6 of the Best Chili Oil Substitutes

Chili oil is a staple condiment in many Asian cuisines. It has a smokiness to it along with spice from the chili, making it a great option to drizzle over stir fry or even dip sushi into. However, sometimes you cannot get high-quality chili oil, especially if you don’t live near an Asian market.

Some of the best chili oil substitutes are:

  1. Cayenne pepper
  2. Sweet chili sauce
  3. Chili flakes
  4. Sriracha
  5. Soy sauce
  6. Chili garlic oil

Each of these is made with different ingredients and some are a closer match to chili oil than others. However, all of them can be customized with other spices so you can get the perfect chili oil substitute for you. 

What is Chili Oil Made of?

Chili oil is typically made of crushed dried chili pepper that has been soaked in a mixture of oil, vinegar, salt, and sometimes sugar. It is usually heated to infuse the oil with the chili flavor and then stored in a jar.

You can use chili oil as a condiment to add spice to whatever food you’d like. Just drizzle a spoonful over the top of your food and you’re good to go.

What Can I Replace Chili Oil With?

There are multiple things that you can replace chili oil with depending on the recipe that you’re using it in. Make sure to pay careful attention to the flavors that your recipe already has so you can find the substitute that will complement those flavors the most. 

1. Cayenne Pepper

One of the best substitutes for hot chili oil is cayenne pepper. This is a small red pepper that originated in South America and packs a powerful spicy punch. With just a small amount of this pepper, you can add a lot of heat to your recipe making it a great staple seasoning for the spice-lovers of the world.

One of the reasons that this pepper is one of the best substitutes for chili oil is that cayenne pepper is often one of the main ingredients in chili oil. If you use this you’ll know that you’re getting a very similar flavor to what you would get if you used the normal ingredients.

One thing to remember is that when you’re using a single pepper variety as a substitute, it’s going to lack depth. You’re probably going to need to add a couple of other spices to enhance the overall flavor of the recipe.

2. Sweet Chili Sauce

If you love the overall flavor of chili oil but simply can’t take the heat, sweet chili sauce could be the way to go. This sauce is made with chiles, but they usually have the seeds removed before they are processed. Doing this helps to reduce the overall heat level while still maintaining the flavors from the different peppers.

Sugar is usually also on the ingredient list and helps to add depth to the recipe. This can be especially tasty if you’re making something like a curry or a beef dish where the slight sweetness blends very well with the other ingredients.

If you like a lot of spice in your food, you may want to consider adding a little extra spice to the sweet chili sauce. The easiest way to do this is by adding chili flakes into the sauce and allowing them to rehydrate so they release their flavors.

3. Chili Flakes

Speaking of chili flakes, they have more of a use than just using them to kick up the heat level of your sweet chili sauce. You can also use this spice on its own as a substitute for chili oil. The key to getting the flavor close to the original is picking the right type of chili flakes.

Chili flakes come in many different varieties. You can find chili flakes made from cayenne peppers, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, habanero peppers, or a mixture of all of those. 

If you are looking to imitate the flavor of chili oil as closely as possible, you may want to try red pepper flakes. This is typically a mix of multiple different types of peppers that have been dehydrated, crushed, and then packaged. 

Since the flavor of the chili flakes is made from multiple types of peppers, you’re going to get a lot more depth of flavor than you would with something like cayenne pepper. To get the closest match, try reading the ingredients of your favorite chili oil and matching the recipes as closely as possible.

4. Sriracha

Another popular substitute for chili oil is sriracha. This sauce is a Vietnamese condiment that has become popular all over the world. One of the most common ways to eat it is as a topping for pho, but you can eat it in a variety of ways.

This sauce is usually made from a mixture of chili paste, vinegar, garlic, salt, and sugar. This makes for a somewhat spicy sauce that has a strong vinegar taste. If you are a fan of things like sauerkraut and kimchi, chances are you’re going to like this pungent sauce as well.

Make sure to taste sriracha before using it and make sure that you think it will be a good substitute in your recipe.

5. Soy Sauce

Maybe you like the overall umami and savory flavor of chili oil but you could do without any of the spiciness. In these cases, soy sauce is a great substitute. It is made from fermented soybeans and has a salty and umami flavor. 

If you are going to use soy sauce diluted to flavor a dish, it is recommended to use dark soy sauce instead of regular soy sauce. This soy sauce has a more intense flavor and you won’t have to use as much of it to flavor your recipe. 

If you’d still like to add a little bit of spice you can do this easily with some chili flakes. Just soak a small amount of chili flakes in the soy sauce for several hours before you use it. This will infuse the soy sauce with a spicy flavor. Alternatively, you can also add in some wasabi for a more traditional spicy soy sauce.

6. Chili Garlic Oil

For a hot chili oil substitute that has even more flavor than regular chili oil, try chili garlic oil. You can either purchase this product in stores or make it on your own with a few simple ingredients. Making your own will allow you to further customize the flavor of your oil so it can be exactly how you want it.

To make your own chili garlic oil you’ll need to start off with a neutral oil, avocado oil or grapeseed oil are good choices. That way you won’t have to worry about the flavor of the oil impacting the flavor of the other ingredients.

Next, you’ll need fresh crushed or minced garlic and your crushed chiles. If you can, try and get a variety of different peppers as this will make for a more flavorful sauce and it will be extra delicious. You can also add vinegar, salt, and sugar to taste to balance out all of the flavors.

Now you will add all of these ingredients to a jar and mix them together. Once everything has been combined you will want to heat it up in a pan. This is what will really open up the flavors of the peppers and allow them to infuse the oil. Make sure to do this over a low heat so the peppers and the oil do not burn. 

Once the oil has reached a red color and smells fragrant it’s time to take it off the heat. Let it cool and then store the oil in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. This will help to keep the chili oil as flavorful as possible and prevent spoilage.

How to Choose a Chili Oil Substitute

When you are choosing a chili oil substitute, there are two main things you need to consider, the flavor and the spice level.

Although all of these are in the same category as chili oil, they are made with different ingredients and have different flavors. This means that in some recipes the flavors will mesh well while in others they could clash completely. Consider how you’re going to be using the chili oil before you pick your substitute.

The second thing that you should consider is the spice level. Some of these chili oil substitutes are spicier than regular chili oil whereas others are not even close to as spicy. If you like a lot of spice, you’ll want to pick something like garlic chili oil or cayenne pepper. If you’d like to reduce the amount of spice, soy sauce or sweet chili sauce might be a better choice.

Final Thoughts

If you like spicy food, chili oil is a must-have in your kitchen. This oil is infused with spicy chilis to give any of your favorite foods a peppery kick. 

If you can’t find chili oil in your local stores, there are plenty of other options that you can use as substitutes. For a milder choice try something like sweet chili sauce drizzled over your favorite stir fry. To add some extra heat, sprinkle a generous amount of cayenne pepper over your meal.

If you’d like, you can even make your own chili garlic oil with a few simple ingredients. This is the best option if you really want to be able to customize the flavors of your sauce so you get it exactly how you want it.