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11 Substitutes For Harissa That Bring The Heat You Were Looking For

If you’re a fan of Middle Eastern and African Cuisine, then you are no stranger to Harissa! 

This delicious, fiery paste is used in many dishes that have been inspired by this region. However, some may not enjoy the taste, or you may have run out of the deep red paste

This article is going to provide you with 11 substitutes for harissa, that bring out the heat you were looking for! 

11 Substitutes For Harissa That Bring The Heat you Were Looking For

What Is Harissa? 

Harissa sauce is in the form of a paste and is made with hot chili peppers, red roasted peppers, Baklouti peppers (or Serrano peppers), and added spices such as caraway seeds, cumin, garlic, and olive oil. 

It originated in Tunisia and is now very popular in Tunisian, Israeli, Moroccan, Libyan, and Algerian dishes. 

It is thick in consistency, and deep in red color, but has a relatively light taste. You’ll experience a combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky flavors when adding harissa to your meals. 

Harissa is normally used in meat and fish dishes, as well as soups and stews, but those who enjoy a fiery kick may also use it as a dipping sauce, or even on top of pizza. 

How Spicy Is Harissa? 

When purchasing harissa, each brand will make it with a different level of spice. There is no industry-wide standard for how spicy harissa is, but it is generally spicy, but not unbearable. 

Make It Yourself

Instead of spending money buying pre-made harissa from supermarkets, you can also make it yourself. The benefit of this is you can make as much as you want and keep it in a jar to last you a while! 

All you need to do is mix some garlic, oil, rosewater, your chosen peppers, and spices. Once mixed together, add it to a food processor and keep seasoning to taste.

The best part about making your own harissa is that you have complete control over the spice levels and flavor! 

Harissa Substitutes

Whether you’re hosting some fussy guests who don’t love harissa, or you’re out of your favorite, red paste, here are a few substitutions that work just as well!

Bear in mind, that some of these substitutions are in the form of pastes, sauces, and spice mixes. 

SubstitutionTexture Spice level 
Hot Sauce Sauce Medium 
Red Chili Paste Paste High
Sriracha Sauce Sauce Medium
Piri-Piri Sauce Sauce Medium 
GochujangPaste High 
Sambal OelekPaste Medium
Thai Red Curry Paste Paste Medium/High
Bomba CalabreseSauceMedium
Red Pepper FlakesSpice Mix Medium/Low
Ras El HanoutSpice Mix Medium/Low
Chili Oil Oil Medium

1. Hot Sauce 

Hot Sauce 

Since harissa is mainly used for its spice levels, then hot sauce is a pretty simple replacement that can mimic that level of spice. 

This is a very simple and popular condiment that can be found in all supermarkets wherever you are, or you may have some at the back of your pantry. 

However, it is important to note that the consistency is different from harissa, so if the recipe you are using requires something thicker, you may benefit from one of the other substitutes in this list. 

How To Substitute

Hot sauce is the best substitute for Harissa if you are looking for spice levels. It is easily available and works exceptionally well; however, be mindful that to get the exact flavor, you would have to use a higher amount than Harissa.

2. Red Chili Paste 

Red Chili Paste 

Red chili paste is a perfect substitute for harissa, as it has the same color and consistency.

However, it is very spicy, so it is best to use it in moderation, and keep taste-testing to avoid overdoing it on the spice! 

If you’d like to mimic the taste of harissa, even more, try mixing in some garlic, cumin, and carraway seeds to this paste, in order to resemble it more closely. 

How To Substitute

Red chili paste is a spice mixture you can use in many dishes similar to Harissa. The two spices have very similar tastes, so it’s easy to use red chili paste instead of Harissa. Harissa is often made from a mix of spices, including coriander, cumin, caraway, fennel, and cayenne pepper.

3. Sriracha Sauce

Sriracha Sauce

While Sriracha does have a thinner consistency than harissa, its garlicky and pepper flavor closely resembles that of harissa, making it a good substitute if you can’t get your hands on harissa. 

To further enhance the flavor of Sriracha, so it matches that of harissa, it is recommended that you add some cumin, carraway seeds, and fresh coriander.

You’ll also find that different brands will offer their Sriracha with different levels of spice, so if you’d like more heat, add some hot paprika or cayenne pepper. 

How To Substitute

Sriracha is a famous hot sauce similar to Harissa. Harissa is made from a blend of dried red peppers, coriander, caraway, cumin, and salt. While Sriracha is used for savory and sweet dishes, Harissa is often used to add flavor to traditional Moroccan dishes like tagines and couscous. That’s what makes them interchangeable for many recipes.

4. Piri-Piri Sauce

Piri-Piri Sauce

Piri-Piri, also known as peri-peri, comes from the same type of cuisine as harissa, which makes it a great replacement. 

However, the consistency is saucier than harissa, but the taste is a pretty good match, as this sauce is made with crushed Piri-Piri chilies, garlic, salt, oil, and lemon.

It, therefore, has a very similar taste to harissa. 

Another thing to note is that it may not have the same level of spiciness, so you may need to do some experimenting and add a few other spices in order for it to reach the desired level. 

How To Substitute

Piri-Piri Sauce is a Caribbean condiment that combines hot peppers, vinegar, and spices. This sauce is a staple in Jamaican cooking. It can be used as a marinade for chicken, pork, or fish, and it can replace Harissa in many recipes.

RELATED: The 10 Best Substitutes For Miso Paste

5. Gochujang


Known as one of the spiciest sauces in the world, this Korean red chili paste serves as a great replacement for harissa. 

It’s made with red chili flakes, miso paste, and sweetener.

While it won’t exactly replicate the taste of harissa, it is a good replacement if you’re making certain chicken and vegetable dishes, as it will give you the heat you need. 

How To Substitute

Gochujang is the spiciest sauce and gives the dish a hotness similar to Harissa. In specific recipes, you may try it instead of Harissa, and you will get the heat that your dish calls for from Harissa.

6. Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste that can be used in place of harissa. Similar to the other pastes we’ve looked at in this list, it is made by mixing crushed Thai red peppers, with vinegar and salt. 

You can sometimes find variations that have garlic and lime, and these would be best to replace harissa, but they do have a stronger taste. 

While it can resemble the heat from harissa, you’ll be missing out on the cumin, carraway, and coriander, so it would be beneficial to add a few of these spices to this paste in order for it to resemble harissa more closely. 

How To Substitute

Harissa is a sauce made with various spices, hot peppers, and olive oil. Harissa is an essential part of Tunisian and Moroccan cuisines. Sambal Oelek is a condiment often used as a replacement for Harissa. It is made with chilies, garlic, shallots, ginger, salt, sugar, and vinegar.

7. Thai Red Curry Paste

Thai Red Curry Paste

Thai red curry paste is spicy but will not make you teary, so you may need to add some more spices in order to give it a hand in that department. 

However, it does contain garlic, and red chili pepper in its base, just like harissa does, so it does count as a good replacement as long as you add some extra spice to it. 

This is a great substitute for any meat dishes, such as chicken or beef. 

How To Substitute

You may substitute Harissa in recipes such as chicken or beef with Thai red curry paste. However, it doesn’t contain the same heat as Harissa but has other ingredients. To get the high-spice heat, you may add other spices.

8. Bomba Calabrese

This a traditional Italian spicy sauce that is packed with delicious flavor. It’s made with hot Calabrian red chili peppers, vegetables, and an array of other kinds of flavorings. 

The level of spice of this sauce can replicate harissa perfectly, but the taste is quite different as this sauce has many other vegetables thrown into the mix. 

That being said, it is very flavorsome and is a wonderful replacement for harissa, especially in dishes that involve seafood and a variety of vegetables. 

How To Substitute

It is easy to substitute Harissa for Bomba Calabrese. Use one teaspoon of Harissa in place of the Bomba Calabrese. The Bomba Calabrese is a spicy tomato sauce made with tomatoes, anchovies, capers, garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes.

RELATED: 8 Options To Substitute Tamarind Paste

9. Red Pepper Flakes

Red Pepper Flakes

While red pepper flakes are not a paste or sauce, they can be used in place of harissa if you have nothing else on hand.

These flakes will add a little bit of heat, and work very well in several different dishes such as stir-fries, marinades, veggie dishes, and even dips. 

For every teaspoon of harissa, simply add 1 and a half teaspoons of red pepper flakes. However, you must bear in mind that these flakes will add some crunch to your dish, but it is not unpleasant! 

To resemble the taste of harissa, even more, try adding some honey, garlic, and salt to the flakes, to give them more flavor. 

How To Substitute

Red pepper flakes are only perfect for some dishes that call for Harissa. However, if you have nothing in hand and want some spice, they will work great in stir-fries, marinades, veggies, etc.

10. Ras El Hanout

Ras El Hanout

Another spice mixture that can be used to replace harissa is ras el hanout.

It’s a mixture that includes cumin, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, chili peppers, coriander seeds, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek, and turmeric. 

From that extensive list of ingredients, it’s safe to say that this mixture is extremely flavorful.

Many of the ingredients in this mixture are also used to make harissa, making it a good alternative if you need to replicate the flavors it brings. 

It is also possible to make this mixture into a paste if you require the consistency of harissa. Simply mix it together with some garlic paste and apple cider vinegar, and it will form into a paste. 

You can find this mixture in any international isles in many supermarkets across the country. 

How To Substitute

The mixture of various spices, Ras EI Hanout, can substitute Harissa in several dishes. The ingredients used to make it are similar to Harissa, giving it a taste resembling Harissa. You may use it in mixture form or paste form at your convenience.

11. Chili Oil

Chili Oil

Chili oil is a very simple, yet flavorsome condiment, that can be used when you can’t find any harissa. 

It is made by infusing vegetable oil with chili and adding paprika, garlic, and Sichuan pepper.

If you don’t require the same amount of spice, or the same kind of consistency as harissa, then chili oil is a good replacement, as it will still provide your dish with a good amount of heat that is not overpowering.  

How To Substitute

Chili oil is Made with the infusion of various ingredients, and it is the last substitute on our list. It provides you with the flavor and heat that is a lighter version of Harissa. Try adding a little amount to your recipe to check how it will help you to get the harissa flavor.

Final Thoughts 

To conclude, there are several different kinds of condiments you can use to replace harissa if you’ve run out, or can’t find any at your local grocery store. 

Depending on the recipe you’re making, you can even use a simple spice mixture, such as red pepper flakes, and ras el hanout. 

We hope this article has helped you understand what you can use instead of harissa, for those emergencies when you can’t find any!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Tomato Paste Instead Of Harissa?

Tomato paste is an excellent substitute to swap out Harissa. It gives your recipe a tangy flavor and texture similar to Harissa. It is easily available and doesn’t give the spicy heat like Harissa.

Is Harissa Like Garam Masala?

Harissa is a spicy and rich North African condiment made from roasted red peppers, dried chilies, caraway, coriander, garlic, cumin, salt, and olive oil. In contrast, Harissa is typically used in various dishes such as dips, salads, and main courses.

Is Harissa Similar To Curry Paste?

Red pepper paste is a spicy paste made from crushed red peppers, salt, garlic, and sometimes olive oil. Harissa paste is a red chili paste that typically contains garlic, salt, and spices like cumin, coriander, and caraway. Harissa paste is used as a condiment and a cooking ingredient.

11 Substitutes For Harissa That Bring The Heat you Were Looking For

Prep time


Cooking time


Total time




  • Hot Sauce

  • Red Chili Paste 

  • Sriracha Sauce

  • Piri-Piri Sauce

  • Gochujang

  • Sambal Oelek

  • Thai Red Curry Paste

  • Bomba Calabrese

  • Red Pepper Flakes

  • Ras El Hanout

  • Chili Oil


  • Choose your favorite substitute from the list given above
  • Follow the directions given in the recipe after having substituted the ingredient in the correct ratio

Recipe Video

Jess Smith