7 Best Chili Garlic Sauce Substitutes

The best chili garlic sauce substitutes to replicate the iconic spicy dipping sauce’s flavor and heat. From sriracha to sambal, these are the best alternatives to use today.

Chili Garlic Sauce Substitutes

Chili garlic sauce is a Chinese-American-inspired condiment that combines savory garlic and spicy chili for a hot, tangy treat. It makes a delicious dipping sauce when served on its own, or you can add it to your favorite recipes for an extra blast of flavor.

Chili garlic sauce is a key component of popular sauces, glazes, marinades, and fusion recipes. If you’re short on sauce, you may find your food falling flat.

Here, we’re going to discuss which chili garlic sauce substitutes to use when you’re short on ingredients.

The best garlic chili substitutes include sambal sauce, harissa sauce, sriracha, chili paste, red pepper flakes, black bean sauce, and gochujang. These ingredients can add the same combination of sweet, spicy, and savory to any dish. They’re versatile enough to use in dishes ranging from Asian American fusion to spicy Southwestern.

Sambal Sauce

Sambal served in a white bowl

Sambal sauce is a popular condiment in Southeast Asian cooking. Its main components are:

  • Red chili peppers
  • Vinegar
  • Salt

While sambal sauce doesn’t typically contain as much sugar as chili garlic sauce, it has a similar spicy, zesty profile that works well as a replacement.

Sambal sauce is typically spicier than chili garlic sauce, so you may want to reduce the amount you use for recipes by a quarter to a third. Adding fresh garlic and a sweetener, such as sugar or honey, can help you create a more authentic flavor. You may also want to add extra water, as sambal sauce has a thicker consistency and a deeper color than chili garlic sauce.

Sambal sauce is a versatile condiment that works well as a chili substitute in most recipes. It goes well in Asian and Indian-inspired dishes, including stir-fry, rice, and noodles.

Harissa Sauce

Tunisian cuisine harissa sauce paste

Harissa sauce originated in Tunisia, North Africa, and takes inspiration from cuisine in the surrounding region. It typically includes a mixture of:

  • Sweet and spicy red peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Lemon or vinegar

Harissa paste makes an ideal chili garlic sauce substitute. It has the same sweet and spicy taste, thanks to the chili paste. The garlic lends it bright, savory notes that other substitutes may not have. 

Harrisa paste tends to be less sweet and more acidic than chili garlic sauce. You may have to add extra sugar to your recipe when swapping chili garlic sauce for harissa to get the same sweet notes.

You can substitute harissa for chili garlic sauce in a 1:1 ratio for most dishes. It works especially well in many traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. However, harissa may not be the best choice for sweet, mild meals.



Sriracha is a popular condiment worldwide thought to have originated in Thailand. It’s versatile enough to work as a dipping sauce, topping, or recipe ingredient. 

It contains many of the same components as chili garlic sauce, including:

  • Red jalapeno peppers
  • Vinegar
  • Garlic
  • Sugar

With such a similar flavor profile, sriracha makes a foolproof substitute for garlic chili in recipes. 

Sriracha has a slightly thinner consistency than most chili garlic sauces, and using it may lead to watery results in certain recipes. You should reduce the amount of sriracha you add to dishes or include a thickener such as cornstarch to account for texture differences.

You can substitute sriracha for chili garlic sauce in most recipes without issues. It works well across a wide variety of different cuisines, especially Asian and Asian-fusion meals. Due to its high sugar content, it works well in sweeter dishes as well as savory ones. However, it may not pack enough of a punch for spicy recipes.

Chili Paste

Chili Paste in a black bowl with fresh chilies

Chili paste is affordable and easy to find, making it a good substitute for chili garlic sauce in a pinch. It contains dried and toasted chilis that have been rehydrated and ground into a paste.

Chili paste has a rich spicy, smoky flavor that’s a little bolder than your typical chili garlic sauce. It also has less sweetness to it. Most types of chili paste don’t contain garlic and aren’t quite as complex as chili garlic sauce. 

If you plan to use chili paste as a substitute, you may want to add minced garlic and sugar to your recipe for a more authentic flavor. Chili paste also tends to be thicker than chili garlic sauce, so you may want to add water, stock, or another liquid to thin out your dish.

Chili paste works best as a substitute in savory, sauce-based recipes. It’s a particularly good choice for Southwestern dishes. However, cooking with chili paste may not be the best option for more delicate dishes or Asian-style meals.

Red Pepper Flakes

Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes are an easy way to spice up any dish. What’s more, most people have them on hand in their spice rack. Red pepper flakes are dried and nonperishable, giving them a longer shelf life than homemade and store-bought chili garlic sauces. 

Red pepper flakes are made from different dried and crushed red peppers, such as cayennes. The spice lends a hot, smoky flavor to dishes and is a simple way to add some heat to underpriced food.

You can use red pepper flakes as a substitute for chili garlic sauce, but keep in mind that they’re a dried spice while chili garlic sauce is a condiment. You may need to add extra liquid to your dish to avoid drying it out. You may want to mix red pepper flakes with some sugar and garlic powder for a bolder flavor.

Using red pepper flakes as a chili garlic sauce substitute works best in hot, spicy dishes. It may not be best for sweet and sour dishes or those with a focus on garlic flavors. 

Black Bean Sauce

chinese black bean sauce

If you want a thick and hearty substitute for chili garlic sauce, black bean sauce can add some substance to your meal along with a rich and satisfying flavor. A black bean paste with spice, sugar, and a hint of garlic makes the perfect substitute when your pantry is short on garlic chili sauce.

You can make black bean sauce by grinding cooked or canned beans to a paste before spicing the mix. You can also find premade black bean paste at your local supermarket.

Most bean pastes are thicker than the average chili garlic sauce, so you may have to add liquid to thin your mixture. Both water and stock work well. For more bite, try adding vinegar or lemon juice.

Black bean sauce works best as a substitute in Southwestern, Mexican, and American-style dishes. It may not have the right spice profile for Indian or Asian dishes.


korean gochujang sauce recipe

Gochujang is a popular Korean condiment that contains red chili peppers, rice, and fermented soybeans. Though it has different ingredients than chili garlic sauce, gochujang boasts a similar flavor profile, with various notes, including:

  • Sweet
  • Spicy
  • Savory

For most recipes, you can replace chili garlic sauce with gochujang in a 1:1 ratio. In some cases, you may want to add a pinch of sugar to your dish. Gochujang isn’t as sweet as chili garlic sauce and may add a sour edge to some recipes.

Gochujang works best when swapped for chili garlic paste in Asian-inspired recipes. Its slightly sour edge also makes it a good choice for recipes that call for citrus, vinegar, or general acidity. It may not be a good choice for delicate or mild dishes, as its strong flavor can easily overpower others.