Fire Up Your Tastebuds: Your Guide to the Best Chili Paste

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If you love a hit of spice with your food, you’ll want to stock up on various types of chili paste to add a kick to any meal. Discover the different kinds of chili paste, what they taste like, what ingredients they contain, and how to use them.

Gochujang in a bowl with a spoonful held above the bowl.
Image source: Istockphoto.

Spicy red chili paste is a versatile condiment that can give any dish a welcome kick. The thick, spreadable paste combines chili peppers with additional ingredients like garlic, oil, sugar, spices, and vinegar. Add this spicy paste to a wide variety of dishes — burgers, sandwiches, wraps, sauces, salad dressings,  curries, and more.

Several chile peppers are made into chili paste, each with a unique flavor and heat profile. One of the most popular is the jalapeño pepper, which has a medium level of heat and a slightly sweet, fruity flavor. 

Other common peppers to make into chili paste are serrano peppers, which are a bit hotter than the jalapeño, and the even hotter Thai bird’s eye chili, commonly used in Thai cuisine to add intense heat and a pleasant floral flavor.

Other chile peppers made into chile paste include Korean gochugaru peppers, Mexican ancho and guajillo peppers, Indian Kashmiri peppers, or extra spicy Scotch bonnets. Ultimately, the choice of chile pepper used in chili paste depends on personal preference and the desired flavor profile of the dish.

Low angle shot of a bowl of sriracha with spoons and lime wedges.
Sriracha. Photo credit: Yayimages.

How To Use Chili Paste

You can use chili paste in various ways, depending on your dish. Here are some ideas:

  • Marinades: Mix chili paste like sriracha, sambal oelek, or gochujang with soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, and garlic for a flavorful marinade for meats or tofu. Or mix Calabrian chile paste, peri peri, or harissa with olive oil and fresh herbs like thyme or oregano.
  • Dips or Dipping Sauces: Add chili paste to sour cream, yogurt, or mayonnaise for a spicy dip that’s perfect for chips or veggies.
  • Stir-Fry Sauce: Stir fry vegetables, tofu, meat, and noodles with a blend of Asian chili paste, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce for a flavorful and spicy meal.
  • Soups and Stews: Add a spoonful of chili paste to soups or stews for flavor and heat.
  • Condiment: Use chili paste as a condiment for burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, or noodles. It’s a great way to add heat and flavor to your favorite foods.
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“We use a lot of different styles of chili pastes at home, from harissa, gochujang, Ghanaian umami-rich ‘shito,’ and ‘ata din din,’ a traditional Nigerian pepper paste with Scotch bonnet peppers,” says Shruthi Baskaran-Makanju of Urban Farmie. “But my favorite has to be gochujang! It’s so versatile, so I love using it in everything from salad dressings, sandwich spreads, compound butters, and marinades.”

Types of Chili Paste

There are dozens of types of chili paste. Here are some of the most common chili paste varieties.

Calabrian Chile Paste

Calabrian chili paste comes from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Locally grown Calabrian roasted chile peppers are crushed with olive oil, salt, and vinegar to make this spicy-sweet condiment. It sometimes contains other ingredients like herbs or garlic. 

This bright red paste has a hint of smoke, is fruity and slightly sweet, and packs a serious punch of heat. It’s a staple in many Italian kitchens, adding flavor to pasta sauces, pizzas, sandwiches, and more.

Chipotle peppers in a bowl with fresh red peppers on the side.
Chipotle peppers. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Chipotle Paste

Mexican chipotle chili paste combines smoked jalapeno peppers, garlic, and vinegar. The smoked jalapenos have a distinctive flavor, making them a great addition to marinades, barbecue sauces, or a standalone condiment.

With its thick texture and intense red hue, chipotle paste is a terrific way to add heat to any meal. In addition to being a fantastic condiment for burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches due to its spiciness, its smoky taste also makes an excellent addition to stews, soups, and sauces.

Popular Mexican meals that call for chipotle paste include enchiladas, mole sauce, and chili con carne. Yet, many chefs in different culinary traditions also use it to impart a smokey taste to their food. With its distinctive flavor and adaptability, chipotle paste is perfect for spicing up your culinary creations with a touch of smoke and heat. 


The Korean chili paste, gochujang, is a fermented mixture of gochugaru chili peppers, soybeans, and rice. This paste is excellent for marinades or stir-fries because of its robust flavor, which combines sweet and salty notes. Gochujang is a rich crimson color with a smokiness that lends complexity to any meal.

Bibimbap, tteokbokki, Bulgogi, and Korean Fried Chicken are just a few examples of the many recipes that include this ingredient. Sandwiches, burgers, noodles, and tacos may all benefit from the addition of gochujang’s fiery flavor as a condiment. Because its robust flavor is so adaptable, it has gained widespread popularity among chefs worldwide.

If you’re interested in giving a meal a bit of a Korean twist, try adding gochujang because of its distinctive flavor and wide range of possible applications.

Harissa paste in a canning jar with ingredients scattered around the table.
Harissa paste. Photo credit: Robin Donovan.

Harissa Paste

Originating in North Africa, harissa is a chili paste with a robust and nuanced flavor. This paste is delicious, versatile, and made by pounding together roasted red peppers, garlic, and spices like cumin and coriander. With its smoky-sweet flavor profile, harissa is perfect for elevating the taste of stews, soups, and marinades. It adds a blast of heat to a wide range of meals and is a staple in Moroccan and Tunisian cooking.

The heat level of harissa varies from brand to brand, so it’s vital to pick one that suits your personal preferences. You can even make harissa paste at home. Use it as a condiment or an ingredient in cooking — it’s a versatile and delicious ingredient to keep in your pantry. Try it in harissa chicken or harissa vinaigrette.

“After our amazing trip to Monastir in Tunisia, we started using its famous harissa paste in all kinds of stews and dips, but one of our favorite uses is as a spread on a sandwich. It gets those taste buds popping!” — Corrine Vail, Reflections Enroute

Whether you’re using it to add some extra flavor to your roasted vegetables or to give your tagine a spicy kick, harissa is a must-try ingredient that will bring a taste of North Africa to your cooking.

“Pili pili sauce is a spicy and slightly tangy condiment originating in East Africa. It’s made with fiery hot peppers, along with other flavorful seasonings. It is perfect for adding heat and flavor to various dishes, from grilled meats to seafood and vegetables. Try it as a marinade, dipping sauce, or even as a topping for pizza or burgers.” — Kate Hahnel, We Eat at Last

Overhead shot of peri peri sauce in a bowl with fresh red peppers on the side.
Peri peri sauce. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Peri Peri or Pili Pili

Mozambican and Angolan cuisines are known for their use of peri peri, a type of hot pepper paste. The bird’s eye chili peppers, garlic, and vinegar or lemon juice in this raw sauce give it a bright, tangy flavor and a powerful burst of heat.

Pili pili is the East African version found in Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa. This version is cooked and contains no acid like vinegar or lemon juice.

Both of these work well as a marinade for meat, especially chicken. Use it to spice up and enrich the flavor of African stews, soups, and dips. Peri peri has skyrocketed in popularity recently, and now you’ll find it in recipes and restaurant dishes worldwide. Several supermarkets now stock peri peri sauces and marinades, allowing home cooks access to this smoky, delicious condiment.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste that has become popular around the world for its spicy kick with a hint of tart vinegar. It blends fresh red chili peppers with salt and vinegar, creating a thick, chunky paste. It’s a multipurpose seasoning that works well as either a condiment or an ingredient in cooking.

You will also find a sambal oelek-style garlic chili paste alongside the more basic version.

Use it in Crispy Beef or to spice up stir-fries, marinades, and soups, or pass it around the table to spice up your own meal. The bright and acidic taste makes it a wonderful complement to Asian and non-Asian cuisines.


Shatta is a fiery Middle Eastern hot sauce that’s increasingly popular worldwide. It blends fresh hot red or green peppers with garlic, herbs, and spices. The exact ingredients and ratios vary depending on the recipe and the region. Still, the result is always a flavorful and spicy sauce perfect for adding to various dishes.

Shatta is an incredibly versatile condiment, marinade, or cooking ingredient. It pairs well with grilled meats, roasted vegetables, shawarma, falafel, hummus,  and more.

The heat level of shatta can vary depending on the peppers used and how much of the seeds and membranes are included in the sauce. Some versions are milder and more herbaceous, while others are incredibly spicy and pack a serious punch. Whether you’re a heat-seeker or just looking to add extra flavor to your meals, shatta is definitely worth trying.

“Shatta is my go-to homemade hot sauce — it’s ready in minutes and is a game-changer for any savory dish, adding a fiery kick that elevates even the simplest of meals.” — Janelle Hama, Plant Based Folk

Low angle shot of a bowl of sriracha with spoons and lime wedges.
Sriracha. Photo credit: Yayimages.


The Thai chili paste sriracha is quite well-known across the world. It has a sweet and tangy flavor with moderate heat since it contains chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. While many people use it as a condiment to spice up their eggs, sandwiches, sushi, and pizza, it is also a helpful ingredient in the kitchen to enhance the taste of stir-fries and marinades.

Make it into a dipping sauce or a salad dressing like Sriracha Ranch. Anyone with a penchant for heat and searching for a condiment with wide application should try this.

The Final Word

Chili paste is a versatile and delicious condiment that can add flavor and heat to any dish. With so many different types available, there’s sure to be one that suits your taste. And with the ability to use chili paste in so many different ways, it’s a great ingredient to keep in your kitchen. So, the next time you want to spice things up, try chili paste!

This article originally appeared on All Ways Delicious.

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