Those who have had the pleasure of cooking with harissa seasoning or paste, will know that it possesses a flavor like no other.
It’s incredibly rich, complex, and gloriously spicy. It also has a unique freshness to it that many other seasonings don’t have, due to the addition of dried mint.
It’s the perfect spice to use if you’re planning on cooking Middle Eastern or North African dishes, or if you just want something simple to season your meat.
It’s an incredibly versatile spice, and can be used for a whole range of different food items.
The only issue is, it’s not always available at your local grocery store.
If you’ve just recently run out of your favorite spice, and are looking for a substitute, then look no further.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the very best substitutions that you can employ today.
Of course, they won’t emulate the flavors provided by the harissa perfectly, but they will be similar enough so that you can still make a delicious meal.
To find out more, simply keep reading below, as we take a closer look.
What Is Harissa?
Before we jump straight into our list, and take a look at some of the very best substitutes, let’s take a look at what harissa actually is.
Harissa paste is essentially made from a few key ingredients.
You will find that it contains olive oil, ground chillies, mint, and other spices.
It has some complex flavor notes, and if you pick up a tube of harissa paste, it will have citrusy notes, as well as garlicky and smoky flavors.
Depending on your tolerance, harissa is considered to be quite spicy.
In the USA, it’s actually often used as a condiment rather than a flavoring. Many people will opt to dip other food items such as pizzas and chicken in harissa sauce.
These sauces can either be smooth, or chunky in texture.
Harissa sauce and harissa paste are made from the same primary ingredients, but the sauce will have more water added to the mix to achieve its consistency.
When it comes to harissa powder, it contains the same primary ingredients that make the flavor so unique, but without the wet ingredients.
Typically, when you find a jar of harissa powder in your local grocery store, you’ll find that it’s been marked by spice level.
This is because harissa can vary greatly in terms of heat, depending on the variety that you purchase.
The Very Best Substitutes For Harissa Paste
Now that we’ve taken a look at what harissa is made up of, we can move on to discuss some of the very best substitutions that you can try.
Thankfully, many of the ones mentioned on the list below will be spices that you’ll already have in your pantry.
Choose your alternative spice based on the specific dish you’re making, and the flavors that you want to achieve.
1. Sriracha Sauce
If you’re making a dish that you simply want to add a little bit of added spice to, then we’d recommend that you consider adding some sriracha sauce.
This sauce is very similar in terms of consistency when you’re trying to emulate your paste, and despite being more watery, it does boast some similar flavors.
If you want to achieve that perfect garlicky, spicy flavor that harissa provides, then we think that sriracha is absolutely perfect for your needs.
Sriracha is made from a few primary ingredients, some of which are also found in harissa spice. It’s made from sugar, garlic, peppers, and vinegar.
If you want to make your dish emulate the flavors provided by harissa, then we’d recommend adding a little bit of cumin along with your sriracha sauce too.
The addition of cumin will help to balance out the sweetness of the sriracha sauce, and give it more of an earthy, savory flavor.
2. Chili Oil
If you want to find something incredibly simple to replace your harissa paste, then we’d recommend simply picking up a bottle of chili oil.
Chili oil is one of those staples that we believe everyone should have in their household.
Chili oil can be used in all manner of different dishes, including sauces, frying, or simply for drizzling over your dinner.
It’s incredibly versatile, and if you don’t already have a bottle at home, then we’d recommend picking one up today.
Chili oil makes a great substitute for harissa paste, simply because of the heat it brings to the dish.
The oil typically also has chili flakes added to the mix, which is a primary ingredient in harissa.
We would recommend that you pay attention to how much chili oil you’re using in the dish however, as it will make the dish far wetter than paste.
This will require some alterations on your part. You don’t want to risk making the dish too oily and rich.
The best thing about chili oil is that you can find it in almost every grocery store, so if you’ve just run out of harissa paste, you can easily pick this up as a replacement.
3. Piri Piri Sauce
If you simply don’t have any harissa paste at hand, then another substitution that we’d recommend trying is piri piri sauce.
Piri piri sauce is widely available at grocery stores, and is perfect for replacing your harissa.
They both come from the same family, and share a lot of similar flavor notes.
The only trouble that you might have with this replacement is the consistency. Paste is, of course, incredibly thick, and is used to make your dish denser.
Piri piri sauce, on the other hand, will make the dish wetter. Depending on the specific recipe you’re using, it’s up to you to decide whether piri piri is suitable or not.
In terms of flavor, however, we think that piri piri is absolutely perfect for the purpose of replacing harissa.
It’s been made from something called African bird’s eye chillies, which give it that signature spice we all know and love.
It also has lots of salt, garlic and lemon (see also “Best Meyer Lemon Recipes“) added to the mix. These secondary ingredients give it a flavor that’s very similar to harissa.
Make sure that you check the spice level on your piri piri sauce, as it varies depending on the brand that you choose.
4. Thai Red Curry Paste
Depending on the dish that you’re planning on making, it might be impossible to replace it with anything other than a paste.
Sometimes, when we’re making a sauce based dish, paste is a primary ingredient because of the thickening properties that it possesses.
If you can’t bypass this, then we’d recommend that you use some Thai red curry paste as a suitable replacement.
In terms of flavor, we actually think that Thai curry paste is quite similar to harissa. It even has the same garlicky flavor that we all know and love.
The key difference between the two is that Thai curry paste tends to be far milder than the latter.
If you have the option when picking up your paste, make sure that you choose a hotter variety to emulate the taste more closely.
Don’t worry if you can’t find an appropriately spiced red curry paste however, as this can be rectified with the addition of some powdered spices.
In order to achieve the same spice level as harissa, add some hot chili powder to the mix. You can add more or less, depending on how spicy you want the dish to be.
5. Tomato Paste
If you’re looking for something incredibly simple to use as a replacement for harissa paste, that you already have stored safely in your pantry, then we’d recommend using some simple tomato paste.
It’s great for achieving the same texture as harissa paste, albeit, tomato paste can be a little bit thicker (see also “Best Stewed Tomato Recipes“).
You can adjust the consistency however simply by adding in some water. Oil will also work well for this purpose.
One of the great things about tomato paste is that it’s incredibly similar to harissa in terms of appearance. Both boast that robust reddish color that helps to make dishes look so appealing.
It also has some similar flavor notes, and we absolutely love the tanginess provided by the tomato, which is also found in harissa.
It’s also great for replacing a number of different dishes.
You can use tomato paste as a substitution in soups, sauces, and even in dips, depending on what you plan on making.
The only thing that you’ll need to take care of when using tomato paste as a substitution is the specific flavors.
Although it makes a good base, you’re going to need to add in some spices to the mix.
We’d recommend that you use some hot chili powder, as well as some cumin for that perfect flavor. You’ll need to experiment a little to get it just right.
Another incredibly simple ingredient that we’d recommend as a replacement for harissa is pesto.
Some of you might be surprised by this addition on the list, because of its discrepancy in appearance.
However, despite the fact that pesto is a vibrant green, and harissa is a deep red, they do boast some similar flavors.
Most notably, pesto has garlic, olive oil, and basil, all of which are found in harissa spice.
You can also pick up some spicy pesto in your local grocery store, and this will help to give you that additional spicy flavor, as well as providing a more similar color.
They do vary in terms of texture, but you’ll find that pesto sauce is far wetter than harissa paste.
This means that it might not work for every dish, but if you don’t need a paste in order to thicken a sauce, this is a great substitute.
If you still want to use it for its flavors, but are concerned about the texture, then we’d recommend using some tomato paste too.
There are a few additional ingredients to pesto that vary from harissa, most notably the pine nuts.
These do have a distinctive flavor, but so long as you don’t mind a little nuttiness in the dish, it doesn’t matter too much.
If you tend to buy harissa paste that isn’t too hot, then this is also a great choice.
You can add in as much or as little spice to your pesto as you desire. Pesto makes a perfect substitution for harissa paste if you’re planning on making a pasta based dish.
To sum up, there are a whole host of different substitutions that you can use in place of harissa paste.
Simply take a look at our list above, and choose the ones which are most appropriate for the dish you’re trying to emulate.