. Consider adding chili flakes to increase spiciness. Or a pinch of salt or soy sauce for savory depth and a splash of rice wine vinegar for a touch of acidity. These adjustments can help you achieve a flavor closer to Sambal Oelek in your recipes.

Additional Options:

Here are some additional options to consider as substitutes for sambal oelek:

Pickled banana peppers/pepperoncini

Chopped or pureed pickled banana peppers or pepperoncini can be the alternative. It provides a milder alternative to sambal oelek. They have a slightly spicy and tangy flavor, but they are green in color.

Chili bean sauce (doubanjiang)

This chunky fermented chili sauce offers a savory and spicy kick. It is similar to sambal oelek. It can be quite salty. So be cautious with adding extra salt; you can balance it with vinegar for the missing sour note.

Cayenne pepper

If you want to add heat to your dish, cayenne pepper is a convenient option. While its flavor differs from sambal oelek, it has an interesting fruity quality.

Worst Sambal Oelek Substitutes

Harissa and Tomato paste is often suggested as a substitute for sambal oelek. However, there may be better choices for a few reasons. That’s why we’ve put both of them on a list of the worst Sambal Oelek Substitutes.


Harissa chili paste is a Middle Eastern condiment. It is made from red peppers, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, and other spices. It offers a deep and complex flavor and adds a pleasant kick to Middle Eastern dishes.

However, it has a significantly different taste compared to Asian-style chili pastes. If you’re open to experimenting with a Middle Eastern-Asian fusion flavor. Try using harissa paste as a substitute for sambal oelek. Just keep in mind that the end result will be entirely different from the original dish.

Tomato paste

People sometimes recommend tomato paste as a non-spicy alternative to sambal oelek. But tomato paste has a very tomato-like flavor. It differs from the fresh, zesty, and spicy red pepper taste of sambal oelek. If you don’t enjoy spicy food, skipping sambal oelek in your recipe is better than using tomato paste.

If you’re looking for color on your plate without the heat. Then, you can finely chop red bell peppers and mix them with salt and vinegar, similar to the sambal oelek recipe. This coarse red bell pepper paste is a better non-spicy substitute for sambal oelek.

Homemade & Dietary-Friendly Sambal Oelek Substitutes

If you’re seeking a healthy and dietary-friendly substitute for Sambal Oelek. Consider making your own at home. It’s quick and easy.

Quick Sambal Oelek with Fresh Chilies

  • For the best homemade Sambal Oelek, use fresh chilies. You can use a mix of fresh chilies or stick to one type. 
  • Opt for fleshy chilies with moderate heat and fewer seeds, like red jalapeños or red serrano peppers.
  • Be cautious with Thai bird’s eye chilies; they are extremely spicy and have many seeds. Remove some seeds with gloved hands or mix them with milder chilies for a balanced flavor.
  • Dice the fresh chili peppers after destemming.
  • Grind them into a coarse paste with rice vinegar and salt using a mortar, pestle, or small food processor.
  • Use half a teaspoon of rice vinegar and a quarter of salt for every ounce (30 grams) of chili peppers.

Making Sambal Oelek With Fresh Chillies

If you have fresh chilies, you’re lucky because they are the perfect substitute for Sambal Oelek!

Here’s how to make your Sambal Oelek using fresh chilies:


  • Fresh red chilies (choose the type that suits your heat tolerance)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Acidic ingredients like lime juice, vinegar, or something else.


  • Select your fresh red chilies, considering their heat level:
  • Red Bird’s Eye Chillies (50,000 to 100,000 SHU): Very hot, often used in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Cayenne Peppers (30,000 to 50,000 SHU): Packs a punch with a tangy flavor.
  • Serrano Peppers (10,000 to 23,000 SHU): Moderately hot with a fruity taste.
  • Fresno Peppers (2,500 to 10,000 SHU): Slightly milder with a fruity note.
  • Remove the stems and some of the seeds according to your preference. Fewer seeds result in a milder flavor.
  • Finely mince the chilies using a sharp knife.
  • Add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice or vinegar to your fresh chili mix.

Your homemade fresh chili paste is ready to be used as a direct substitute for Sambal Oelek. Enjoy!

When Fresh Chilies Aren’t Available

Rehydrate dried chilies for a Sambal Oelek substitute with a different flavor profile. Rehydrate Dried chilies, also known as chili flakes.

  • Rehydrate the chilies by soaking them in hot water for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Roughly chop the rehydrated chilies.
  • Blend them with rice vinegar and salt using a small food processor, mortar, and pestle.
  • For every ounce (30 grams) of rehydrated chilies. Add half a teaspoon of rice vinegar and a quarter teaspoon of salt.
  • Use this substitute in a 1:1 ratio for Sambal Oelek in your recipes.
  • If your homemade Sambal Oelek turns out too spicy. You can mellow it by stirring in a teaspoon of red pepper paste or tomato paste.

Replace Sambal Oelek With Red Pepper Flakes

Red Pepper Flakes can be a handy substitute for Sambal Oelek, especially when you cannot access fresh chilies.

Red pepper flakes are a mix of various capsicum annuum peppers. It offers a range of heat levels from sweet and mild to hot. They often include dried cayenne pepper flakes.

To replace Sambal Oelek. Use one teaspoon of red chili flakes for every teaspoon of Sambal Oelek called for in your recipe.

For an even better substitute, you can rehydrate the flakes. Now mix them with salt and vinegar as outlined in previous instructions. This enhances the flavor and texture of your substitute.

Common Ingredients In Sambal Oelek

As we all know, Sambal Oelek is a spicy chili paste from Indonesia. It is made with red peppers, salt, and vinegar. Sometimes, other ingredients like onion and sugar are also added. It’s loved in the US and other countries, and Huy Fong Foods makes a popular version. Unlike Sriracha, Sambal Oelek is chunky with jalapeno seeds and less processed. It has a pure chili flavor preferred by many chefs. It’s commonly used in restaurants. The ingredients include chili, salt, vinegar, preservatives, and xantham gum.

Sambal Oelek facts

  • Sambal oelek is an Indonesian chili paste made from red chilies, vinegar, and salt.
  • Its similar sauces and spices include:

Fresh chopped chilies, sriracha sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and chili powder for a similar spicy kick.

  • Sambal oelek is different from chili garlic sauce. The latter is a cooked blend of garlic, chili peppers, vinegar, and salt.
  • Sambal Oelek is also distinct from Harissa. Harissa offers a different flavor profile compared to sambal oelek.

Why Look For Sambal Oelek Substitutes?

Sambal Oelek is commonly used in Malaysian and Indonesian recipes. It is often used in stir-fries, adding a noticeable bite and enhancing the overall flavor.

If you’re making a stir-fry with Sambal Oelek, it’s best to add it to the pan as you cook. This locks in more flavor. Some people also use it as a condiment to enhance the taste of meats and fish.

Sambal Oelek is gaining popularity in Western recipes that could benefit from spice. If spicy food doesn’t suit you, beware when adding it, as it can be overwhelming and affect the dish’s authenticity and taste. Your recipe will likely mention the amount needed. But you can start with a small amount and add more for extra heat if needed.

Sambal oelek is a versatile condiment. Below, you can check some common uses for it, along with the best substitutes for each situation:

  • As a condiment: Sriracha, chili garlic sauce, and hot sauce.
  • For stir-fries and sauces: When sambal oelek is called for in stir-fries and sauces. You can use homemade sambal oelek or chili garlic sauce for a similar flavor.
  • For soups and stews: The best substitute is homemade sambal oelek. You can also consider chili garlic sauce and Sriracha. They provide the desired spiciness and depth of flavor.
  • For marinades and vinaigrettes: Consider using homemade sambal oelek for this purpose. You can also use Sriracha to achieve the desired flavor profile.

Where To Find Sambal Oelek Substitutes?

Sambal Oelek substitutes are readily available in several places:

Grocery Stores

You can typically find Sambal Oelek alternatives easily. It would help if you looked for them in the condiment or Asian foods section of your local grocery store. Look for options like chili garlic sauce, Sriracha, or sweet chili sauce.

Specialty Asian Markets

Asian markets offer a broader selection of Sambal Oelek substitutes, including unique chili pastes and sauces from various regions.

Online Retailers

Popular online platforms sell a wide range of Sambal Oelek substitutes. Ordering online makes it convenient to have them delivered to your doorstep. You can look for its substitutes on Amazon, Walmart, etc.


If you prefer a DIY approach. You can create your own Sambal Oelek substitutes at home. With the help of fresh chilies, chili flakes, or other ingredients, you can make it at home. Homemade versions grant you the flexibility to create the flavor to your liking.

Hot Sauce Shops

Specialty hot sauce shops are a haven for spice enthusiasts. They stock diverse chili sauces, including Sambal Oelek alternatives. They provide unique options for those seeking a distinctive culinary experience.

When seeking Sambal Oelek substitutes. Consider the specific flavor and spiciness level you require for your recipes. Different alternatives offer varying taste profiles and heat levels. It allows you to pick the one that best suits your culinary needs.

Cooking Tips And Tricks

Homemade Sambal Oelek is a great option if you have the time. It’s not too difficult but requires a food blender or processor. All you have to do is Start with about a pound of chili peppers, a pinch of salt, and ¼ cup of vinegar. Blend until it’s a thick paste. Then, simmer the mix for up to 3 minutes in a saucepan.

You have the freedom to add extra ingredients for flavor, like garlic. When stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it can last a long time. Let’s have a look at step-by-step cooking tips to make Sambal Oelek at home:


  • 1 pound of red chili peppers (like red jalapeños or fresno peppers)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of white vinegar


  • Food blender or processor
  • Saucepan
  • Airtight container


Prepare the Chili Peppers

  • Wash the chili peppers and remove their stems.

Blend the Peppers

  • Place the cleaned chili peppers into a food blender or processor.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of salt.
  • Blend until the mixture becomes a thick paste. You can adjust the texture by blending for a shorter or longer time.

Simmer the Mixture

  • Transfer the chili paste to a saucepan.
  • Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to the saucepan.
  • Heat the concoction on medium heat.
  • Stir and simmer for up to 3 minutes. This helps to meld the flavors and cook the chili paste slightly. Be cautious; the fumes can be very spicy, so ensure good ventilation while cooking.

Cool and Store

  • Allow the Sambal Oelek to cool completely.
  • Transfer it to an airtight container for storage. Store it in the refrigerator.

Your homemade Sambal Oelek is now ready to use in your favorite recipes. Enjoy the authentic flavor of this spicy chili paste!


Exploring Sambal Oelek substitutes opens up a world of diverse culinary possibilities. It allows you to adapt your recipes to various tastes and preferences. Whether you need this Indonesian chili paste or want to experiment with new flavors. The substitutes mentioned above in this article are worth considering.

From the fiery heat of Sriracha to the rich complexity of Harissa and the convenience of homemade chili pastes, there’s a substitute for every culinary need. Each of these options offers distinct flavors and spiciness levels. Ensuring that you can tailor your dishes precisely to your liking. Remember that the choice of a substitute depends on the specific recipe you’re preparing. Feel free to do an experiment.

These substitutes are readily available at local grocery stores, specialty markets, and online retailers. Additionally, embracing homemade versions allows you to customize the flavors. So, whether you’re whipping up a stir-fry, adding depth to soups and stews, or marinating your dishes, the world of Sambal Oelek substitutes is at your fingertips.

Spice up your cooking with these versatile alternatives. With these substitutes, you can elevate your culinary experience to new heights.