Like most student foodies, sriracha was my go-to condiment for a long time. The Red Rooster could always be counted on to give new life to yesterday’s leftovers with just the right amount of spice. Sriracha was more than a culinary stand-by—it was a way of life.

However, when I finally read the list of ingredients, I began to have second thoughts about my dependence on the hot sauce. While sriracha contains only eight ingredients, sugar is second on the list. This works out to about 1 gram of sugar per teaspoon of sriracha.

While a single gram of sugar doesn’t seem like a lot, it can quickly add up with the amount of sriracha you consume on a daily basis.
coffee, tea, beer
Rose Ferrao

With refined sugar being hailed as the nutritional antichrist, I knew I had to find a substitute for my beloved sriracha.

Huy Fong Foods, the manufacturer of sriracha, makes a lesser known condiment called sambal oelek. Like sriracha, sambal oelek is also a chili garlic sauce. While it contains many of the same ingredients as sriracha, there are a few key differences.

1. It's Healthier

pizza, coffee, beer
Hannah Latour

The composition of sambal oelek is almost identical to sriracha, except for the fact that it contains no sugar. While this lack of sugar gives sambal oelek a distinctly different taste and texture from sriracha, I find that the absence of sugar allows the other flavours to stand out.

2. It's More Flavourful

Again, the lack of sugar prevents the other ingredients from being masked. The chili peppers and garlic that give the sauce its signature spice and flavour take center stage. This results in sambal oelek being spicier than sriracha, which might take some getting used to at first. However, this difference really isn’t that overpowering, and you can also use less sauce to get the same level of spice.

3. It Looks Nicer

sauce, chili
Hannah Latour

The ambiguous appearance of sriracha makes it hard to determine whether you’re eating hot sauce or ketchup. The texture of sambal oelek is much more rustic, and you can even see the seeds of the chili peppers.

4. It's Less Wasteful

There’s nothing worse than not being able to get the last of the sriracha out of the bottle. While the squeeze bottle is convenient for quickly coating your food, it’s terrible for waste. Since sambal oelek is sold in a jar, it eliminates this problem. As a bonus, the jar is also way easier to clean out for recycling.

5. It's More Versatile 

While there are countless recipes that call for sriracha, I find that sambal oelek is much more versatile. While it's often used as a stand-alone condiment, it can also be used in a variety of dipping sauces and dressings or as a substitute for chili peppers in many recipes.

If you’re someone that relies on sriracha as a dietary staple, making the switch to sambal oelek is a great way to cut extra sugar while keeping all of the spice. Although I sometimes miss the convenience of the squeeze bottle, the flavour and health trade-offs of sambal oelek are well worth it.