4 Best Chili Sauce Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

In the wide world of spiced condiments, chili sauce substitutes can often provide the same heat that you’re looking for, although the flavor may vary slightly. Chili sauce is a blanket term for condiments made from primarily chili peppers. Some are very hot, some are mild, and there are even some sweet varieties.

Chili Sauce Substitutes

Most chili sauces are made with red peppers and occasionally with tomatoes. Green and yellow varieties exist, but they are less common. Chili sauce is used while cooking sauces, glazes, and marinades, and is usually considered different from ‘hot sauce’ which is thinner and has different flavor profiles. [1]

Commercial varieties of chili sauce include:

  • Sriracha sauce – Thick and uniform, bright red, garlicky, and very spicy
  • Sambal sauce – Thick with visible seeds, tangy, very spicy
  • Thai sweet chili sauce – Thick with visible seeds, balanced sweet and spicy

Spicy ketchup or hot sauce make for great chili sauce substitutes. When choosing between chili sauce substitutes, remember that all chili sauces are dynamic and unique, so your replacement should be as close to the consistency and temperature of the original chili sauce in the recipe.

A bowl of red sauce with red chilies around it

Only for tantalizing your taste buds! Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Hot Sauce

If all you need is a little heat, grab your favorite hot sauce. There are literally hundreds of varieties available and your grocery store will have plenty of options from major producers. Look for small-batch artisan hot sauces for unique flavors and add a dash (or more!) to spice up noodles, pizza or soups. [2]

Spicy Ketchup

This is a great option if you only want a little heat. It will add back the sweetness that you’re missing from some chili sauces and is great for thickening sauces and glazes. However, regular ketchup might make the flavor lean too far towards tomato, so make sure there is a bit of spice included.

Hot Sauce and Honey

Sweet and spicy is a classic combination that is common in Asian and American Southern cooking. Start with 2 parts hot sauce to 1 part honey and adjust to your taste. [3]

Close-up of two jars with sauce, a chili placed atop, chili pieces scattered around and coriander leaves at the back

Fiery Tobasco sauce. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Make Your Own

Do you like lots of heat? Or barely any at all? You can simply make your own chili sauce to get the perfect spice level for you. Blend red chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt, then cook with shallots to make homemade sriracha. Add lemongrass, tamarind, or lime zest to make sambal sauce. For a sweet chili sauce, add sugar or plum sauce. Adjust the number of hot chilies to your taste and enjoy a creation that’s perfect for you.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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