Dumping Sriracha for Harissa

Isn’t all hot sauce the same? Apparently, it isn’t. And foodies of late, are dumping sriracha in favor of its North African cousin, harissa. What’s the difference and why should you try harissa? Let’s find out…


Sriracha comes from Thailand and is a fiery hot sauce used in Asian cooking. It’s not a new condiment: It’s been around at least 80 years and is named for the town in which it was developed, Si Racha.

Fast forward to 1980 to a gentleman named David Tran who founded Huy Fong Foods and started making sriracha commercially. It’s made from a mixture of chili peppers, sugar, garlic, vinegar and salt.


Harissa is also a hot condiment but it is much more a paste than a sauce. It also has different ingredients from sriracha including spices like cumin, coriander, caraway and mint.

This chili paste is a staple in North African and Middle Eastern homes everywhere. And it’s very versatile. You can use it as a marinade, a flavor enhancer for stews and main dishes and you can even blend it into hummus or spread it on pizza.

The thing that’s interesting about harissa is that the recipe ingredients are different from neighborhood to neighborhood in North Africa. Yet, it is as common in this part of the world as ketchup is in America.

In countries like Libya, harissa is considered more of a mustard than ketchup because mustard can be spicy. And it isn’t a really good meal here unless your sinuses run from the spiciness of harissa.

We love adding it to ground beef for a spicy harissa burger as well as topping sweet veggies like carrots and squash before popping them into the oven to roast.

Try it as a rub on any kind of meat and fold it into some Greek yogurt for a sauce. And you must top your next egg scramble with this wonderful paste.


You can’t have a hot sauce whether it is harissa, sriracha or Tabasco without using hot peppers. And, as you know, ancient Mayans ate hot peppers thousands of years ago.

Part of the joy of using peppers is that they add a depth of flavor to food that is hard to beat economically. They’re cheap to buy and easy to grow and give a health benefit like no other element.

Why the Switch?

There was a period of time when Huy Fong Foods ceased production because of the pollution it was putting into the air around the factory. Neighbors complained of headaches and watering eyes from the spicy ingredients. And harissa, unlike sriracha, has so many permutations and variants that making it in your kitchen is as simple as creating a recipe you love.

If you are a hard and fast hot sauce lover, give harissa a try to see if you love it as much as we do.

Image: iStockPhoto

Which do you prefer: harissa or sriracha?