Harissa powder provides dishes with the traditional flavors found in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. If you are making kebabs, sprinkling harissa powder over them can give them a touch of authenticity. If you want to make authentic-tasting dishes, harissa powder is an essential ingredient. However, no one is perfect and sometimes we run out of spices unexpectedly. If you need a quick alternative, you can get a similar flavor profile from several other spice blends that contain the same ingredients used in harissa powder. For an easy harissa powder substitute, try one of the options below.
Your best bet: Harissa paste
Harissa paste is just the wet form of harissa powder. It has a different consistency since it is a paste and not a powder, but many of the same ingredients. With harissa paste, the different texture can come from the addition of water or of olive oil. When choosing a harissa paste blend to use in place of harissa powder, you should look for one that has the same or similar ingredients as the harissa powder blend that you are replacing; however, most blends will work in any recipe that calls for harissa powder.
Bear in mind that because of the difference in consistency, harissa paste may not be the ideal harissa powder alternative in dry rubs and other preparations that rely on the spice being in powder form.
When using harissa paste as a harissa powder substitute, start by using the same amount that your recipe requires for harissa powder and increase to taste if necessary.
A decent second choice: Chili powder
Chili powder is a spice blend from the Americas that combines all of the spices most commonly used in Latin American cooking. These include both dried chilies and cumin. Some of these spices show up in harissa powder, which means that the flavor profiles are not all that different. Chili powder should work in most dishes that require a milder harissa powder blend, if not all of them. If you want something closer to hotter harissa blends, you can increase the heat by adding a little cayenne or some red pepper flakes to your chili powder.
Use the same amount of chili powder that your recipe requires for harissa powder and adjust to taste if necessary.
In a pinch: Berbere spice
Berbere spice comes from the same continent as harissa and has a similar flavor profile. Berbere comes from the Horn of Africa rather than the north, but contains many of the same ingredients including chili peppers and cumin. Note that like most traditional spice blends, berbere spice ingredients vary from region to region and are based largely on the maker’s preferences. Berbere spice can be a little more complex than most harissa blends, but should work in any dish that requires harissa powder.
Use berbere spice as a 1:1 replacement for harissa powder.
Tandoori masala is an Indian spice blend that is best known for its use in tandoori chicken. It relies on red pepper for its heat and bright red color, just like harissa powder. Like harissa powder, tandoori masala blends often include cumin along with coriander and garlic.
Old Bay seasoning is another great option for replacing harissa powder as it contains red pepper and a similarly complex combination of spices. Old Bay seasoning is much easier to find than most other suitable harissa powder alternatives.