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All About Calabrian Chili Paste Including 7 Substitute Ingredients

When it comes to spicy food, chili peppers are crucial for adding hot flavor to a variety of recipes. These peppers can be made into a paste, and that’s where Calabrian chili paste comes in. Grown only in Calabria (the boot of Italy), this chili pepper is many times hotter than jalapeño peppers. Since it’s very spicy, it can be added to all kinds of recipes to give them a little extra flavor.

However, since these peppers are grown in a tiny part of Italy, they aren’t always available at the local supermarket. Fortunately, there are substitutes that have a similar effect.

Before we get to Calabrian chili paste alternatives, we’ll learn a bit more about these peppers and why they’re so versatile for many different dishes.

What is Calabrian chili paste?

Calabrian chili paste is made primarily from Calabrian chilies, which are natively grown in Calabria, Italy. These peppers, synonymous with Italian cooking, are mainly processed by drying and crushing. The crushed peppers are then made into a paste with olive oil. Salt and vinegar can also be added.

Calabrian peppers are sometimes called peperoncini, the generic Italian word for hot chili peppers. Although green in their early stages, these peppers turn a deep red color when ripe.

Peperoncini are often found pickled in their earlier stages of growth; you’re likely familiar with their unripe, green form. They’re hot, reaching 15,000-30,000 Scoville heat units, a unit that measures a pepper’s spiciness. These peppers are important in Calabria, where they are celebrated in an annual festival.

4 Calabrian chili paste recipes

Calabrian chili paste is incredibly versatile due to its flavor profile. The dried peppers have a fruity, smoky flavor, while the paste’s oil and vinegar base adds a touch of umami. Add to that the hot flavor, and the result is a tasty contrast that enhances most dishes.

You’ll find that Calabrian chili paste compliments almost anything, from meat and fish to vegetables and soups. The paste’s spiciness compliments tomatoes’ flavor profile, another staple of Italian cuisine, making it a regular addition to tomato-based stews, pasta dishes, pizzas, and casseroles.

Here are four recipes from around the web that incorporate Calabrian chili paste:

Spicy Calabrian Chili and Honey Chicken

This recipe combines the spicy flavor of Calabrian chili paste with the sweetness of honey. Give yourself 10 minutes to prep and 1 hour and 30 minutes of cooking time and you’ll have a spicy dish that goes well with vegetables.

Spicy White Bean Casserole with Calabrian Chiles

This pork casserole is a nice way to incorporate Calabrian chiles into a more filling recipe. The total prep and cooking time for this recipe is 1 hour and 20 minutes. You’ll be able to feed your whole family and have leftovers as it serves eight.

Spicy Calabrian Chile Tomato Soup

This tomato soup takes 1 hour to make, and you’ll be able to serve 10. Sausage and shrimp play a big role here, but you can omit these ingredients for a vegetarian alternative. And since it’s a soup, you can add just the amount of chili paste necessary to suit your tolerance.

Creamy Calabrian Chili Bolognese

Bolognese is a classic pasta dish. You can add a kick to it with Calabrian chili paste. This recipe is simple, with relatively few ingredients and 45 minutes of cooking time. Add some spice to your bolognese with this Italian pepper!

7 Calabrian chili paste substitutes

Sometimes you won’t be able to find Calabrian chili paste at your local grocery stores. However, it’s not the end of the world. Here are a few alternatives you can use in a pinch.

1. Red pepper flakes

Frontier Co-op Ground Red Cayenne Chili Pepper 15,000 Hu, 1.2 Ounce Bottle, Turn Up The Heat in Your Ethnic Recipes, Kosher
  • 1.2 Ounce Bottle
  • A mildly hot chili pepper (15,000 HU) for adding pizzazz to sauces and other savory recipes
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A classic at New York pizzerias, red pepper flakes are an easy substitute for Calabrian chili paste. These are simply ground dried peppers, so you’ll be able to make dishes spicy and achieve a similar flavor.

Red pepper flakes work for virtually every recipe that calls for Calabrian chilis. The main difference is that red pepper flakes aren’t as smoky as Calabrian chili paste.

It’s also possible to convert the dried peppers into a paste yourself. Combine the flakes with olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Do this until you achieve the desired consistency.

Sriracha hot sauce

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Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce 28oz, pack of 2
  • Sriracha chili sauce can be used to make various delicious foods, such as soup, noodles, hot dogs, pizza, etc

Sriracha is another appropriate substitute for most peppers. Known for its thick consistency and intense heat, this condiment has earned itself a cult following among spice lovers.

While Sriracha won’t quite taste the same as Calabrian chili paste, it’s readily available and makes your dishes spicier.

Serrano pepper

La Costeña Serrano Peppers, 12 Ounce Can (Pack of 12)
  • Serrano peppers with vinegar, seasonings, onions, and carrots
  • Serrano peppers have a taste that’s similar to jalapeño peppers. They’re hotter than jalapeños, but not as hot as habaneros.
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This Mexican pepper is a common component of salsa, chili, pesto, and spicy seasonings. It’s slightly less spicy than peperoncini, but not so much so that you will notice in your dishes. Serrano peppers look like short jalapeños, and they’re a staple at grocery stores and farmers markets.

Processed serrano peppers offer a mild smokiness and fruitiness that’s similar to the taste of Calabrian chilis. Like with red peppers flakes, you can use dried serrano peppers to make a paste by crushing them and mixing with olive oil. Add salt to the mix, and you’ll have a fantastic Calabrian chili paste alternative for every dish.

Cayenne pepper and ketchup

Simply Organic Cayenne Pepper, 2.89 Ounce, Pure, Organic Cayenne Peppers, No GMO’s, Kosher Certified
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While this combo isn’t ideal, sometimes you need to cook something quickly using whatever’s available in your kitchen. You can mix cayenne pepper and ketchup, leaving you with a thick sauce that can mimic some of the Calabrian flavor, albeit with undertones of tomato.

Ketchup is thick and will behave as Calabrian chili paste in most recipes. The cayenne pepper has a decent amount of heat, which adds that spiciness.

If you find yourself in this situation, combine 2 tablespoons of ground cayenne pepper with one cup of ketchup. This should be enough to replace a cup of Calabrian chili paste, and you can modify the ratio if so desired. Ketchup also contains sugar, so this substitute will be a bit sweeter than chili paste.

Spicy tomato paste

Using a bit of spicy tomato paste will help you achieve the consistency and spiciness of Calabrian chili paste in your recipe. You’ll need to adjust the spiciness, which can be achieved with the addition of chili powder.

Combine a can of tomato paste with cayenne pepper to taste. Proceed with caution here, as cayenne can quickly become overpowering.

This spicy tomato paste makes for a flexible alternative to peppers which are difficult to find. If you use tomato paste, the end result will be a bit sweeter than regular Calabrian chili paste.

Sambal oelek

Sky Valley Sambal Oelek Chili Paste – Red Chili Paste, Made with Red Jalapenos & Garlic, Gluten Free, Vegan, Keto, USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Sambal Oelek Sauce, Chili Paste Asian – 7 Oz
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Sambal oelek is an Indonesian chili paste with a mild heat. It doesn’t have the depth of flavor you’ll find in Calabrian chili paste, but you can use it for spice.

You can make sambal oelek or buy it. Jarred versions will usually have a jam-like texture and moderate spice.


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Harissa is a red chili paste that originated in Tunisia and is commonly used in North African cooking. Like other chili pastes, harissa is made from dried chilis combined with oils and spices. Garlic, cumin, coriander, and citrus, along with roasted red peppers are the usual suspects here.

Harissa does have a complexity of flavor, which makes it a good substitute for Calabrian chili paste. Store-bought harissas, however, can vary widely in smokiness and spiciness. That means you’ll have to experiment a bit to find the right ratio to use in your Italian recipes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where do I find Calabrian chili paste?

Crushed Calabrian Chili Pepper, Paste/Spread/Sauce, Hot, Savory, Delicious, TuttoCalabria,10 oz, (285g)
  • UNIQUE TASTE: Vegan and Vegetarian friendly. Really delicious on meat, sandwiches, or added to your favorite sauces. Wonderful Hot Sauce for Pizza, Pasta, Hummus, or on Bread. Try tossed in a chili or stew. Beautiful versatile item imported from Italy that delivers true home jarred taste. A must have in the pantry at all times.
  • INGREDIENTS: This product is perfect for spicy food lovers!! Made with Calabrian Chili Peppers, sunflower seed oil, extra virgin olive oil, salt, vinegar, basil. All 100% Italian ingredients sourced. Please Refrigerate after opening keeping ingredients as much as possbile under oil. Stir well before use.
  • FUN FACT: These Chili peppers are one of the typical Calabrian specialties. They get their earthy, salty, sweet flavor from the rich red clay they grow on the foothills of the Mediterranean Sea. Definitely an authentic Italian tradition that you will enjoy for sure.
  • ITALIAN FLAVOR: Tutto Calabria is well-known for producing wholesome Calabrian specialties since the company was founded in 1970. One of the first companies to produce and market typical Calabrian products.
  • PRESENTATION: Packed in our customer favorite original 10 oz glass jar. Just the right size for the home refrigerator.

You can find Calabrian chili paste at your local supermarket, like Target or Whole Foods Market. It’s also available on Amazon and

What does Calabrian sauce taste like?

Calabrian sauce is spicy, and it’s also packed full of fruity and smoky undertones. While the amount of peppers used is up to you, this sauce can make a bland dish really spicy.

Can I substitute sambal oelek for Calabrian chili paste?

Yes, sambal oelek is very similar to Calabrian chili paste as it is also a paste made from crushed chili peppers. Both are great for recipes that need to be spicy. Sambal oelek works best when the amount of chili paste required is small.

How long does Calabrian chili paste last?

In the pantry, the paste lasts for up to a month, but it’s best kept in the fridge, where it will last much longer. When refrigerated, Calabrian chili paste generally lasts for six to nine months.

What can I substitute for Calabrian chili paste?

The best substitutes for Calabrian chili paste are other pastes with a chili pepper base, such as sambal oelek or harissa. Red Anaheim peppers are another chili pepper that can be used as a substitute.

These can be used as-is or can be made into a paste by crushing them and mixing with olive oil. Since Anaheim peppers are milder than peperoncini, you’ll need to use three times as many to have the same effect. Alternatively, use fewer for a milder sauce.

What Calabrian chili paste does Giada use?

Giada of prefers the Tutto Calabria crushed chili paste. It’s a great chili paste from Italy that has the right balance of spiciness, smokiness, and saltiness.

A great all-around spice for Italian cuisine

Calabrian chili paste is a mainstay in Italian cuisine. It can easily turn any simple dish into a flavor powerhouse.

If you can’t find Calabrian chili paste near you, try swapping in sambal oelek, harissa, or any crushed pepper mixed with olive oil. You can even experiment to develop your own chili paste that suits your taste profile!

Last update on 2023-06-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API