Whether you are a novice or a long-time lover of this popular spice, harissa is a cooking gem that can spice up any dish. If you’re out of harissa, however, there are a few substitutions that can be made in its place to add flavor, sweetness, and heat. So, without further ado, let’s delve into the many harissa substitutes you can use the next time you run out of this special spice.
What Is Harissa?
Originating in the northern edge of Africa, harissa has made its way into many countries and is enjoyed on everything from burgers to chicken, and even pasta. This unique blend of spices often includes caraway, garlic, coriander, and chilis and adds flavor and depth to everything it touches.
There are many variations of harissa with many containing different spices that others do not. As a result, it is recommended that you know what kind of harissa flavor you want to substitute so that you can achieve that desired flavor in whatever dish you are cooking.
In addition to variation in harissa flavors comes variation in texture as well. Harissa comes in two forms: paste and powder. Though the two taste nearly identical, which version you use will depend on the dish and the consistency needed for your dish to turn out the way you want it to.
How Does Harissa Taste?
Knowing how a spice actually tastes helps when trying to pick a substitute. Harissa is often described as having a smoky, peppery, citrus, and garlic flavor.
Therefore, you’ll need to pick substitutes that closely mimic this flavor. Keep reading for our picks for the best substitutes for harissa.
What Can You Substitute For Harissa?
Harissa has a very strong flavor that you’ll need to mimic if you want to substitute it with something else in a dish.
The following is a list of our favorite harissa substitutes:
- Chili Powder
- Red Chili Paste
- Ras El Hanout
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Hot Sauce
- Tandori Masala
- Red Pepper Flakes
- D.I.Y. Harissa
Can I Substitute Paprika For Harissa?
Hot paprika may be a good substitute for harissa. However, if you plan to use sweet paprika, just know that this spice may be a little too mild.
Having said that, there is another variety of paprika known as smoked paprika that might be a good fit especially if you throw a few red pepper flakes into the mix. Still, paprika isn’t our number one recommendation for a harissa substitute.
Instead of using paprika, you may wish to opt for chili powder. Chili powder has a flavor profile a bit closer to harissa, especially if you add a layer of heat to it with the addition of cayenne or red pepper flakes. Additionally, chili powder is highly commercialized and available at most markets, so this should be a feasible swap for anyone looking to substitute harissa powder.
Can I Use Red Curry Paste Instead of Harissa?
Yes, both red curry paste and red chili paste make great substitutes for harissa paste. Both contain flavors and ingredients that are fairly similar to that of harissa paste, and also, both contain the deep red hue that makes harissa so appealing! Use red curry paste, or better yet, Thai chili paste, at a 1:1 ratio to substitute for harissa.
Can I Substitute Chipotle for Harissa?
Chipotle powder can be substituted for harissa. However, the flavor profile is different.
Chipotle is a smoky powder that can work well in dishes that call for harissa as long as you like the taste of chipotle. Chipotle powder also tends to be red which can help you maintain the color of the dish you are swapping the harissa out for.
Can Sambal Oelek Replace Harissa?
Made with chili, vinegar, and other ingredients, sambal oelek makes a good substitution for harissa. But its taste is somewhat neutral.
Because of this difference, you may want to throw in a few extra spices that can mimic the harissa flavor such as garlic, caraway, coriander, and cumin, to make sambal oelek an even better substitution.
Harissa Substitute Gochujang
Gochujang makes a great harissa substitute, although the flavoring is a bit different due to the fermented soybeans within the gochujang sauce. Still, if you are in a bind and need a quick paste to substitute for your harissa paste then you can definitely use gochujang.
Can I Use Ras el Hanout Instead of Harissa?
Yes, you can use ras el hanout instead of harissa.
However, be aware that ras el hanout is not the same flavor as harissa. In fact, ras el hanout can contain anywhere from 8-to 30 spices, meaning that the flavor profile will be more complex when making this substitution. As such, you may wish to use only half the amount of ras el hanout that you would harissa to begin with. Then add a little more as you go to achieve the desired result.
Is Sriracha Similar to Harissa?
The flavor and heat in sriracha is very similar to that of harissa, though the two aren’t identical. Though sriracha is considered to be more of a sauce than a paste, you can still use it interchangeably with harissa. Use it at a 1:1 ratio without having to sacrifice too much in the way of taste and texture.
Rose harissa and harissa paste are the same thing, for the most part. The main difference is that rose harissa is made with rose petals and/or rose water, whereas traditional harissa paste may or may not contain these ingredients.
To substitute harissa powder for paste, consider adding a liquid to the harissa powder to achieve the same flavor. The best liquid to add to create a paste-like consistency is oil. To do this, mix four parts of harissa powder with one part oil and one part water.
If none of these substitutes suit your fancy or if you’d rather make harissa on your own, then you may wish to consider the following recipe to make harissa from scratch:
- 5 Smoked and Dried Chili Peppers
- 1 Tablespoon Cumin Seed
- 1 Tablespoon Coriander Seeds
- 1 Tablespoon Caraway Seeds
- ¼ Teaspoon of Whole Peppercorns
- 1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- ¼ Tablespoon Garlic Powder
- ½ Teaspoon Smoked Salt
- ½ Teaspoon Dried Parsley
- ½ Teaspoon Dried Oregano
How to make your own Harissa
Before starting, be sure to remove all seeds and stems from your dried chilies.
Once the seeds and stems are removed, place your chilis in a skillet and heat them on medium-low heat until heated through. Note: Ensure that all moisture has evaporated before moving on to the next step.
Once the chilis are heated through, place them on a cooling rack to cool.
Place your cumin, caraway, coriander seeds, and whole peppercorn in the skillet and toast them for a few minutes until fragrant.
Grind the seeds and chilis into a powder using a mortar and pestle.
Add the rest of your spices to the mix and continue to grind the mix until it reaches powdered consistency and is well blended.
*Adapted From Allrecipes.com
Harissa Substitutes Are Fairly Easy to Find
In general, harissa substitutes are easy to find, but harissa has a flavor that is one of a kind. Because of its unique flavor, you may not find a substitute that tastes exactly like harissa. However, many substitutes come very close.
Be sure to try making your own harissa using our recipe if none of the other substitutes suit your tastes.
More substitutes to explore: