Chili Paste Vs. Chili Sauce: PepperScale Showdown

Chili paste and chili sauce are considered the same product by many people. There are many different variations of each from all over the world, so you will often see the same product described as both paste and sauce depending on the source. Consider the fact that many chili sauces have essentially the same appearance, flavor, and function as chili pastes. That said, some culinary authorities recognize that there are some crucial differences. We will look at chili paste and chili sauce in the PepperScale Showdown to see how they compare to each other.

How does chili paste differ from chili sauce?

First of all, there is the matter of texture. Like tomato paste and tomato sauce, chili paste typically has a thicker texture when you compare it to chili sauce. The textural difference is because chili paste usually contains less moisture than chili sauce. A chili sauce may have extra liquid in the form of water or vinegar.

Compare chili pastes like Thai nam prik pao, Japanese yuzu kosho, and Korean gochujang to a Vietnamese-American chili sauce like sriracha. None of the paste examples are as thin and runny as the sauce (even a hot sauce known for its thickness like sriracha.) Both gochujang and nam prik pao have components like fermented soybean and shrimp paste, but none of those ingredients contain much moisture.

Flavor is another key difference between chili pastes and chili sauces. The extra liquid in a chili sauce can mean that its flavors have been diluted to a greater extent when compared to a paste. In other words, pastes are often more flavorful than sauces.

Likewise, it is important to consider the fact that chili sauces usually have complex flavor profiles with strong flavors like garlic or fruit being paired with the chili pepper. With chili pastes, the chili pepper is typically the star of the show. Chili pastes can have multiple ingredients as well, but the pepper is the focal point. 

Can you use chili paste in place of chili sauce and vice versa?

You can use some chili pastes as substitutes for some chili sauces. To replace a sauce with a paste, you need only to find a paste with a similar flavor profile and make it into a sauce by adding moisture.

Similarly, chili sauces can be reduced to a thicker consistency to make them better substitutes for chili pastes. Note that the cooking process may affect the flavor profile so this may not be suitable for all sauces.

Vinegar is a feature of many chili sauces, but you won’t find it in many chili pastes. Opt for a chili sauce that is light on the vinegar to ensure that the flavor profile is closer to that of a paste. Another way to make your chili sauce into a better paste substitute is to add a dry ingredient like paprika or cayenne for some additional spiciness.

When should you use chili paste and when should you use chili sauce?

Use a chili paste when you want to add flavor to a dish while adding as little moisture as possible. A chili paste can be used to coat ingredients in a preparation without making them wetter.

Use a sauce when you want the extra moisture or when you intend to cook the dish for long enough to reduce the sauce to a more paste-like consistency.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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