What Does Harissa Taste Like?

You might not have ever heard of harissa, which is why you ask what it tastes like. Harissa is a little known blend of a condiment and a sauce, though once we tell you what’s in it, you might realize you’ve had it before.

So what does harissa taste like? Is it actually that familiar to most?

Harissa is meant to taste smoky and peppery with a variety of amounts of heat. Expect some garlic and some citrus at the same time.

What is harissa’s flavor profile? How does it get that flavor?

Harissa is a pretty simple recipe that creates a fiery, roasted flavor.

You’ll start with chile peppers, most often of the red variety. These can include Tunisian baklouti peppers. Other options include New Mexico peppers and guajillo. 

Any pepper that ads the kind of spicy and acidity you can handle will do. 

Most harissa recipes also include a variety of warm spices that give it a deeper kick. Spices include coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds. The blend of spices adds a bit more heat than just pepper, and contrasts well the rest of the ingredients.

For additional acidity and a balance of citrus flavor, harissa is often mixed with vinegar and lemon juice. Lemon juice gives a non-spicy bite to harissa. More can be added if you like the citrus flavor and want less heat.

Finally, another common ingredient in harissa is garlic. Garlic has a strong flavor without being excessively spicy

Garlic is often the strongest actual flavor in harissa, followed the the earthy acid flavors or peppers.

What taste does harissa compare to?

Have you tried sriracha? We bet you have. Sriracha is similar in taste, though it’s actually a more simple recipe. Sriracha primarily uses garlic, peppers, and salt. The taste isn’t as complex, though depending on the balance and strength of peppers, they can be equally hot and spicy.

Some diet preferences also compare harissa to chili paste. Harissa adds more flavors with the inclusion of spices. Chili paste is traditionally just a mix of pureed chili and sometimes oil or water with few spices.

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What is the texture of harissa?

The texture of harissa depends in part on the kind of harissa. Harissa is most popular as a paste, sauce, or a powder.

Harissa powder is more of a dried spice blend. The texture will blend in with the dish being made, though of course if you do eat the powder directly, it will be grainier. 

You can get some more thickness out of making a harissa paste. Harissa pastes’ thickness comes from either additional oil or water, with oil adding the thickness needed to make harissa into a dip. Harissa pasta is closer to mayonnaise, and often uses mayonnaise as a thickener. Harissa pasta and mayonnaise will have a thicker texture, and will taste lighter with mayonnaise.

Harissa sauce uses less oil or water and is more spreadable, and more likely to drip. The actual texture of harissa sauce depends on the ingredients used, but can be thicker than some ketchups and have a grainy, lumpy appearance.

How can I use harissa in a recipe?

Harissa has a big variety of uses. Since harissa is not a main dish, it can be added to just about anything or used as a simple dip.

The most common uses of harissa are as follows:

  • Burgers: use harissa as a topping or mix the sauce, powder, or pasta in with the beef before cooking.
  • Chicken wings: Harissa is great for a chicken wing sauce. Add honey to your harissa for a complex, sweet flavor.
  • Hummus: Hummus isn’t always very exciting. Adding some harissa powder can liven it up a bit.
  • Meat rub: Including harissa in your sauce or pasta can add some spice to meats. Harissa is savory and adds some moisture too
  • Salad dressing: harissa sauce adds spice to greens
  • Vegetables: Veggies are less boring with harissa. Bake the harissa in, dip it, or drizzle the harissa sauce on.
  • Eggs: 

As you can see, harissa’s primary use is making other dishes more exciting and spicy. If a meat, veggie or otherwise is not as tasty as you wish – or even dry, harissa can seriously enhance the flavor.

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Is harissa good for you?

Most any sauce or condiment that mixes vegetables and spices is good for you. 

The best part about harissa is how the sauce, paste, or powder compares to similar sauces. Many sauces like ketchup, or even sriracha can contain a good amount of salt. Harissa uses other, less salty spices to gain its flavor, and is a bit healthier for you.

The compounds within the chilies are also good antioxidants and can help build and maintain your immune system.

Fat and calories are also not a worry with most harissa blends. Paste has an amount of oil, so consider looking at the ingredients label when purchasing harissa pasta to see what the fat content can be.

Also note that anything spicy tends to speed up your metabolism, which is great when you need to burn energy or are on a diet.

Where can I find harissa?

Harissa is easy to find at most grocery stores, including stores that specialize in Middle Eastern of Mexican cuisines. You’ll often find it as a sauce or in a packet as a powder.

Harissa can also be made in your kitchen. You can puree the kind of peppers you like best and mix them with the suggested spices. 


Harissa is a unique spice that is strong, peppery, and spicy. The blend of chili peppers adds a spicy zest to many dishes and can also be used as a dip for chips or pita bread. 

Harissa compares well with other sauces like sriracha and chili pasta, but can be hotter and tends to add more spices to produce a more complex flavor.

Try it with some chips or add the sauce to your burge.