harissa substitute

Top 6 Substitutes for Harissa That Bring The Heat You Were Looking For

When you are a fan of Middle Eastern and African cuisine, then you surely have harissa around all the time. Using this ingredient, though, can be hard at times and some people find it too spicy.

If you find yourself wanting a substitute for harissa sauce, then it is time you give some of the options in this list a try.

What Is Harissa?

This Libyan and Tunisian paste is made from hot chili peppers, red roasted peppers, Baklouti peppers, or Serrano peppers, as well as spices, like garlic, caraway seeds, cumin, and olive oil. 

Harissa paste is thick and deep red, but also light in flavor. When you try this paste, you will get hints of sweet, spicy, and smoky.

Harissa is often part of many dishes, including soups, stews, meat dishes, and fish. Often, you will see this paste commercially available in airtight containers and ready to be used. Some people even use it as a dip or in dishes like pizza.

Do It Yourself

While it isn’t ideal, you can try to mimic the flavor of harissa sauce at home. For this, you will need to mix oil, garlic, and rosewater, with your chosen peppers and spices. Add everything to a blender or food processor and blend until you get a desirable texture.

Use it straight away for better flavor, but you can also keep it in an airtight container for over two weeks in the refrigerator.

What Can I Replace Harissa With?

Since this paste can be too hot and somewhat hard to find, these harissa substitutes will come in handy next time you cook:

Best For Baking, Honey Chicken, and Dips

#1. Red Chili Paste

Chili paste is a perfect substitution for those that are looking for color and heat. This paste is often sold on its own as a base for other sauces, particularly for Latin American dishes. However, you can add a little to your dish, but make sure to try it first, as it is extremely spicy.

Most commercial brands will use different kinds of chilies, including Ancho, Anaheim, or Arbols. For a more similar flavor, consider using garlic, cumin, and caraway seeds mixed in. Use this choice when baking, in dips, and if you plan on cooking chicken.

#2. Gochujang

Gochujang is a Korean red chili paste that has a sweet and spicy, slightly tart, flavor. If you like Korean dishes, like kimchi or bibimbap, then you have tried this paste before. Gochujang brings a new type of sweetness that comes from the starch of the rice that is fermented.

Use this choice when you want to cook vegetable dishes, chicken, and in some dips. You should consider, though, that Gochujang adds a certain tartness that harissa doesn’t have, so it may change the overall flavor.

#3. Sriracha

Sriracha is a type of hot sauce that comes from chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. This sauce was invented in California, but it is still a staple of Asian cuisines these days. Most people find sriracha to be spicy and slightly pungent, so you may want to add only a dash.

Using sriracha is a good idea when you are preparing chicken, stews, dips, soups, and broth. Sriracha will make your dish hot, and it is a spice that lasts longer in the mouth than harissa. When replacing harissa with this hot sauce, use about ⅓ of the amount at most.

See More: Sriracha Substitutes

Best For Yogurt, Marinades, and Roasted Cauliflower

#4. Ras el Hanout

If you are looking to add flavor, heat, and color, then using Ras el Hanout can be a good option. This choice consists of a mixture of over a dozen spices, typically used in African and Middle Eastern foods.

Ras el Hanout typically includes cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, paprika, fenugreek, and turmeric.

You may want to mix in a bit of garlic paste and rosewater or apple cider vinegar to make the spice into a paste. Ras el Hanout can be easy to find in international food stores and if you are lucky, in the international aisle of your grocery store.

#5. Red Pepper Flakes

You can use red pepper flakes in certain dishes that would otherwise require harissa. When you use red pepper flakes you aren’t adding texture or color, but only a bit of heat. These flakes are great in marinades, vegetable dishes, yogurt dips, and meat.

For every one teaspoon of harissa, use about 1 ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You may also want to use garlic, salt, and a touch of honey for a more similar flavor to harissa.

You should also keep in mind that red pepper flakes add crunch to the bite, unlike harissa, so you can grind them for a softer powder.

#6. Hot Sauce

Using a hot sauce shouldn’t be surprising, as it has a similar color and adds heat as well. You can pretty much choose any hot sauce of your liking, but make sure you try it first and measure how much you add.

Harissa is a bit sweet and smoky too, so you can add a touch of honey and some garlic and paprika along with the hot sauce.

You can choose a hot sauce for marinades, roasted vegetables, meat, and more. The type of heat that hot sauce brings varies from the one in harissa, so you may want to cut the amount you use in half at first.

You can always mix hot sauce with other spices or items in this list to lower the heat.

See More: Hot Sauce Shelf Life


What is similar to harissa?

Using another chili paste is the best option for substituting harissa. You can use red pepper chili paste or Gochujang. If none of these are available, try any of the items in this list, but make sure you taste first.

What does harissa taste like?

Harissa has many flavors all at once thanks to its ingredients. This paste is spicy, sweet, and slightly smoky. In some cases, harissa can also be a little pungent, depending on the amount of garlic that is added.

Can I use harissa powder instead of paste?

Yes, harissa powder can substitute harissa paste without much problem. You can replace harissa paste by sprinkling the powder over what you are cooking. If you need to, just add water or oil to the powder, and turn it into a paste again!


Harissa isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a fantastic flavor that you will never forget. However, harissa paste isn’t widely available and some may consider it to be too spicy. Use any of these six alternatives for similar but also unique flavors.

harissa paste alternative

*image by depositphotos.com/mihrzn

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