Harissa Vs. Sriracha: PepperScale Showdown

Harissa and sriracha have been trendy over the last decade or so, but with sriracha being the more popular of the two by far. If you are unfamiliar with both, note that there are several important differences despite how much harissa and sriracha can – at times – look like each other. We will look at these similarities and differences in our PepperScale Showdown: Harissa vs. Sriracha. 

How does harissa differ from sriracha? 

The first way that harissa differs from sriracha has to do with its point of origin. Harissa comes from Tunisia in North Africa. It incorporates spices traditionally used in North African cuisine, like coriander and caraway seeds, but recipes can vary as with many other traditional spice blends.

Some harissa mixes include ingredients as exotic — to westerners, at least — as rose petals. Harissa offers a complex flavor profile with strong earthy and nutty notes in the background of its heat. It can deliver significant heat since much of its flavor comes from chili peppers. Harissa is known among professional cooks and foodies but is not quite as popular as sriracha in the West. 

Another important fact about harissa is that it comes in paste form and powder form. The paste comes in bottles and tubes. You can reconstitute harissa powder to make a paste with the addition of olive oil or water. 

The original version of sriracha is from Thailand; however, the Huy Fong Foods version with which most people in the US are familiar is actually an American product. A Vietnamese immigrant created the Huy Fong Foods sriracha. Its flavor profile is much simpler than that of harissa; garlic and salt are its two main non-chili sources of flavor. The original sriracha sauce is still made in Thailand, and Thai people prefer it. It is not quite as vinegary or intense as American-made sriracha, and it is not as hot or flavorful as harissa. 

In comparison to harissa, sriracha is primarily sold as a sauce though there have been many food items marketed as having the sriracha flavor in recent years. Sriracha powder, though, has been making waves as a spice.

Can you use harissa in place of sriracha and vice versa? 

Harissa and sriracha are interchangeable as far as the heat that they bring to dishes is concerned, but their other flavors differ considerably. Some harissa blends may be more effective than others when you use them in place of sriracha.

Harissa and sriracha are traditionally (but not exclusively) used as dipping sauces, but harissa does not have the acidic pungency that you get from sriracha. As a result, you may find it lacking when used in some sriracha applications. Similarly, the acidity of sriracha might overwhelm some of the dishes with which harissa is traditionally served. 

When should you use harissa and when should you use sriracha? 

Use harissa as a condiment for Tunisian dishes. You can add it to fish like sardines and mullet or serve the paste with bread and black olives. Both the powder and the paste make excellent dry rubs for meats that you intend to grill or roast. By itself, harissa offers a broad enough range of flavor profiles that there is no need to add other seasonings. 

Sriracha’s more straightforward set of flavor profiles is more versatile; use it wherever you want tartness and heat. It is excellent as a dipping sauce for wings and other deep-fried foods or as an all-purpose hot sauce that you can use to spice up any savory food.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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Well done on the comparison between harissa and sriracha. It should be pointed out however that harissa is more similar to zhoug [Yemen, now adopted by Isreal] or berbere [Ethiopia].