Harissa Substitute – Here Are 5 Spicy Spice Mixes For You

It’s simply delicious to enjoy stews, soups, or bread with harissa. Not only that, you can make any of your dishes instantly spicy by adding a little harissa paste or powder to them.

Some of the North African dishes will become incomplete without this spice mix. What to do when you don’t have harissa paste or powder required for your recipe? What’s a good harissa substitute to use in a pinch?

This article reveals the best alternative to harissa powder and paste, and also a little about its flavor and uses in cooking.

What Is Harissa?

Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste/sauce of Tunisian origin and is now popularly used in several North African cuisines.

The main ingredients in harissa are roasted red peppers, Baklouti peppers, garlic paste, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, cumin, and olive oil. Rose harissa is an exotic version of this spice blend that includes rose petals as well.

You can buy pre-made harissa paste that usually comes in a sealed jar or tetra-pack, available in African stores or from online vendors.

What does Harissa taste like?

The taste of harissa can vary according to the ingredients used in it. It’s loved for its hot, spicy, or fiery flavors than any other taste.

Most varieties of harissa have a mild smoky flavor acquired from roasted chilies. Some of them taste tart and tangy if any citrusy juices or vinegar are included in them. Generally, they have a spicy and hot peppery flavor with strong notes of garlic and lemon.

Most brands produce both strong and mild varieties of spicy harissa.

How is Harissa used?

The fiery and garlicky harissa spice paste is traditionally served alongside stews, bread, and couscous dishes.

Currently, harissa spice paste is not only used in Tunisian and Moroccan dishes but also used in several cuisines across the world. Harissa paste and powder are versatile ingredients that work well in preparing a spicy dish.

This spice blend can very well be utilized in salad dressings, burgers, hummus, rubs, roasted vegetables, pasta, yogurt, egg, and meat dishes.

What is a good harissa substitute?

Harissa paste isn’t easily available in most parts of the world. If you have run out of this spice paste or are not available in your locality, then try one of the following alternatives that suit your recipe:

1. Another chili paste

In a hypermarket grocery section, you’ll find several varieties of chili paste-like Sichuan chili paste, Thai chili paste, Sambal oelek, Gochujang chili paste, and more. Note, all chili pastes are not the same for some of them are sweet or tangy instead of spicy.

Sambal oelek is a good alternative to harissa as they both have similar ingredients and flavors. Similarly, most varieties of Asian chili pastes are made with hot chili peppers, oil, and vinegar.

You may also customize the other chili paste with missing ingredients like garlic paste, cumin, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, or others to make them taste like harissa.

2. Sriracha

Sriracha is a type of hot sauce or chili sauce made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. Sriracha hot sauce from Thailand is an excellent harissa substitute despite a significant difference in consistency. It has all the key flavor profiles of harissa because of similar ingredients in both of them.  You may also customize Sriracha sauce with additional ingredients like caraway seeds, cumin, and coriander for a closer similarity to harissa, both in taste and consistency.  Also, adding a little hot paprika powder to Sriracha can make it thicker and spicier.

3. Chili Oil

Chili oil is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. Different types of hot peppers and oil may be used for making chili oil. It’s an important ingredient in some of the Chinese cuisines, especially for marinating.

Chili oil is spicy and flavorful like harissa, and you may even customize it with additional ingredients like cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, garlic, and others. Chili oil can be an emergency replacement for harissa in some dishes.

4. Hot Sauce

Hot sauce made of various chili peppers and other ingredients is often used as a condiment, salsa, or seasoning. Surprisingly, there are several varieties of hot sauces in different flavors and levels of heat.

If you are using harissa in a recipe just for the sake of heat, then a hot sauce also can do the same thing. Choose the right hot sauce in place of harissa according to your heat tolerance.

5. Homemade Harissa

Undoubtedly, the finest substitute for store-bought harissa is homemade harissa. If you have all the ingredients then it’s not at all a difficult thing to make harissa.

In fact, by making harissa at home you can easily use the ingredients according to your flavor preference and also increase or decrease the heat level. Most ingredients in harissa are pantry staples and common store herbs. Besides, homemade harissa is tastier and healthier than one that you buy from a store.

What’s a good harissa powder substitute?

It’s not viable to use harissa paste for dry or fried dishes, and it comes in harissa powder. Harissa powder is mostly sprinkled over grilled meat and vegetables for a hot flavor. It is also widely used in several African and Middle Eastern recipes.  Harissa powder and paste can also be used interchangeably if the texture isn’t an issue for a particular recipe.

If you have run out of harissa powder or are not available in your locality, here are some of the harissa powder substitutes that you can use.

1. Chili powder

Most ingredients in chili powder also show up in harissa powder, thus both are very similar in flavor. Chili powder can also be very well integrated into most recipes that call for harissa powder.  Adding a little cayenne or red pepper flakes, you can raise the heat level of chili powder to par with harissa.

As a substitute, use the same amount of chili powder as harissa powder required in your recipe.

2. Harissa paste

Harissa paste is the loose and liquidated form of harissa powder. They have the same ingredients except the oil used for making it into paste form.

In savory dishes, stews, and vegetable dishes, the paste can easily be used instead of the powder. However, harissa paste won’t work for dry rubs, grilled or fried meat and vegetables, and dry dishes.

3. Berbere spice

Berbere spice, from the Horn of Africa, contains most of the ingredients like cumin and chili powder used in harissa powder. Like any other spice blend, you’ll find different variations of Berbere spice from place to place.

Use Berbere spice as a 1:1 substitute for harissa powder.

4. Tandoori masala

Tandoori masala from India contains ingredients similar to harissa powder. Most blends of this masala have cumin, coriander, and garlic besides red peppers.

5. Old Bay seasoning

Old Bay seasoning, with red pepper as the base ingredient, is very similar to harissa powder in composition and flavor. In addition, it’s an easy-to-find replacement for harissa powder.

6. Red pepper flakes

Red pepper flakes can be used as a good stand-in ingredient for harissa powder. It works best in dishes in which you use harissa powder just for the sake of heat.

Final Thoughts

Good substitutes for harissa include various chili pastes like Sambal Oelek, Gochujang, or customized pastes with added spices, and Sriracha sauce, which can be enhanced with spices for a closer match.

Chili oil and various hot sauces are also viable alternatives, especially when tailored for heat preference. Homemade harissa offers a personalized flavor and heat level, making it an excellent option.

For harissa powder, chili powder, Berbere spice, Tandoori masala, Old Bay seasoning, and red pepper flakes can be effective replacements, with adjustments for flavor and spiciness.

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