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Ever wonder what the difference between chili peppers and chile peppers is?
It’s simple. Location. Location. Location.
Chili pepper and chile pepper both refer to the same types of peppers. The only difference is the spelling, which varies depending on what country or region you are in.
Many pepper enthusiasts prefer the spelling “chile” when referring to their beloved peppers and to them, “chili” is that wonderful dish served alongside some homemade cornbread! But we aren’t talking chili with cornbread today. We’re talking chili paste substitutes!
Chili paste is a great way to add a lot of flavor to your dishes without costing a lot of money. A little goes a long way. If you enjoy peppers, it’s a great addition to your cost-effective kitchen!
What is Chili Paste?
The term “chili paste” is a broad term that many people use interchangeably to describe pastes, sauces, and condiments that contain chili peppers.
There are many variations of chili paste on the market. Generic pastes contain peppers, vinegar, salt, and seasonings such as garlic or onion powder. These are often referred to as garlic chili pastes.
Specialty varieties include Thai chili paste, Mexican chili paste, and Harissa chili paste to name a few. Each specialty variety has unique flavor profiles.
For example, harissa chili pastes can contain spices such as cumin, coriander, and sumac.
Thai chili pastes will often contain some type of fish sauce or shrimp paste as well as tamarind.
Mexican chili pastes often use a blend of peppers including chipotle, ancho, guajillo, and pasilla.
What Can You Use As A Substitute For Chili Paste?
I wish I could give you a clear answer but there isn’t one. The substitute you choose will depend on the type of chili paste you are trying to substitute for.
Please keep in mind, when you are trying to substitute for a particular brand of chili paste, the taste will not be the same. Your goal should be to substitute something similar that will enhance your recipe, not ruin it.
Let’s take a closer look at a few popular types of chili pastes and their best substitutes.
Garlic Chili Paste Substitute
Garlic chili pastes are your more generic pastes. They usually contain chili peppers, salt, vinegar, and garlic.
They can be used in a variety of dishes across many cuisines.
The best substitute for generic chili paste would probably be a cayenne-based or a Sriracha hot sauce, cayenne or pepper flakes, garlic, and maybe a dash of distilled vinegar.
How much of each to use?
Well, that depends on the brand of chili paste you are using. You know what your brand tastes like.
First, start with whatever hot sauce you have on hand.
A cayenne-based sauce or Sriracha would probably be your best bet. Louisiana-style hot sauces are vinegar-based and will likely impart more of a vinegar taste than Sriracha or cayenne-based sauces.
Then, mix in a little cayenne, or crushed red pepper flakes. Add a little garlic, powdered or minced should work. You may also want to add a pinch of onion powder.
Combine the ingredients. Taste it? Does it need more of a kick? If so, add more spice. Need more tang, add a touch of white vinegar.
Keep tweaking it until you feel it is close to your normal brand of chili garlic paste.
Thai Chili Paste Substitute
Thai chili paste is a little more challenging to substitute for because it usually includes a fish sauce or shrimp paste and tamarind as well as onions, garlic, vinegar, and oil.
The more ingredients, the harder it will be to find a suitable substitute.
When trying to find a good substitute for this, I would first check out Amazon for the brand you usually buy and read the ingredients label to see what other spices it contains. Then, you’ll have a better idea about which ingredients you should use as substitutes.
Once you know the ingredients in your favorite brand, determine if you need a paste or liquid. If you need a paste and tomato paste that would work with your recipe, mix in a little tomato paste. If not and liquid is ok, just go with your pepper sauce, fish sauce, and spices.
Keep mixing the same or similar ingredients a little at a time until you get close to your chili paste brand.
Hot Chili Paste Substitute
When looking for a hot chili paste substitute, the best option is a hot sauce that has been brewed.
What is a brewed hot sauce?
A brewed hot sauce is made by boiling the ingredients in a pot of water for an extended period of time.
It tastes much better than a bottled hot sauce because the flavor of the peppers and other ingredients has been allowed to develop.
However, if you are looking for something milder and less time-consuming, a simple store-bought sauce can be used instead.
Some of the most popular mild sauces are Sriracha, Tobasco Original Mild Sauce, or Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
The flavor will not be as spicy, but it should still have enough heat to satisfy your palate and give you that same spicy kick without being overwhelming.
In addition to the bottled sauces, you could also add a few red pepper flakes to quickly and easily kick up the heat level.
Ancho Chile Paste Substitute
Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers, which are typically a milder type of chili pepper with a smoky, fruity flavor.
This type of chili paste is often used to flavor moles, soups, stews, and a variety of other dishes where a subtle, smoky flavor is desired.
If you don’t have ancho chile paste, try substituting ancho chili powder or a combination of chili powder and red pepper flakes. You could also substitute smoky paprika with a few crushed red pepper flakes.
Steps To Create a Suitable Homemade Chili Paste Substitute
Step 1: Know the ingredients in your current brand. Read the label or if you no longer have the bottle, look up the ingredient label on Amazon or Google.
Step 2: Determine whether your dish needs a paste or if a sauce is acceptable. Ask yourself, does thickness matter? Is texture more important or the flavors? Are you willing to cook a sauce? Is the spice level key to your dish?
Step 3: Choose your pepper substitute. Will you use Sriracha, a Louisiana-style sauce, or a cayenne-based sauce? Will you use fresh red chilies or cayenne peppers? Or must you use dried peppers?
Step 4: Add in additional ingredients you need based on your label research to create a homemade chili paste mixture. Pay special attention as to whether your favorite brand uses vinegar, sugar, or oils.
What To Do When You Have No Hot Sauce?
If you find yourself out of chili paste and out of all hot sauces, then reach for ground cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. It won’t taste the same but should give you a similar flavor profile and some heat. I would probably start out by adding ¼ to ½ teaspoon and going from there.
You could also use chile powder, smoked paprika, or sweet paprika.
If you really want a paste, mix in the dried spices with a little olive oil or a different oil until you get the right consistency.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where Is Chili Paste In Grocery Store?
Chili paste can usually be found in the International section of your grocery store, in specialty stores, and many online retailers.
Is Chili Sauce and Chili Paste The Same Thing?
While both use peppers as a main ingredient, chili sauces will often have other seasonings as well as vinegar. Chili pastes, on the other hand, are thicker and often have fewer ingredients.
Is Chili Paste Spicy?
All chili pastes have a bit of spiciness. Some are hotter than others. The heat level will vary by brand.
Can I Substitute Tomato Paste?
I wouldn’t use this as a substitute unless my dish was a tomato-based dish and I needed the thickness of a paste. In that case, I would make a spicy tomato paste.
To this, simply mix in cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika, or chile powder into the tomato paste.
If your recipe calls for vinegar, I’d omit it until after you’ve added your spicy tomato paste. You may not need it due to the acidity in the tomatoes.
Final Recommendation From Cost-Effective Kitchen
Chili paste is one of those ingredients that provides you with a lot of bang for your buck. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find suitable substitutions. I find it takes too much time and energy to come up with a great substitute.
Instead of substituting, I do my best to ensure I NEVER run out of my favorite chili garlic paste. I’ll even avoid certain recipes if I am out of it. Getting dinner on the table is hard enough without having to spend time “creating” a chili paste substitute.
Until next time…