7 Best Substitute For Nam Prik Pao

Nam Prik Pao Substitute

Nam Prik Pao, commonly known as Thai chili paste, is an indispensable element in Thai cuisine, characterized by its potent fusion of sweet, sour, spicy, and umami flavors. This complex condiment is the heart of many Thai dishes, bestowing them with an authentic taste that reflects the rich culinary heritage of Thailand. However, the distinct blend of ingredients, including shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, tamarind, shallots, and chili, makes it a challenging element to replace when it’s absent from your kitchen pantry or when dietary constraints apply.

The substitutes for Nam Prik Pao highlighted in this article have been carefully selected to mirror its multidimensional flavor profile. Ranging from the fiery simplicity of Sambal Oelek to the fermented richness of Gochujang, these alternatives stand as robust stand-ins for the Thai chili paste, even when the ingredient list may diverge. By choosing these substitutes, you won’t compromise the soul of your dishes, allowing you to maintain the culinary integrity of your recipes while embracing new taste horizons.

What is Nam Prik Pao?

Nam Prik Pao, also known as Thai chili paste, is a versatile staple in Thai cuisine. A fiery yet sweet condiment, it packs a complex flavor profile encompassing sweet, sour, spicy, and umami notes. Traditionally, it’s made by slowly caramelizing ingredients like shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, tamarind, shallots, and of course, chili. The result is a luscious paste that adds a unique depth and richness to a variety of dishes, from soups and stir-fries to seafood and noodle dishes. However, its distinct taste and ingredient list can pose a challenge when it comes to finding a suitable substitute.

The Seven Stars of Substitution

In the culinary universe, some stars shine brighter than others when it comes to replicating the flavors of Nam Prik Pao. Below are the top seven:

  1. Sambal Oelek
  2. Gochujang
  3. Sriracha
  4. Harissa
  5. Hoisin Sauce
  6. Red Pepper Flakes mixed with Tamarind Paste
  7. Homemade Thai Chili Paste
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Best Substitutes For Nam Prik Pao

Finding the perfect substitute for Nam Prik Pao involves capturing its unique balance of heat, sweetness, and umami. Each substitute in our list captures these characteristics in its own unique way.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek, originating from Indonesia, is a chili paste that can serve as an excellent alternative to Nam Prik Pao. This paste shines with its straightforward, powerful heat and bright chili flavor. A simple blend of raw chili peppers, salt, and vinegar, Sambal Oelek provides a heat that’s less nuanced but more fiery than Nam Prik Pao.

The lack of additional ingredients like fish sauce or shrimp paste means Sambal Oelek misses out on the umami notes of Nam Prik Pao. However, it compensates with its pure, unadulterated chili essence. To recreate the sweet and umami profile, you can mix it with a bit of sugar and soy sauce. This combination adds depth, making it more similar to Nam Prik Pao’s flavor.

Additionally, Sambal Oelek’s texture makes it an ideal replacement. Its coarse grind adds a satisfying crunch, providing a similar texture to the Nam Prik Pao. If your dish depends on the heat and texture of Nam Prik Pao, Sambal Oelek, with a slight modification, can be your go-to substitute.


Gochujang, a staple in Korean kitchens, is a chili paste that offers a sweet, spicy, and fermented flavor profile. Made from chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, and barley malt powder, it brings a unique complexity that can fill in for Nam Prik Pao.

The umami richness from the fermented soybeans and the distinctive sweetness from the glutinous rice aligns Gochujang closely with the Nam Prik Pao’s flavor spectrum. The heat level is also more controlled, making it suitable for those who want the kick but not the burn.

One thing to note is Gochujang’s sticky, almost jam-like consistency. While it’s perfect for marinades, its texture varies from the more crumbly Nam Prik Pao. However, the rich, layered flavors it contributes make it worth considering as a substitute.


Sriracha, the famous hot sauce with a rooster on the bottle, can also come to your rescue when you run out of Nam Prik Pao. While Sriracha is a hot sauce rather than a paste, its sweet-spicy balance aligns it closely with Nam Prik Pao’s taste.

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The main ingredients in Sriracha are red chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt, so it covers the heat, sweetness, and a bit of tang. However, it lacks the umami depth that Nam Prik Pao gets from shrimp paste and fish sauce.

In terms of consistency, Sriracha is thinner, which makes it more suitable for dishes where the consistency of the sauce is not crucial. Its readily available nature and adaptable flavor make Sriracha a practical alternative for Nam Prik Pao.


Harissa, a North African chili paste, can work as a substitute for Nam Prik Pao, especially when you’re looking for a different, more smoky kind of heat. Made from roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, and other hot chili peppers, along with garlic paste, coriander seed, saffron, and sometimes rose petals, Harissa offers an intriguing blend of flavors.

The smoky, fiery heat of Harissa is distinct from the sweet heat of Nam Prik Pao. However, when used in the right dishes, it can be a delightful switch that still provides a strong chili presence. Due to the lack of sweetness, it’s recommended to add a bit of sugar when using Harissa as a substitute.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce, a thick, fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine, presents a unique yet effective substitute for Nam Prik Pao. Made from a mix of fermented soybean paste, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, chilies, and sweeteners, Hoisin sauce is sweet and tangy with a hint of heat.

Though the flavor profile is different, with Hoisin being sweeter and less spicy, the umami-rich, complex flavors can mimic the depth found in Nam Prik Pao. Its thick consistency is also similar. If the sweet-spicy balance is more crucial in your recipe than the specific type of heat, Hoisin sauce could be an excellent alternative.

Red Pepper Flakes mixed with Tamarind Paste

For an easy homemade solution, combining red pepper flakes with tamarind paste can do the trick. Red pepper flakes bring on the heat while tamarind paste contributes the tangy sweetness, both crucial elements of Nam Prik Pao’s flavor profile.

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While this blend won’t provide the same depth of flavor, it does manage to capture the basic taste notes. This substitute could be more suited to dishes where Nam Prik Pao is not the main flavor component but rather one of many contributing ingredients.

Homemade Thai Chili Paste

For the most authentic substitute, consider making your own Thai chili paste. While it might take some effort, it will provide you the closest possible flavor match. Combine red chilies, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, shallots, tamarind, and palmsugar, then roast and grind these ingredients to form a paste. This homemade version allows you to adjust the balance of flavors to your liking and dietary needs. The process might be labor-intensive, but the result is worth the effort, particularly for those passionate about their culinary exploits.

Substitutes for Nam Prik Pao: Nutritional Profile

Let’s compare the nutritional profiles of our substitutes. Here is a table showing the nutritional content for ¼ cup of each substitute:

SubstitutesCaloriesFat (g)Carbs (g)Fiber (g)Protein (g)Gluten
Sambal Oelek300711No
Hoisin Sauce24034823Yes
Red Pepper Flakes + Tamarind Paste7001721No
Homemade Thai Chili Paste7001522No

*Please note that nutritional values may vary based on the specific brand or homemade recipe variation.


Though the unique flavor of Nam Prik Pao can be a challenge to replace, a variety of substitutes can offer you an exciting exploration of other world cuisines while bringing their own unique twist. Whether it’s the fiery simplicity of Sambal Oelek, the sweet-heat of Gochujang, or the sticky tang of Hoisin Sauce, there’s a world of flavors ready to step in when you’re out of Nam Prik Pao. The key lies in understanding what each alternative can bring to your dish, in both flavor and texture, and making adjustments as needed. So, the next time you’re missing Nam Prik Pao in your pantry, feel confident knowing that your dish will be just as delectable with these equally enticing substitutes.

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