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5 Best Substitutes for Harissa Paste: Spice Up Your Cooking

Harissa paste is a staple in many North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, delivering a piquant and aromatic kick to any dish it graces.

But what if you realize you’re fresh out of it halfway through a recipe? For those passionate about food, rest assured, there exist delicious alternatives that can come to the rescue without sacrificing taste.

Whether you’re a culinary adventurer or a home cook looking to spice up your weeknight meals, this guide is your go-to for swapping out harissa with pantry essentials.

Key Takeaways:

  • Harissa paste adds a unique piquant and aromatic kick to dishes, but there are substitutes that can save the day without compromising on flavor.
  • There are five main substitutes for harissa paste, each with its own flavor, texture, and usage suggestions.
  • Sriracha sauce, gochujang, chili paste, red pepper flakes and tomato paste mix, and a DIY blend of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper can all be used as alternatives to harissa paste.
  • These substitutes have the ability to enhance a dish, add complexity, and offer customization options.

5 Best Substitutes for Harissa Paste

We’ve rounded up the top five substitutes for harissa paste that you can easily find in your kitchen or at a local grocery store:

1 – Sriracha Sauce

Sriracha is a household name known for its smooth texture and iconic rooster-adorned bottle. Its flavor, a blend of tang, sweetness, and heat, makes it a solid contender to replace harissa in a pinch. While it may not have harissa’s smokiness, Sriracha’s garlic undertones can enhance a dish with similar savory notes.

Flavor: Bold and garlicky, with a milder underlying sweetness than harissa.

Texture: Smooth and pourable, ideal for both marinades and direct cooking.

Usage: Use 1 tablespoon of Sriracha per 1 teaspoon of harissa for a balanced heat. It pairs well with stir-fries, soups, and even to fashion a harissa-flavored Sriracha aioli!

2 – Gochujang

Gochujang is the heart and soul of Korean cuisine, a thick, spicy, and pungent fermented chili paste. Its rich, deep umami profile can add complexity to dishes, similar to harissa. Gochujang’s sweetness helps counterbalance its heat, making for a piquant yet rounded heat profile.

Flavor: Robust and pungent, with a more concentrated heat than harissa.

Texture: Thick and sticky, perfect for glazes and stews.

Usage: Replace 1 tablespoon of harissa with a mix of 1 tablespoon gochujang and 2 teaspoons of tomato paste for a milder tang. Toss it with roasted vegetables or use it as a base for a spicy Gochujang harissa chicken dish.

3 – Chili Paste

When all else fails, a good quality chili paste can be your best ally. Chili paste, available in various forms from various cuisines worldwide, offers a straightforward heat that can be amped up or toned down according to preference. Its simplicity makes it a direct replacement for harissa, especially in dishes where heat is the primary characteristic.

Flavor: Pure heat with a faint smoky note.

Texture: Varies based on type but generally can be spooned out easily for mixing into recipes.

Usage: A 1:1 swap ratio works well for most recipes. Be sure to adjust quantities to control the spice based on your palate. It’s perfect for spicing up pasta, stir-fries, and soups.

4 – Red Pepper Flakes and Tomato Paste Mix

This combination mimics the heat and vibrant color of harissa, though without the exact complexity. By blending red pepper flakes with tomato paste, you create a texturally simpler but still robust replacement. Its simplicity is its strength, allowing it to seamlessly integrate into a wide range of recipes.

Flavor: Dominated by the heat of the pepper with a tang from the tomato.

Texture: Grainy due to the red pepper flakes but mixed well with tomato paste, it becomes spreadable.

Usage: Substitute 1 tablespoon of harissa with 1 tablespoon of this mix for a straightforward heat. It’s great in hearty stews and ideal as a base for a quick and flavorful pizza sauce.

5 – Smoked Paprika and Cayenne Pepper Blend

If you’re in the mood for an experimental venture, try mixing smoked paprika with cayenne pepper for a spicy blend that offers complexity and a smoky undertone. Adjust the cayenne to your preferred spice level, creating a custom harissa-like blend that can be the star of your next dish.

Flavor: Smoky and earthy with a hotter punch provided by the cayenne.

Texture: Grainy yet workable, especially in wet recipes or when rehydrated with water.

Usage: For a good mix, add 1 part cayenne to 4 parts smoked paprika. Use 1 tablespoon of this blend per 1 teaspoon of harissa for a gentle introduction in recipes like hummus or as a rub for grilled meats.

Homemade Harissa Paste: The Ultimate Replacement

What if we told you that you could easily whip up a harissa substitute in your kitchen? It’s true! Instead of purchasing a store-bought version, why not create your own homemade harissa paste? Not only is it simple and quick to make, but it’s also customizable and saves you money in the long run.

The Ingredients of Harissa Paste

The traditional North African condiment, harissa paste is typically made from hot chili peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices such as cumin and coriander. However, there are many variations of harissa paste depending on the region it is made in and personal preferences.

While store-bought harissa paste may be convenient, it often contains preservatives and additives for a longer shelf life. By making your own at home, you have control over the quality and freshness of ingredients used. Plus, you can adjust the level of spiciness to your preference.


In conclusion, there are several substitutes for harissa paste that can add a similar depth of flavor and heat to your dishes.

From pantry staples like Sriracha sauce and chili paste to homemade harissa paste, you have many options to choose from depending on the recipe or dish.

Experiment with different substitutes to find what works best for you and enjoy the delicious flavors of harissa without having to purchase a specific ingredient. So go ahead and get creative in the kitchen with these harissa paste substitutes.


Easy DIY Harissa Paste

This homemade harissa paste is a quick and easy substitute for store-bought harissa. It adds a spicy and aromatic kick to dishes, making it the perfect condiment for any meal.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Condiment
Cuisine North African
Servings 4 people
Calories 94 kcal


  • Food processor or blender
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • saucepan
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Airtight container for storage


  • 3 dried red chillies adjust quantity according to preferred spice level
  • 1 red bell pepper seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  • In a bowl, soak the dried red chillies in hot water for 10 minutes to soften them.
  • Drain the chillies and remove the seeds (optional for extra heat).
  • In a food processor or blender, combine the chillies, red bell pepper, garlic cloves, olive oil, tomato paste, cumin powder, coriander powder, salt, and black pepper.
  • Blend until a smooth paste forms.
  • In a saucepan, heat the harissa paste on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  • Remove from heat and let it cool down before transferring to an airtight container for storage.
  • Use as a condiment or spice blend in various dishes such as stews, marinades, dips, and spreads.


  • Adjust the quantity of dried red chillies according to your preferred level of spiciness.
  • For a smokier flavor, you can add 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to the paste before blending.
  • This harissa paste will keep in the fridge for up to 4 – 6 months. Alternatively, you can freeze it for longer storage.
  • Use caution when handling and blending hot peppers. Wash your hands thoroughly after to avoid irritation.


Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 94kcalCarbohydrates: 7gProtein: 1gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gSodium: 37mgPotassium: 239mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 1320IUVitamin C: 89mgCalcium: 22mgIron: 1mg
Keyword homemade harissa paste
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5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating