Top 7 Substitutes for Sambal Oelek

Jun 1, 2021 | Cooking Tips

If you don’t have Sambal Oelek, we’ve got a list of top 7 substitutes for Sambal Oelek for you to use.

What is Sambal Oelek?

Sambal Oelek is a simple base paste that originated in Indonesia. It is a widely used paste for making different kinds of sambal to flavor up that dish.

When you hear the word sambal, you immediately think that it is hot. You’re definitely right. Sambal literally means chili paste or a mixture of a variety of chilies mashed together.

Sambal Oelek is Indonesian in origin and it actually is the base paste for all the other kinds of sambal. Think of it as mayonnaise as the base for most creamy dressings.

“Oelek” translates to mortar and pestle in Indonesia. Sambal Oelek literally translates to mashed chilies. It is thicker than usual hot sauces and it has fewer ingredients since it is used as a base paste. It is less processed so it is spicier than most.

Sambal Oelek is a great base to make any kind of sambal you want. You can add plenty of spices and condiments like different kinds of vinegar fish sauce, ginger, herbs, etc. This kind of sambal could also be a great base in cooking different dishes like rice, stir-fried noodles, fish, and meat dishes.

Seven Substitutes for Sambal Oelek

Here’s a list of simple alternatives for Sambal Oelek if you can’t find any at the grocery store.

Do it yourself

1. Make your own

If you have some time in your hands, your best bet is to make your own Sambal Oelek. All you need is a food processor or mortar and pestle and you’re good to go.

Just mash together chili peppers, salt and ¼ cup of white vinegar.


2. Sriracha

Sriracha is a popular Thai hot sauce that is loved worldwide. It is deliciously eaten with grilled cheese sandwiches, satay, pizza, fried food, and the list goes on. It is also even used as a marinade for meats like jerky.

Sriracha could be used as a replacement for Sambal Oelek as a base paste for cooking.


3. Tabasco

Tabasco has a totally different flavor profile compared to Sambal Oelek but there’s a key similarity between the two and it’s the presence of vinegar in each. If you’re looking to achieve the sour and hot flavor of Sambal Oelek, Tabasco could be your best bet for this.


4. Harissa

Harissa is a chili paste from North Africa and could be an easy substitute for Sambal Oelek when making savory dishes that aren’t very Asian forward.

Harissa has some herbs and spices added to it like garlic, caraway seeds and cumin that set off a distinct flavor from Sambal Oelek. If you’re cooking something more western and ran out of the spice, Harissa is a good substitute for this.


5. Gochujang

Gochujang is a Korean chili paste made through the process of fermenting the chilies. It’s a nice and thick paste rich in umami, subtle sweetness and acidity.

It’s the best substitute for Sambal Oelek when making stir-fries burger patties or marinade. Its consistency is like that of tomato paste. Gochujang is a lot more flavorful than Sambal Oelek so keep in mind to add the chili paste to taste or for every 1 tsp of Sambal Oelek, use 1/3 tsp of Gochujang.

Red Pepper Flakes

6. Red Pepper Flakes

If you’re simply looking for the hotness factor of Sambal Oelek to replace, you can use the good old red pepper flakes.

All you need to do is sprinkle some of that pepper flakes into a marinade, onto the stews, onto the meats, onto the sauces, onto the ready-to-eat food and you’re solved. It’s a good alternative most especially when you don’t have time to experiment on other kinds of substitutes.

Chili Oil

7. Chili Oil

If you don’t have any of these substitutes, and you’re left with chili oil, don’t worry! It makes a good substitute for Sambal Oelek if you’re after the hot factor of the paste.

Chili oil is widely available in Asian stores or you can even make your own. In a bottle, just keep ¼ kilo of chilies and pour neutral oil into it. If you wish, you can experiment with different kinds of oil.


Hey there! I'm Isabel. I love cooking, dogs, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good flavorful food, to share with family and friends.



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