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31 May 2019

A recipe for homemade Sambal Oelek, the classic chili paste used for cooking, made with a variety of ground chili peppers, vinegar and salt. It is ideal for seasoning noodle dishes and enhancing the flavors of sauces.

We know you all love sriracha – Homemade Sriracha, anyone? – but have you cooked with Sambal Oelek? Perhaps it is time to begin. You can purchase Sambal Oelek from the grocer and carry it home, but once you realize how simple it is to make on your own, you’ll never want the store bought version again.

Fresh is always best, and you can’t get much fresher than this.

What is Sambal Oelek?

While Sriracha is distinctly Thai, Sambal Oelek is Indonesian, and it is essentially a raw chili paste that is ground. It uses very few ingredients, traditionally red chili peppers, vinegar and salt.

It can be used as a base to make sambals and other sauces, and works best when used more as a condiment or flavoring ingredient than as a direct sauce or hot sauce.

A “sambal” actually refers to any chili sauce or paste that is made from a variety of chili peppers, with any number of other ingredients added in for flavor. Any chili sauce or paste would be called sambal.

Sambal Oelek in a container, ready to use

There are variations, of course. A tour of the web will find other ingredients added to Sambal Oelek, such as garlic, lime juice, different vinegars and more, though at some point, with such additions, the paste stops being Sambal Oelek and becomes something else.

That’s OK!

This is what Sambal Oelek is for, to be used as a base, a springboard to new and interesting flavors. I’ve also seen recipes with the paste cooked down a bit.

I suppose this would mellow it out, but traditionally the paste is simply ground with a mortar and pestal, though you can use a food processor to achieve the same effect, of course.

You can find sambal oelek in stores. The most popular brand I see is from Huy Fong Foods. I’m here to show you how to make it at home, though. Much better!

What Does Sambal Oelek Mean?

The word “sambal” is an Indonesian word referring to a sauce made primarily with chili peppers. “Oelek” (or olek or ulek) refers to a mortar and pestle.

Hence, Sambal Oelek is Indonesian for a chili sauce ground with a mortar and pestle.

Sambal Oelek Vs. Sriracha

Sambal oelek is more of a base recipe compared to sriracha. Sriracha is sweeter and usually has more vinegar included in the recipe.

Sambal oelek, on the other hand, is usually thicker and contains fewer ingredients. Because it is less processed, it is often much spicier than your typical sriracha.

See my Homemade Sriracha Recipe for more information about sriracha.

What Types of Chili Peppers are Used for Making Sambal Oelek

Let’s talk chili peppers. Thai red peppers would be optimal for this recipe, but you truly have many, many other options.

Red Chili Peppers for Sambal Oelek - Recipe

If you can’t find Thai peppers, or if they are too hot for you, try cayenne peppers, red serranos, or red jalapeno peppers. Of course there are many other options, but these particular peppers work the best in order of descending heat levels.

Sambal Oelek ingredients

How to Make Sambal Oelek

Making Sambal Oelek is very simple. Add your chili peppers, vinegar and salt to a food processor or other grinder. A Molcajete is a great option here.

Next, grind the mixture until a course paste forms.

Add the resulting chili paste, Sambal Oelek, to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sambal Oelek on a spoon, so vibrant and red

Serving Ideas for Sambal Oelek

In truth, Sambal Oelek works great as a simple way to preserve your peppers. The salt and vinegar will let you keep them a long time. Pop it into the fridge and pull it out to swirl into any sort of soup or stew, anything in a crock pot or slow cooker.

Swirl it up into a bowl of hot noodles with some soy sauce and fish sauce and you have a super simple lunch. I use it to make my own homemade Spicy Ramen Noodles.

Quick and easy!

I used it just last night by adding a couple tablespoons to a traditional pesto, then tossed it with noodles. Topped it with some seared salmon and BOOM! Quick, easy dinner with just the right touch of spice.

Sambal Oelek Substitutes

You have several options to substitute for sambal oelek in recipes. None of these will duplicate the flavors, but each can work in a pinch.

Try using the following:

  • Sriracha – often the best substitution
  • Harissa – it will alter the final flavor of your dish, but can still be rather tasty
  • Chinese Chili Sauce or Paste
  • Any Basic Chili Paste
  • Gochujang – has a deeper, more fermented flavor

Here are a Few Recipe Suggestions for Sambal Oelek

Time to make the Sambal Oelek! Let me know how YOU use it.

Learn more about How to Make Chili Paste.


Sambal Oelek on a spoon, ready to add flavor to your dishes

Other Popular Chili Sauce Recipes

Check out more Hot Sauce Recipes or learn more about How to Make Hot Sauce.

If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.

Sambal Oelek Recipe
Print Recipe
4.95 from 20 votes

Sambal Oelek Recipe

A recipe for homemade Sambal Oelek, the classic chili paste used for cooking, made with a variety of ground chili peppers, vinegar and salt. It is ideal for seasoning noodle dishes and enhancing the flavors of sauces.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time5 mins
Total Time10 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: hot sauce, recipe, sauce, spicy
Servings: 20
Calories: 9kcal


  • 1 pound red chili peppers, stems removed Thai is traditional, but red jalapenos, serranos and cayenne peppers are good substitutes
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt


  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice


  • Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or other grinder. A Molcajete is a great option here.
  • Grind until a course paste forms. You can strain out some of the excess liquid if you'd like.
  • Add to a jar and cover. Refrigerate until ready to use.



NOTE: You can also simmer this sauce over low heat about 10 minutes before jarring to mellow the flavors, but raw, uncooked is traditional.
Heat Factor: Medium-Hot
Makes about 1.5 cups.


Calories: 9kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Sodium: 350mg | Potassium: 77mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 265IU | Vitamin C: 55.2mg | Calcium: 5mg | Iron: 0.3mg

This recipe was updated on 5/31/19 to include new photos and a video. It was originally published on 9/28/16.

Sambal Oelek Recipe



  1. So easy, so tasty, and quite spicy! I combined a couple of teaspoons into a chicken, broccoli, mushroom stir fry this evening and served over some leftover fried rice from last night. Delicious. I am looking forward to trying it with many other dishes. Great suggestions in the comments.

  2. 4 stars
    Thanks Mike, really simple recipe. After making hot sauces and sweet chilli jam for the last couple of years it’s nice to try something different. My sambal still has a lot of seeds, and that was after removing the membrane and a load of seeds in the prep! Looking forward to using it in a chilli dipping sauce recipe I found.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Mark. You can also try straining the sauce for a smoother mixture. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Howard James-Scott

    5 stars
    Thanks, I now ensure ALL my young chefs have this as their basic Indonesian Oelek recipe, they love it and so do I! Made a small tasty change for our fish and dips with added 1tbsp fish sauce. Many thanks
    Howard James-Scott, Executive Chef – Culina Mundi

  4. 5 stars
    Followed your recipe and added a slice of preserved lemon in lieu of the lime juice. Top shelf Sambal. I’ve also made your Korean BBQ sauce, and WOW what a special flavour. My mates all love it too.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Klaus, it’s definitely more of a paste, so the vinegar is right. However, you can use more as desired. Feel free.

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you very much, this is perfect! I needed a sambal oelek for a Eurasian pickle recipe, and the rest of it will be great with my Otak-Otak tomorrow!
    Excellent and no fuss!

  6. Barbara Manning

    5 stars
    I’ll probably have to substitute Thai bird’s eye chilies or Japanese togarashi (or a combination) in this recipe. Do you think that’s an acceptable substitute and do you think the proportion of Chili’s to vinegar and salt are approximately the same? Thank you

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Barbara, absolutely. You can use other peppers for this, with similar ratios. Let me know how it turns out for you. Enjoy.

  7. 5 stars
    New to your blog. Came to check out your adobo sauce and wound up checking out your hot sauce recipes and found sambal. I’ve been eating sambal my whole life, and have been making my grandmother’s recipe for years. It’s a sambal badjak and uses terasi, (shrimp paste) and this one is a cooked method. The onions are caramelized more and I use a blend of thai, habanero and jalapeño peppers for mine. The Indonesian food scene is fascinating, and of course, always spicy! We’re born eating hot stuff and it’s just our way of life. Anyway, just wanted to say hi and I really enjoy your website, I’ll definitely be reading more!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks so much, Brenda. That sounds wonderful. Now I’m in the mood for making some more sambals! I appreciate it!

  8. Tweetie Bird

    Can you please clarify how many chilies to use? You say 1 lb but most people do not have a good scape at home. We use cups, grams, tblsps, etc. I have no idea if 1 lb of small chilies are 5, 10, 50 or 100 of them:

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Tweetie, it isn’t really possible to say as the sizes of peppers can vary widely. 1 pound of habaneros might be 20 pods, where 1 pound of bell peppers might only be 2 of them. I would say to use 3 cups of chopped peppers for 1 pound (450 grams). Let me know if this helps.

  9. 5 stars
    I just made this with sugar rush peach peppers and it’s perfect! They’ve got a sort of banana-like flavour that I’ve never had from chillis before so I wanted a simple recipe that would let the peppers flavours shine, and this one’s worked wonders!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Awesome, Owen! I LOVE sugar rush peppers. I’ve grown them in the past. Wonderful flavor and very productive. I love it.

  10. Andrew Stamps

    I have not made this yet, as my chilis are still turning red, but you seem to be using 3-4x the amount of “optional” garlic. I assume you would recommend going heavier than your recipe’s 2 optional cloves?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      I tend to go heavy on the garlic. Just my personal preference.

  11. 5 stars
    Mike, just discovering your site and it is great. I have an enormous bounty of hot peppers this year and decided to make the chili paste first. It’s blazing hot!

  12. 5 stars
    Hello, I’m from Borneo. One of my fave dishes to make with this sambal is Sambal Oelek Fried Rice! All you need is red onions (sliced), anchovies (can also sub with chicken eggs), leftover cooked white rice, sea salt and diced beef sausages. I also add more fresh Thai chillies for added kick.

    I enjoy reading your posts. Hope you try the fried rice someday!

  13. michael riley

    5 stars
    That’s exactly how my housekeeper, Yuni in Jakarta made it (using mortar and pestle of course).. it was never refrigerated and so it seems like it ever so slightly fermented – not nearly like Sriracha, but it picked up a slight ‘tang’. Yuni would also make a garlic heavy version too.

    Thanks for sharing this

  14. 5 stars
    Well done, Mike! Many recipes add a large number of ingredients, (lemongrass, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, shrimp paste…), but Sambal Oelek is the simplest chilli paste and The One that enhances the fruit of the chili pepper plant the most: just pulp, salt – and a bit of vinegar. What’s better, really, for us, Chiliheads?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Jeremy! Agreed. This recipe is perfect in its simplicity.

  15. Hi Mike,
    This might be a dumb question but I’m new to Chili Pepper Madness. If I remove most of the seeds from my Thai peppers will that reduce the heat of the sambal oelek? Will I get the same flavor without many seeds? Thank you and I really enjoy your website!

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Hi, Janet. Good question! Most of the pepper heat isn’t really with the seeds, but with the pepper innards (the pith, or placenta). If you scoop out those insides, which also removes the seeds, you’ll reduce the overall heat of the peppers. Let me know how it turns out for you. Enjoy!

  16. 5 stars
    This sauce tastes amazing and is so easy to make. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Tina! I appreciate it! Glad you enjoyed it.

  17. 5 stars
    This turned out incredible! Everyone in my family LOVED it, even the ones who don’t like spicy! So happy I found this recipe because I will continue to make it.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Alissa! Super happy everyone loved it!

  18. 5 stars

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Ian, thanks! Yes, you can use other vinegars. ACV is GREAT here. Let me know how it turns out for you.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sure thing, Gayla. You can use Anaheims. Great way to use them! Let me know how it goes.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sally, yes, though you should rehydrate them first in hot water. Let me know how it turns out for you! Enjoy.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Marie, Sambal Oelek can last a few months in the fridge or longer in the freezer. It’s about the acidity. If you want it to keep for longer, add in more vinegar. It really should measure at least 4.0 ph or lower to last longer. Enjoy.

  19. John overholser

    Ok , Lets talk PH , what’s my safest way to test the PH of the sauces I make ?

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      John, the best way is to use a PH meter. I recommend the Thermoworks PH Meter. I am an affiliate and have been using it for quite a while. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  20. Theresia lans

    Can I put it in jars and waterbath it and safe it in my pantry

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Theresia, if you’d like to can/jar this with a water bath, check the ph first. It is best if it is 3.5 or below for home canning/jarring. If not, you can add in a bit more vinegar to lower the acidity.

  21. Is the store bought version cooked is that why it keeps longer and is darker in colour than the one in the picture for this recipe ? Needing to get regular quantities for a recipe on my new menu and it’s proving expensive and difficult to get so figure we’ll make it – thanks

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Simone, as it is basically a chili paste, you can definitely cook it if you’d like and it will darken. It can also darken from the types of peppers used. For your menu, you can experiment with pepper types as well as using fresh vs. cooked Sambal Oelek and see what works best for you. Let me know how it turns out! I’d love to hear.

  22. I mix a teaspoon of sambal oelek with a generous dollop of heavy cream in a shot glass to make a delicious steak sauce.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      5 stars
      Great idea, Robert! I love that. Will certainly try it.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      You can use a ferment for this, no problem. I think you’d have a great recipe there.

  23. 5 stars
    Hi Mike. Thanks for the awesome tips. I’m from Malacca and our ‘Sambal Belacan’ uses ‘Belacan’ (traditional Malacca shrimp paste) and Kaffir lime juice. The uncooked sambal only lasts about a week in the fridge. I’m trying to make it safe for shelf storage for gifts and maybe to sell later. Will try out your tips.

    Also, may I know where you bought the cute little jar bottle in this post? Thanks

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, Yana! Yours sounds delicious! I found these jars at a local store, but I’m pretty sure you can find some online. I hope you can find them! Take care.

    2. First use a food processor for the chilis. Put Chili’s in a pot with garlic cloves and vinegar. Cook it a while with vinegar, salt and a pinch of sugar. Then run through blender. That will make it last for monthes. And yes I put in jars.

  24. Why do the jalapenos need to be red? Is there a taste difference between green jalapenos and red ones?

    REPLY: Mogie, the red are the ripest and a bit sweeter. You CAN use green jalapenos, though you won’t get the vibrant red color. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

  25. Three or four tablespoons of Sambal Oelek mixed into 1-1/2 pounds of 80/20 ground beef makes delicious burgers. I also enjoy adding a teaspoon or so to my breakfast omelette. The store-bought Sambal has become a staple in our household. Now I look forward to making it fresh.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Thanks, DaveR! Hoping you enjoy it.

  26. I use it on/in everything. Tonight I stirred some into baby Brussels sprouts with balsamic sauce. Can’t live without it♡

  27. Can I proceed this in a water bath? Or will that change the flavor too much?

    REPLY: Renee, I believe you should be able to. It might slightly cook the mixture, but some people cook theirs anyway. I think you’d be OK. Check the ph. — Mike from Chili Pepper Madness.

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Florentina, you can easily dial back the heat by using milder peppers.

  28. Yo Sumartojo

    Re: Sambal Oelek

    The word “oelek” (this is an old spelling for “ulek” which in Javanese means “crushing” in a mortar and pestle. Sambal means “hot sauce”.

    I add a little bit of palm sugar to the “Sambal ulek”. Another popular “Sambal” is “Sambal terasi” consisting of chili pepper, salt and shrimp paste (“terasi”). Almost all Javanese know this traditional Sambal.

    I am experimenting to make “Sambal” for my friends with different ingredients (Habanero, chili, jalapeño peppers, etc. with cranberry, peach, mango, palm sugar, Kaffir lime leaf, fish sauce, etc.)

    1. Michael Hultquist - Chili Pepper Madness

      Sounds like some very fun experimenting!

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