Calabrian Chili Paste: Substitute, Ingredients, Uses, Making

Are you a fan of spicy foods, especially the ones with Italian chilies? Then you cannot miss out on Calabrian chili and its paste from Calabria, in Italy. Be warned – this condiment is for the daring.

Fresh chili from Calabria is rarely available outside Italy but in other parts of Europe and the US, this chili is available in forms such as dry chili, crushed chili flakes, paste, pickle, or chili oil.

In recent decades, Calabrian chili paste has gained a lot of interest from all quarters for the potential heat and smoky flavor it adds to any dish instantly. In this article, you’ll find everything you deserve to know about this hot condiment.

What Is Calabrian Chili Paste?

Obviously, Calabrian chili pepper paste is made from Calabrian chili which is native to the Calabria region of Italy. This medium-hot chili is smoky and salty and emits enough heat to spice up your dish.

Don’t get confused between Calabrian chili sauce and paste though they are almost the same. The chili paste has a much thicker consistency and contains more chilies as the base ingredient. On the other hand, the chili sauce has a thinner consistency, includes other ingredients, and has slightly lower levels of heat.

Calabrian chili paste is a spicy condiment that can instantly add heat and flavor to any dish like pasta, grilled meat to sandwiches.

How hot is Calabrian chili paste? The heat level falls between 25,000 and 40,000 Scoville Heat Units; a medium-hot level chili paste that most people can eat on its own.

What does Calabrian chili paste taste like? As you’ll guess for sure, it’s rather hot and spicy and surely lingers on your palate for a long. Also, this chili paste is dominated by smoky and salty flavors, particularly Calabria pepper.

Where to buy it? Calabrian chili paste packaged in jars is available in most grocery stores. If you can’t trace it in groceries near you, get it from online retailers.

How To Use Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste?

Just like most other condiments, there are several ways to use Calabrian chili paste in your cooking. Add it to anything that you would like to be a little spicy. Top it on pizza, pasta, eggs, or meat loaves to make them instantly spicy with a smoky tang.

Just adding a little of this paste to stews, tomato sauce, soups, or casseroles can make them deliciously warm and spicy. Use this paste to spice up your Southwest Salad or to season chicken breast.

Homemade Calabrian Chili Pepper Paste Recipe

Calabrian chili paste recipe is simple and it’s easy to make at home. In fact, once you learn to make this paste, you may never think of buying it again.

Some of the ingredients can vary and you can also increase or decrease the heat of the past by regulating the amount of chili used.

A typical traditional paste includes dried Calabrian chilies, which are mashed with olive oil and then combined with salt. You may also use optional ingredients like garlic and vinegar.


  • 1 cup whole dried Calabrian chili pepper
  • ¼ cup virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt (use as required)


Toast the chilies for a couple of minutes to make them deeply flavored with higher smokiness. Pulse the ingredients in a food blender until a thick paste is formed. Use it immediately or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Normally, well-stored chili pastes will be kept for six months.

Best Calabrian Chili Paste Substitute

In most places outside Italy, it’s a little difficult to procure Calabrian chili products. If you don’t have this paste and your recipe calls for it then using an alternative ingredient becomes necessary. And it’s possible to manage your recipe with a substitute for Calabrian chili paste. Here are some of the best alternatives to consider:

1. Hot Sauce

A hot sauce is quite different from a chili paste in flavor and consistency. However, it’s still the best bet for replacing Calabrian chili paste as they both can make dishes spicy and hot on an equal footing. Be careful, hot sauce is less dense and it’ll certainly affect the texture of your dish unless you reduce the other liquid ingredients in your recipe accordingly. If you want the hot sauce to be thick like the paste, then use pectin; use about 1/8 teaspoon of pectin for each cup of hot sauce. Go for hot sauce with less/without vinegar.

2. Spicy Tomato Sauce

Spicy tomato sauce, containing hot peppers and other spices, could be an emergency substitute for chili paste. It has a different flavor profile and is aromatic as well. Despite the differences, spicy tomato sauce adds heat to your dishes on par with Calabrian chili paste. In fact, many would love the delicious taste of spicy tomato sauce more than the chili paste itself.

3. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes + Soya Sauce

Yet another manageable Calabrian chili pepper paste substitute is crushed red pepper flakes. Usually, chili flakes are hotter than chili paste for they also include seeds. Use a combination of chili flakes and soya sauce to achieve a paste-like consistency. For every tablespoon of crushed pepper flakes use two dashes of soya sauce. To reduce the heat of the pepper flakes, you may add a few pinches of sugar to the mixture. In place of soy sauce, tomato ketchup is also usable.

4. Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is chopped chilies with lime or salt. Generally, Sambal Oelek is available in different forms; blended with fish sauce, tomato sauce, spice mixtures, or even fruit. According to the different ingredients used, it can be spicy, sweet, or tangy.

You can use Sambal Oelek as a replacement for Calabrian chili paste with noticeable differences in flavor and texture of the dish. Sambal Oelek is also hotter than chili paste and it lacks a smoky flavor.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Calabrian chili paste, originating from Italy’s Calabria region, is a medium-hot, smoky, and salty condiment. Its thicker consistency and higher chili content distinguish it from Calabrian chili sauce. Rated between 25,000 to 40,000 on the Scoville scale, it’s a versatile ingredient for various dishes, from pasta to grilled meats.

Available in grocery stores or online, it’s also simple to make at home with dried chilies, olive oil, garlic, and salt. For those unable to find it, substitutes like hot sauce, spicy tomato sauce, a mix of red pepper flakes and soy sauce, or Sambal Oelek can be used, though they vary in flavor and texture.

Read Next: Red Curry Paste Substitute (7 alternatives that work)