There are some condiments that will NEVER go out of style – like Asian sweet chili sauce! If you knew you could make it yourself, your very own spicy sweet chili sauce customized just the way you like it, and when you already have most of the ingredients in your pantry, wouldn’t you want to give it a try?
This is truly The Best Spicy Sweet Chili Sauce that I’ve ever had, and the only recipe you’ll ever need for it!
Imagine a steaming hot spring roll, an egg roll, fried chicken, grilled chicken, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, crab rangoon, wanton, fried calamari, cheesy toast etc. etc. Now imagine the same without that ever present, faithful sidekick – the dipping sauce? Not quite the same, is it? Whether it’s game day, or you’re eating out or you have friends over, sometimes a great appetizer or snack just isn’t the same without that beautiful condiment – the dipping sauce.
Although that’s not always the case – I recently made some Mini Cheesy Chicken Pies and Pork Sausage rolls, which I thought were perfect without any condiments. But for those moments when you do need one, an easy to make, insanely delicious, homemade dipping sauce might just make all the difference!
And one of my absolute favorite dipping sauces is Thai Sweet Chili Sauce! I used to ALWAYS have a bottle of sweet chili sauce in my fridge, and use it on pretty much everything. It’s my go-to condiment.
This really is the Best Thai Sweet Chili Sauce you’ll ever have! It’s one of the most popular posts on my blog with dozens and dozens of great reviews on here and on Pinterest. It’s ridiculously easy to make, but I’ve also provided ingredient substitutions to make it even easier for you.
What is Sweet Chili Sauce?
A simple to make, thick, sweet and spicy sauce with a delicious garlicky kick. You can actually see pieces of chili and garlic suspended in the sauce in the pictures in this post. Sweet chili sauce is a classic condiment in Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
Yes, it’s readily available in any supermarket or grocery store worth its salt. But if you know me, you know that I love to make whatever I can, whenever I can, from scratch. And this is one of those things that really is simple enough that you can make yourself at home easily. Plus you know exactly what goes in it, so it’s healthier, and with this recipe, you know that the results are going to be glorious! 🙂
So on one of my trips to the grocery store, I looked at the label on the sweet chili sauce bottle and the ingredients were – sugar, water, pickled red chili, vinegar, garlic, salt and xanthan gum. That sounded simple enough, and all I needed was to find the best ratio of those ingredients.
How can I make Sweet Chili Sauce easily?
Sweet Chili Sauce is easy. We’ve already established that. 🙂 It comes together in just 10 minutes and you can store it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
One of the ingredients to make sweet chili sauce is pickled red chili. It’s pretty time consuming to make your own fresh chili paste and pickle it to make sweet chili sauce. But thankfully there is a readily available ingredient, which is a shortcut to help you make authentic sweet chili sauce.
And that’s SAMBAL OELEK! It’s an Asian chili sauce made with red chili peppers and vinegar. I always have a bottle of it in my fridge because I use it all the time when cooking curries or stir-fries.
Sambal Oelek used to be a little tougher to find, unless you had easy access to an Asian grocery store, but now you can easily find them in most supermarkets too. Just check the Asian food aisle in your local supermarket. There are two types of Sambl oelek –
- Regular chili sambal oelek that I use for this recipe and,
- Chili garlic sambal oelek
For the most authentic flavor, use the regular sambal oelek. But if that’s not available, you can use the garlic version too. Just make sure to cut down the amount of garlic cloves in the recipe by half.
Another ingredient that I use to make sweet chili sauce is soy sauce OR fish sauce. Both of these ingredients help season the sauce and add another level of flavor to it. I love adding fish sauce for a more authentic Thai or Vietnamese flavor flair with a nice little umami kick too.
CHECK OUT THE STEP BY STEP RECIPE VIDEO BELOW
What if I can’t find Sambal Oelek?
Don’t you worry! I tried different substitutions and found that you can still make delicious sweet chili sauce at home without sambal oelek. There’s a subtle difference in flavor and appearance with each substitution, but in the end, you still have a really flavorful sweet chili sauce!
Dried Chili Flakes
Dried chili flakes will make this sweet chili sauce a tad spicier. Instead of 2 ½ tbsp to substitute the sambal oelek, I only add about 2 tbsp of dried chili flakes, and a little extra vinegar (about 1 tbsp). You may need a little extra seasoning too, but that’ll be a personal preference.
I’ve made this with fresh chili too. Again, I only use about 2 tbsp of ground (or finely chopped) fresh chili. Make sure to find the red chili peppers for this sweet chili sauce recipe.
If you make this with red jalapeno, the spice level will be less, and you can use 2 tbsp of the peppers (with or without seeds).
If you have access to Thai red chili (the small red chili), you can use even less. These peppers are spiceeeey! It’ll be better to remove most of the seeds, and ONLY use the chili for to make the sauce. I typically only use about 1 ½ tbsp of ground Thai red chili peppers.
And ALWAYS remember to use gloves when handling fresh chili, especially Thai red chili peppers.
I haven’t made sweet chili sauce with ground cayenne pepper (chili powder), but you could if you wanted to. It won’t look the same as the authentic sweet chili sauce, because there won’t be any flakes in the sauce, and you’ll end up with a colored thick sauce with pieces of garlic suspended in it. But the flavor should be pretty good (though not as good as with sambal oelek).
Can I make sweet chili sauce with a sugar substitute?
- You can use honey, but it’ll change the flavor significantly, so as long as you’re OK with that, go for it. The sauce may require a little extra cornstarch to make it thicker as well. Adding honey will make this recipe not vegan.
- If you want to use brown sugar, you can do that too.
- If you want to use rice syrup (brown rice syrup), that’s also great. I haven’t made this sweet chili sauce with rice syrup before, but it should change the flavor.
Can I make this sweet chili sauce gluten free?
The only ingredient with gluten in this sweet chili sauce recipe is soy sauce. You can easily substitute the soy sauce with gluten free tamari sauce. Using soy sauce or tamari sauce will still make sure this recipe vegan. Alternatively, you can leave out the soy sauce and just season it with more salt.
I have also recommended using fish sauce instead of soy sauce for the more authentic Thai/Vietnamese flavor. Nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) and Nam pla (Thai fish sauce) are naturally gluten free, but not vegan.
Can I can sweet chili sauce?
I’ve had many readers ask me this question. The one obstacle for canning this sweet chili sauce is the use of cornstarch to thicken the sauce here. Since recipes using cornstarch or cornflour are not recommended for canning, you will need to substitute the cornstarch if you’re planning on canning it.
Cornstarch can create lumps in the sauce during the canning process which can interfere with the process itself AND the final outcome.
There are TWO options for those of you who want to can this sweet chili sauce.
- Can the sauce WITHOUT the cornstarch, and then thicken the sauce later, before you use it.
- Substitute the cornstarch with Clear Jel (my recommended option).
Using Clear Jel for canning sweet chili sauce
You can use Clear Jel for this recipe and get great results! Make sure to use the cook type clear jel and NOT the instant type.
I’ve found that I have to use just a little extra Clear Jel than cornstarch to thicken this sweet chili sauce. For every 3 tsp of cornstarch (1 tbsp), I use 4 tsp Clear Jel (1 tbsp + 1 tsp).
Since Clear Jel is a modified cornstarch, it should be gluten free. But check with the manufacturer to be sure.
Are there any Sweet Chili Sauce substitutes?
There isn’t really a substitute for sweet chili sauce. You could mix some sriracha with honey for a sweet and spicy substitute, but that’s just not the same.
But the good news is that this sweet chili sauce can be cooked in just 10 minutes (or less), and it’s ready to be enjoyed as soon as it cools down. Plus, with all the substitutions available, you can readily make this sweet chili sauce with what you have in your pantry.
I can say with plenty of conviction that this really is the BEST SWEET CHILI SAUCE you can make at home! 🙂 While the most authentic Thai sweet chili sauce requires that one special shortcut ingredient (sambal oelek), you can make it without sambal oelek too, as I’ve shown you guys here.
This sweet chili sauce makes for a great edible gift during the holiday as well! And now that you know how to make the recipe safe for canning, you can make the sauce last longer too.
This is definitely a recipe that you should add to your repertoire. Imagine telling your friends that wicked sweet chili sauce is all homemade? Plus it looks so pretty with that vibrant red color. That counts for something too right? 🙂
I love this sauce on everything! You can use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, or even other snacks like the recipes I’ve linked to below.
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Spicy Sweet Chilli Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
- ½ cup rice vinegar unseasonsed
- 3/4 cup water
- 4 oz white sugar (1 cup + 2 tbsp)
- 5 garlic cloves chopped finely
- 1 tbsp soy sauce gluten free soy sauce or salt if you'd like to keep the recipe gluten free or soy free, OR 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper optional - halve it or leave it out if you like it less spicy
- 2.8 oz sambal oelek a generous 2 1/2 tbsp (please see recipe notes)
- 4 tsp cornflour / cornstarch (see recipe notes)
- 2 tbsp water
Add the vinegar, water, sugar, garlic cloves, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper (if using) in to a non-stick pan. If you're using dried chili instead of sambal oelek, add it to the pan at the same time.
Heat over medium heat while stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for about 2 minutes.
Add the sambal oelek and mix through. Let it cook for about a minute.
Mix the cornstarch and water into a smooth slurry and add this to the sauce as well.
While stirring frequently (to prevent the sauce from burning at the bottom), simmer the sauce for a further 2 - 5 minutes or until it reaches a desired thickness. Remember, the sauce thickens as it cools as well. If it thickens too much, add a little extra water to thin it out. If you're using Clear Jel, the sauce will thicken mostly only as it cools down.
Pour into glass jars with air-tight lids (OR heated and sterilized jars to store for longer).
- Cool to room temperature and store in the fridge.
Sambal oelek substitutions
- 2 tbsp dried chili flakes + 1 tbsp extra rice wine vinegar
- Finely chopped red chili (red jalapeno or Thai red chili - please read blog post for details)
- For canning, use 5 ½ tsp of Clear Jel, dissolved in 3 tbsp water.
Please read the blog post for more ideas on substitutions for other ingredients.