Harissa is a fragrant and fiery red pepper paste from Northern Africa. It is also increasingly popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes. You’ve no doubt come across a recipe calling for harissa paste, rose harissa paste or harissa powder.
While harissa adds a unique flavour to dishes, it may not always be available in your local grocery store or pantry. But luckily, there are many great substitutes for harissa paste you may already have on hand.
Make a homemade paste from harissa powder for the best harissa substitute, or adapt the flavour of hot sauce and other red pepper pastes (like sriracha, gochujang and sambal oelek) for a closer harissa flavour match.
Keep reading to learn how to create the best harissa alternative with what you have at home. Or jump to the section that interests you most.
- What is harissa?
- Typical harissa paste ingredients
- How to make harissa paste from powder
- The best harissa substitutes
- Rose harissa substitute
- How to use harissa paste
Or jump to the easy harissa substitute recipe using harissa powder and a few simple ingredients.
What is harissa?
North African harissa typically comes in three forms. It is best known as the fragrant harissa paste – a condiment made from red peppers or rehydrated dried chiles blended with toasted spices, garlic and olive oil. But it is also available in harissa sauce (a fiery ready-to-use sauce) and harissa powder (a dry harissa spice blend).
Harissa is commonly used in North African cuisine to add flavour and a bit of heat to stews, soups, and couscous dishes. It is also a condiment, either served on its own or mixed with other ingredients such as yoghurt or mayonnaise. Harissa has become increasingly popular in other parts of the world, particularly in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.
Harissa in powder form makes great dry rubs for meat dishes and makes a great harissa substitute stirred into soups in stews. But you can also rehydrate harissa powder using water and oil to create an easy harissa paste.
You can now find harissa spice and a variety of harissa pastes in grocery stores.
But if you need your harissa today and can’t find any in your local store, this post has you covered with a variety of homemade harissa paste recipes and easy harissa alternatives.
Typical harissa paste ingredients
Harissa paste boasts a rich blend of flavours. It is a spicy, aromatic condiment certainly worth having around.
Typical harissa paste ingredients include red peppers, garlic, spices, lemon juice and olive oil:
- Hot red peppers are the main ingredient. Traditional harissa uses Baklouti peppers, but any red chilli pepper works well to provide heat and a red-coloured paste.
- Garlic adds depth. Fresh cloves, peeled and crushed, are the preferred choice. But it can also contain garlic paste or garlic powder in the case of dry harissa powder.
- Toasted spices like cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and caraway seeds contribute to complexity. Their distinct flavours meld together to develop the characteristic harissa spice flavour.
- Lemon juice balances the heat. And it adds acidity and brightness.
- Olive oil is another common ingredient. It smoothes the paste into a glossy mix with a silky texture. And it also preserves the paste while carrying oil-soluble flavours.
- Salt enhances the taste and brings out the flavours. A small amount does the trick.
To make a great harissa substitute, we must recreate this unique blend of flavours.
You can achieve it by adding earthy spices and smoky flavours to other shop-bought hot sauces and pastes. Or create a homemade harissa paste by rehydrating ground spices and chiles with water and oil.
How to use harissa powder to make harissa paste
Traditional harissa paste is often made by blending spices with rehydrated dried red peppers. And, in a way, we can rehydrate harissa powder into harissa paste.
Mix two teaspoons of harissa powder with one teaspoon of water. Allow the paste to soften for a few minutes – at least 5 minutes. Add two teaspoons of olive oil and mix well.
You can also add a squeeze of lemon juice, a few drops of apple cider vinegar, or tomato paste for more flavour and better texture. And for rose harissa paste, add a splash of rose water.
The recipe card has a detailed recipe for harissa paste from powder.
No harissa powder? No problem. Try chilli flakes with a pinch of cumin and salt for an easy harissa powder alternative. Or find the best harissa powder substitutes for your pantry.
The best harissa substitutes
The robust flavour and moderate heat of harissa paste make it a versatile ingredient, adding depth and complexity to any dish requiring a spicy kick.
You can make your own harissa paste from roasted bell peppers – like in this rose harissa recipe. It is utterly delicious and totally worth the washing up.
But what if you need a harissa paste in a hurry? Don’t fret – we’ve compiled a list of the best substitutes for harissa paste to save the day and keep your dishes as delicious as ever.
Explore these fantastic harissa paste alternatives to suit your needs and taste preferences:
- Homemade harissa paste (from harissa powder)
- Red pepper paste and spice mix
- Sambal oelek
- Sriracha sauce
- Chipotle in adobo sauce
- Gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
- Tomato paste (non-spicy harissa substitute)
- Chilli garlic sauce
- Peri-peri sauce
- Ajika (Georgian chilli paste)
- Bomba Calabrese
1. Homemade harissa paste substitute
If you have harissa powder, you can make a quick-and-easy harissa paste from only a few simple ingredients for the best harissa substitute.
If you don’t, it’s easy to make harissa powder if you have a well-stocked spice rack. But you can also try one of the harissa spice substitutes, including Berbere spice, Ras el hanout and simple spice mixes.
For an easy harissa paste from harissa powder, you need:
- 2 teaspoons harissa powder
- 1 teaspoon water
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- Aleppo pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Combine the harissa powder and water. Leave the harissa powder to rehydrate for at least five minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix until you achieve a paste-like consistency. You’ll have a heaped tablespoon of harissa paste.
Adjust the heat to taste by adding Aleppo pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper) a pinch at a time.
Find the full instructions in the recipe card.
Use your easy harissa paste mix as a direct 1:1 substitute for store-bought harissa paste.
2. Red pepper paste and spice mix
Turkish red pepper paste (biber salcasi) is a blend of roasted red bell peppers with chilli peppers, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. It is essentially harissa without spices and makes an excellent harissa substitute.
Different Maghrebi and Middle Eastern cuisines have their own variation of red pepper paste. Check the ingredient list and adjust the spices and heat level accordingly.
You can make red pepper paste from red bell peppers. Use this rose harissa paste recipe and omit the rose elements for plain harissa paste (or keep them in for a gorgeous floral yet fiery rose harissa paste). Or also omit the spices for an easy red pepper paste.
Use red pepper paste as a great substitute for harissa paste, or add ground cumin and caraway for an even better substitute. Add Aleppo pepper flakes (or chilli powder) to adjust the spice level to taste.
3. Sambal oelek
There are more than 200 varieties of sambal in Indonesia. The intensity ranges from mild to very hot. Some sambal ingredients include shallot, garlic, lemon or lime juice, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, terasi (a pungent shrimp paste), candlenuts and palm sugar.
So, not all sambals make a good substitute for harissa paste. Sambal oelek is a raw chilli paste with vinegar and lemon juice. It is the simplest in flavour but lacks the warm earthy spices of harissa paste.
To create a good harissa substitute from sambal oelek, mix a tablespoon of sambal oelek with a teaspoon of ground cumin (or caraway), a pinch of smoked paprika, and salt. Use this mix as a direct substitute for harissa paste.
4. Sriracha sauce
Sriracha is a sweet and spicy fermented hot sauce from Thailand. It contains chilli, sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar.
While Sriracha sauce is thinner and sweeter than harissa paste, it can still be a decent harissa substitute in a pinch.
You can use sriracha sauce as a direct substitute for harissa paste. But to better mimic the harissa paste’s taste, add a pinch of ground cumin (or caraway) and smoked paprika.
5. Chipotle in adobo sauce
Adobo sauce is an all-purpose marinade from Mexico. The ingredients include dried chiles, spices, and vinegar. And chipotle in adobo sauce is spicy, rich and super smoky. Try it as a smoky alternative to harissa paste.
Turn chipotle in adobo sauce into a great harissa substitute. Use a blender or small food processor to combine a quarter cup of chipotle peppers with two tablespoons of the adobo sauce, two tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of minced garlic (or garlic paste), and a teaspoon of caraway seeds. Blend until it resembles a smooth paste.
Use this mixture as a direct substitute for harissa paste.
6. Gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
Gochujang (Korean chili paste, gochu-jang, red chilli paste or hot pepper paste) is a spicy Korean fermented paste. It has an intensely savoury, sweet, spicy, and almost smoky taste with that funky flavour typical of Korean cuisine.
While I don’t recommend harissa paste as a substitute for gochujang (because you can’t remove the non-Korean earthy flavours from harissa), you can add the missing spices to use gochujang as a harissa substitute when you’re in a pinch.
If you are flexible with the flavour of your dish, you can use gochujang as a direct replacement. Gochujang shakshuka won’t taste the same as harissa shakshuka, but it will be fiery and umami-packed.
But for a closer match, mix a tablespoon of gochujang paste with a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of cumin, and a teaspoon of caraway. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the extra spices if they’re whole, or use pre-ground.
Use your spiced gochujang as a 1:1 substitute for harissa paste, but know that it will be slightly sweeter and funkier.
7. Tomato paste (non-spicy harissa substitute)
While tomato paste doesn’t pack the same heat or flavour profile as harissa paste, you can use it as a base for a milder substitute in recipes that call for harissa paste.
Tomato paste offers a thick consistency and a rich, slightly sweet, somewhat acidic flavour. To create a more harissa-like taste, mix two tablespoons of tomato paste, a teaspoon of mixed spices like cumin, and caraway seeds, with a teaspoon of smoked or sweet paprika. Add half a teaspoon of minced garlic (or garlic paste) and a splash of olive oil to create the perfect non-spicy harissa paste alternative.
Or, if you want to add a spicy punch, just mix in a few pinches of cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or hot paprika to taste. Alternatively, add fresh minced red chillies, like red serrano peppers.
Use this tomato paste mixture as a 1:1 substitute for harissa paste, and add extra spices and chilli powder according to your personal preferences.
8. Chilli garlic sauce
Chilli garlic sauce is a very popular Asian condiment. It is a spicy, flavourful condiment.
But it has a funkier taste than harissa paste thanks to fermented ingredients like soy sauce and sometimes bean paste. If you have some in your pantry, you can alter the sauce to use it as a substitute for harissa paste in a pinch.
We need to increase the earthy flavours to use Chinese chilli garlic sauce as a substitute for harissa. Crush cumin and caraway seeds with a pestle and mortar (or grind with a spice grinder). Mix a tablespoon of chilli garlic sauce with a teaspoon of the crushed spices and another teaspoon of smoked paprika.
Use your spiced chilli garlic sauce as a direct substitute for harissa paste.
9. Peri-Peri Sauce
Peri-peri sauce (also piri piri or pili pili) is a fiery Portuguese-African condiment made from a blend of African bird’s eye chillies, garlic, vinegar, and spices.
I often find peri-peri to be quite acidic. Significantly more than harissa. It is also a sauce instead of a paste. If both the texture and the flavour of harissa paste are important in your recipe, it is better to try one of the other suggestions.
But if peri-peri is all you have, you can make it more harissa-y with olive oil, cumin and caraway seeds, and ample sweet paprika (both for flavour and colour). Crush the whole seeds in a mortar and pestle or use pre-ground.
Use peri-peri sauce with extra spices and olive oil as a 1:1 replacement for harissa paste. But keep in mind that the heat may vary and that the mix will be more acidic.
10. Ajika (Georgian chilli paste)
Ajika (or Adjika) is a traditional Georgian chilli paste made from green or red peppers, garlic, and spices. Some ajika ingredients not found in harissa paste include fenugreek, walnuts, dill and mint.
The ingredients are usually finely chopped, crushed, or ground together (traditionally using a mortar and pestle) until it has a paste-like consistency. The texture resembles that of Italian pesto.
While the flavour profile and texture are both different from harissa paste, red ajika can still make a suitable replacement in a pinch. Though I would consider it as a last resort.
For a better texture and flavour match, use a small food processor to combine the hot chilli paste with cumin seeds, caraway seeds, smoked paprika and olive oil to taste. Process until you have a glossy paste.
11. Bomba Calabrese
Bomba Calabrese, also known as Calabrian chilli paste, is a spicy Italian condiment made from Calabrian chilli peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, and various spices. Its robust flavour and fiery heat make it a unique and exciting substitute for harissa paste.
While Bomba Calabrese has a different flavour profile, it brings a similar intensity to dishes, making it a great alternative when you’re looking to add a Mediterranean twist to your recipe. But if you want a close flavour match to harissa paste, I would recommend picking another harissa alternative from the list.
Use Bomba Calabrese as a 1:1 substitute for harissa paste, but start with a smaller amount and adjust according to your desired level of heat and taste preferences.
While this list has some of the best harissa paste substitutes, you can try any combination of hot sauce, earthy spices and a touch of sweetness for your perfect harissa alternative.
Rose harissa substitute
We know that harissa paste, the fiery North African condiment, offers a brilliant way to spice up your dishes. But you’ll often find a recipe calling for rose harissa paste – especially if you’re also an Ottolenghi fan.
Rose harissa paste is a more floral version of the classic paste.
You can make homemade rose harissa paste from roasted red bell peppers.
Or, with a few simple tweaks, you can easily substitute harissa paste (or any of the harissa alternatives) for its rose counterpart. Follow these tips to transform your harissa paste or harissa substitute into a delightful rose harissa alternative.
How to use harissa as a rose harissa paste substitute
- Add dried rose petals: The key difference between harissa and rose harissa paste is the addition of rose petals. To mimic the floral notes, simply mix in one teaspoon of crushed, dried, edible rose petals per two tablespoons of harissa paste.
- Add rose water: Similarly, you can add a splash of rose water to any harissa paste or harissa alternative for an easy substitute for rose harissa paste. Rose water can vary in intensity. And rose essence is more intense. So start with a few drops of rose essence or half a teaspoon of rose water for every two tablespoons of harissa and adjust the floral flavours to taste.
- Adjust the heat: Rose harissa paste is often milder than regular harissa. You can tone down the spiciness of any harissa substitute with a teaspoon of tomato purée for every two tablespoons of harissa paste.
- Experiment with spices: Feel free to get creative with your spices. Adding a pinch of ground coriander, cumin, or caraway to a harissa substitute will enhance the complexity, making it more similar to rose harissa paste.
- Taste and adjust: As with any recipe, always taste and adjust the seasoning to suit your preference. You may need to add more rose flavours, tomato purée, or sweetener depending on your taste preference.
Transforming any harissa alternative into a rose harissa paste substitute is a breeze. Add dried rose petals or rose water, adjust the level of heat, add typical harissa spices (like cumin, coriander and caraway), and balance the flavours to fit your preference.
With these simple adjustments, you can create a versatile and fragrant rose harissa alternative to spice up your next meal.
How to use harissa paste
The spicy condiment adds warm and complex flavours to any meal thanks to the rich blend of red chilli peppers, garlic, and spices. Incorporate your harissa paste (or harissa paste alternative) into your everyday cooking:
- Salad dressings: Spice up your salads with a harissa-infused dressing. Combine one tablespoon of harissa paste, three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whisk the ingredients together and drizzle over your favourite salad greens for a zesty and vibrant touch.
- Marinades: Harissa marinade works wonders for meat, fish or vegetable dishes. Mix two tablespoons of harissa paste with two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and a crushed garlic clove for a delicious marinade.
- Roasted vegetables: Give your roasted veggies a North African twist by tossing them in a mixture of harissa paste, olive oil, and salt before roasting. The harissa will create a deliciously caramelised crust and elevate the natural sweetness of the vegetables. Use it freely in any vegetable dish for a flavour boost. Try this delicious harissa roasted cauliflower.
- Pasta sauces: Make a delicious harissa pasta sauce with a spoonful of harissa paste in any tomato-based pasta sauce. The harissa paste will lend a warm, earthy depth to the sauce.
- Sandwich spreads: Add a fiery kick to your sandwiches, wraps or homemade pizza by using harissa paste as a spread. Layer it with your favourite cold cuts, cheeses, and vegetables for an exciting and flavourful lunch option.
- Dips: Use harissa as a spicy dipping sauce or mix it with Greek yoghurt, tahini or hummus to create a creamy, spicy dip. Serve your harissa dip with pita chips, crudités, or as part of a mezze spread.
Frequently asked questions
For an easy harissa substitute, mix a teaspoon of chilli flakes (like Aleppo pepper) with a teaspoon of ground cumin, a pinch of salt, and a little olive oil (or vegetable oil) to create a paste consistency. Alternatively, you can use sriracha or gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) with a pinch of cumin.
Find more ideas in the best substitutes for harissa paste list.
You can use sriracha as a substitute for harissa, but note that the flavour and texture are different. Sriracha is sweeter and less smoky and has a thinner consistency than harissa. Start with a small amount and adjust to taste with ground cumin and smoked paprika.
Harissa paste is a spicy blend of red peppers or chiles, garlic, olive oil, and spices such as cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds. It may also include tomatoes, lemon juice, or vinegar for added tanginess.
To substitute harissa paste with powder, mix harissa powder with olive oil or water until you reach a paste-like consistency. You can add tomato paste for a better texture and vinegar or lemon juice for acidity. And add a splash of rose water for a rose harissa substitute.
Easy Harissa Paste (From Harissa Powder)
- 2 teaspoons harissa powder *
- 1 teaspoon water
- ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon tomato paste
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- Aleppo pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
- Mix harissa powder and water in a small bowl. Let the mixture sit for at least 5 minutes to rehydrate.
- Then add the apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Mix well to combine.
- Finally, stir in the tomato paste and a pinch of sugar.
- Have a small taste. If you want more heat, add Aleppo pepper flakes a small pinch at a time.
- If you don’t have harissa powder, you can make harissa powder or create a substitute from a teaspoon of Aleppo pepper flakes mixed with a teaspoon of ground cumin and a pinch of salt. Or try one of the best harissa powder substitutes.
- For a non-spicy harissa substitute, replace the two teaspoons of harissa powder with a teaspoon of sweet paprika, a teaspoon of ground cumin and a pinch of salt.
- See the full post for the best harissa substitutes from hot sauce and other condiments, like red pepper paste, sambal oelek, gochujang, and sriracha.
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