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Sriracha vs Sambal Oelek

What is the difference between Sambal Oelek and Sriracha? These two spicy condiments are very popular and can be found in many American grocery stores.

Like many good condiments, both are suitable for a variety of Asian and Western dishes alike. How do you use Sriracha, (which is sometimes known as “rooster sauce”) and Sambal Oelek (often referred to as simply, “Sambal”), how do they differ, and how are they similar? We explore them both below.

Sriracha vs Sambal Oelek

Sriracha Versus Sambal Oelek: The Basics

It would be a mistake to assume these two sauces have the same country of origin. Sambal Oelek comes from Indonesia, but it is very popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and elsewhere. Sriracha comes from Thailand, but also has widespread popularity elsewhere including in Vietnam and Korea. However, even though they both originate from different countries, they are made by the same company Huy Fong Foods.

Sriracha has a very smooth, almost ketchup-like consistency. Sambal Oelek is chunky; think of the consistency of salsa but with smaller pieces. You can dispense Sriracha from a squeeze bottle, which is something you cannot do with Sambal Oelek.

Like a good spicy salsa, Sambal Oelek has plenty of pepper seeds but it would be a mistake to lump it in with salsa–the texture and overall flavor profile is different enough to warrant its own classification. Salsa can be eaten with chips alone; try doing that with Sambal Oelek and you may not have the same experience.

What’s In Sriracha?

The key ingredients in Sriracha include chiles, salt, garlic, sugar, and vinegar. Recipes for homemade Sriracha call for roughly a pound and a half of jalapenos and other peppers to make 24 servings.

What’s In Sambal Oelek?

The main ingredients in Sambal Oelek are similar to Sriracha. They include hot red chile peppers, salt, and vinegar. Recipes for homemade Sambal Oelek call for roughly a pound of peppers for 20 servings.

Key Differences

Sweetness and smoothness are the basic differences between these two condiments. Sriracha is more processed, Sambal is less refined. Some recipes for homemade Sriracha include a few tablespoons of brown sugar.

Homemade Sambal Oelek does feature added sugar; recipes for make-it-at-home versions of Sambal Oelek do often include rice vinegar which can have a bit of added sugar, but nothing close to the brown sugar that may go into a Sriracha sauce.

When To Use Sambal Oelek Or Sriracha

Thanks to fusion cuisine, Americans are more used to combining food cultures. Sriracha is great as a ketchup substitute, for example. It can go on anything ketchup can including hot dogs and french fries. Some use it along with ketchup, others prefer a Sriracha/ketchup combination that can be quite pleasing to those who don’t want the full kick of unadulterated Sriracha.

Using Sambal Oelek is a bit trickier. Sambal is a bit closer to Tabasco (in terms of application) in that you don’t eat a tortilla chip soaked in Tabasco, you use it more sparingly. Sambal can be used like Tabasco to add a flavor spin to the dish without completely taking it over.

That said, a simple dish of udon noodles drizzled with a bit of sesame oil with Sambal Oelek as the seasoning could be a thing of beauty–as long as you don’t overdo it on the Sambal.

Sriracha can be sweeter than Sambal, which makes it a bit more versatile. Sambal can complete a dish, though; some refuse to eat Pho without it. The only wrong way to use these condiments is to use too much of them or not enough.

Things To Know About Sambal And Sriracha

If you have never used either before, it’s smart to try some taste tests before cooking with Sambal or Sriracha. If you are testing the spice levels of food or condiments, it is generally best to test using food with some fat in it to help absorb the heat if you decide that the spice level is too much.

A vegan, fat-free “chicken wing” might not absorb the spice in your stomach the way a real wing might, or other food with high fat content. If you are a vegan it may be smart to have some coconut milk handy for some added “protection”.

Sambal and Sriracha recipes are potentially vegan-friendly but beware of store-bought varieties you haven’t fully vetted. Depending on the country of origin some may have fish paste, fish sauce, shrimp paste, etc. These recipes are not vegan by default.

If you decide to make one or both of these condiments, know that refrigeration is recommended for both. The simpler the recipe the more crucial refrigeration is; if your version has fish sauce and is a bit higher in sodium it may last longer in the fridge, but letting it stand at room temperature for long periods of time is not recommended.

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Monique McArthur
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