Harissa Paste Vs. Powder

Harissa is a fiery North African chili pepper paste that has become popular around the world for its versatile uses and big, bold flavor. This bright red condiment can transform grilled meats, stir fries, eggs, sandwiches, dips and more with its spicy, earthy kick.

Harissa Paste Vs. Powder

While harissa originated in Tunisia, variations of the paste can be found across North Africa and the Middle East. The name comes from the Arabic word “harasa” meaning "to break into pieces," referring to the process of pounding chili peppers and spices together to make the paste.

There are two main forms of harissa available: harissa paste and harissa powder. While both deliver big, bold flavor, there are some key differences between the paste and powdered versions that impact how they are used.

Harissa Paste

Harissa paste is the more traditional version, consisting of a blend of chili peppers, spices, herbs and olive oil blended to a smooth or chunky texture. This is the type of harissa commonly used in authentic North African and Middle Eastern dishes.

Typical harissa paste ingredients include:

  • Dried chili peppers - Often a blend of hot and mild varieties
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Spices like cumin, coriander, caraway
  • Citrus juice - Lemon or lime
  • Herbs - Mint, cilantro, parsley
  • Salt

Some recipes also include tomato paste, smoked paprika or rose petals. The specific chilies, spices and herbs used can vary, resulting in harissa pastes with different levels of heat, smokiness and flavor complexity.

To make harissa paste:

The dried chilies are rehydrated in hot water until softened. They are then blended along with the additional ingredients until a smooth or chunky paste forms. More olive oil can be added to adjust the consistency as desired.

Benefits of harissa paste:

  • Intense flavor - The process of rehydrating the chilies really brings out their flavor.
  • Can control spice level - You can adjust the amount and type of chilies.
  • Lasts 1-2 weeks refrigerated.
  • Easy to blend into sauces, dressings, dips.
  • Works as a marinade.

How to use harissa paste:

  • As a condiment - Drizzle over eggs, meat, fish, sandwiches.
  • In dressings and dips - Blend into yogurt, mayo, hummus.
  • As a marinade - For chicken, beef, fish, veggies.
  • In braises and stews - Adds richness and spice.
  • Stir into tomato sauce - For pizza, pasta, etc.
  • With grains - Mix into rice, couscous, quinoa.

Harissa paste can be found at specialty markets or made at home, and lasts 1-2 weeks refrigerated.

Harissa Powder

Harissa powder offers the same spices and flavor as harissa paste in a dried, ground form. It is made by simply grinding together the typical harissa ingredients - dried chilies, cumin, coriander, caraway, garlic, etc.

Typical harissa powder ingredients include:

As with the paste, the specific chilies and spice amounts can vary, resulting in powders with different heat levels. Additional herbs like mint or oregano are sometimes included too.

Benefits of harissa powder:

  • Shelf-stable - Lasts 4-6 months in an airtight container.
  • Easy to find - Sold in the spice aisle of many grocery stores.
  • Portable - Easy to bring camping, travel, etc.
  • Can control spice level - Adjust amount used.
  • Works as a dry rub.

How to use harissa powder:

  • As a dry rub - For meat, fish, veggies.
  • Sprinkle on eggs, pasta, pizza.
  • Stir into olive oil as a drizzle or marinade.
  • Mix into mayo, hummus, yogurt dips.
  • Add to stews, chilis, soups.
  • Use in place of chili powder in recipes.

Harissa powder provides the same big flavor in an easy to use, shelf-stable form. It's readily available in the spice aisle.

Harissa Paste vs. Harissa Powder

So when should you use harissa paste versus powder? Here's a breakdown of their differences and best uses:

Harissa PasteHarissa Powder
Blend of rehydrated chilies and spicesGround, dried spice blend
Must be refrigeratedShelf-stable
Lasts 1-2 weeksLasts 4-6 months
Sold at specialty stores or made at homeReadily available in spice aisle
Intense, complex flavorConvenient, still packs a punch
Best for marinades, sauces, dressingsBest as a dry rub or seasoning
Controls spice level by adjusting chili amountControls spice level by amount used

Both harissa paste and harissa powder deliver that signature earthy, spicy North African flavor. The paste offers maximum flavor intensity, while the powder is more convenient and versatile.

Here are some guidelines for when to use each:

Use harissa paste for:

  • Marinades - The paste adheres well to meat and vegetables.
  • Dips and dressings - Easily blended into creamy or oily mixtures.
  • Sauces - Adds richness when cooked into tomato sauces.
  • Stovetop dishes - Allows flavor to develop when simmered.
  • Mediterranean recipes - Authentic flavor for regional dishes.
  • Maximizing flavor - More intensity from rehydrated chilies.

Use harissa powder for:

  • Dry rubs - Adheres beautifully to meats and veggies.
  • Last minute seasoning - Easy to sprinkle on finished dishes.
  • Spice blends - Mix with other dried spices.
  • Travel - Lightweight and non-perishable.
  • Adjusting spice level - Use more or less to taste.
  • Easy weekday meals - No prep needed.
  • Soups and stews - Sprinkle right in with other seasonings.

Key Takeaway: Use harissa paste when you want maximum flavor for sauces, marinades or authentic dishes. Use the powder for quick weeknight seasoning or when you need a shelf-stable option.

Turning Harissa Powder into Paste

Don't have harissa paste but want that same intense flavor for a recipe? You can easily turn harissa powder into a quick paste at home.

Here are two simple methods:

Oil Method

  • Combine 2 parts harissa powder with 1 part olive oil.
  • Stir together until a thick paste forms.
  • Add more oil to thin, or more powder to thicken as desired.

Oil + Water Method

  • Combine 2 parts harissa powder with 1 part olive oil and 1 part water.
  • Stir together until a paste forms.
  • Adjust consistency with more oil/water/powder as needed.

The oil + water method produces a paste closer in texture to traditional harissa paste. Oil alone makes it slightly more loose.

Feel free to adjust the ratios based on your personal preference! Start with a small amount until you get the paste consistency you like.

Let the paste sit for 10-30 minutes for the best flavor, as the spices will continue to rehydrate. Add a pinch of additional spices like cumin or smoked paprika to personalize the flavor.

Key Takeaway: Mix harissa powder with olive oil and/or water for an easy homemade harissa paste perfect for recipes.

How to Use Harissa Paste vs. Powder

Once you've got your hands on some harissa in either paste or powder form, it's time to put it to delicious use!

Here are some ideas for using both harissa paste and powder creatively:

Harissa Paste Uses

  • Marinades - Mix harissa paste with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to marinate chicken, beef, fish or veggies.
  • Meatballs - Add harissa paste to the ground meat mixture for spicy, flavorful meatballs.
  • Salad dressings - Whisk harissa paste into olive oil and vinegar for a bold vinaigrette.
  • Sandwich spread - Smear some harissa paste inside your next sandwich for extra flavor.
  • Pizza sauce - Swirl a few tablespoons of harissa into plain pizza sauce for a spicy kick.
  • Burger topping - Dollop some harissa paste onto your next burger along with traditional toppings.

Harissa Powder Uses

  • Dry rub - Coat meats or vegetables with olive oil, then sprinkle on harissa powder generously.
  • Popcorn seasoning - Toss popped popcorn with a little melted butter and harissa powder for a spicy snack.
  • Eggs - Add harissa powder to scrambled eggs or omelets for a flavor and color boost.
  • Chili - Use harissa powder instead of regular chili powder to give your chili depth.
  • Roasted veggies - Toss carrots, potatoes, cauliflower etc. in harissa powder before roasting.
  • Salad topping - Sprinkle harissa powder over any salad for a punch of flavor.
  • Pita chips - Brush pita slices with oil then sprinkle with harissa powder and bake until crisp.

Key Takeaway: Harissa paste is great for bold marinades, spreads and sauces. The powder works beautifully as a dry spice rub or quick seasoning.

Best Brands of Harissa

There are many excellent harissa paste and powder options available at grocery stores or online. Here are some of the best harissa brands to try:

Harissa Powder:

  • McCormick - Milder heat, found in spice aisle
  • Frontier Co-Op - Moderate heat, sold online
  • Spice Hunter - Hotter option with garlic, online

Harissa Paste:

  • Mina - Tunisian brand, very spicy
  • Roland - Popular French brand, milder
  • Trader Joe's - Their own tasty version
  • Harrisa Paste Co. - Small batch, sold online
  • Olivier & Co. - Flavorful Moroccan style

For an authentic Tunisian-style harissa with some serious heat, try Mina brand paste. For a milder, more nuanced flavor, go for a French brand like Roland. The McCormick powder is readily available with a nice moderate heat level.

As always, taste test a few options to find your personal favorites! Homemade harissa also allows full control over the flavor and spice level.

Is Harissa Spicy?

One important question when cooking with harissa is - just how spicy is it? The answer is...it depends!

Both harissa paste and powder can range from mild to very spicy depending on the specific chilies used in the blend. Some are made with mostly milder chilies like ancho or guajillo peppers. The spiciest versions use hotter dried chilies like arbol, Aleppo or bird's eye peppers.

When using store bought harissa, check the packaging for information on the heat level:

  • Mild - Use more for flavor than heat
  • Medium - Adds moderate spice
  • Hot/Spicy - Packs more punch

With homemade harissa, you control the heat by adjusting the amounts and types of chilies used. Start with mostly mild chilies and add fewer hot chilies until you get the spice level you prefer.

It's easy to adjust the heat of any harissa by adding more or less when you use it. Start with a small amount, taste, and add more as desired.

Key Takeaway: Harissa heat level varies widely - check labels and adjust amounts to suit your taste. Milder harissa adds lots of flavor without much spice.

Popular Uses for Harissa

Part of what makes harissa so popular is its incredible versatility. Here is just a sampling of the many delicious ways harissa can be used:

  • Coat or marinate chicken, beef, fish or tofu
  • Whisk into hummus, yogurt, mayo for dips
  • Add to scrambled or fried eggs
  • Mix into rice, couscous, quinoa
  • Add to roasted, grilled or sautéed vegetables
  • Stir into stews, chilis, soups, curries
  • Use as a sandwich or burger spread
  • Whisk into salad dressings and vinaigrettes
  • Drizzle over avocado toast or fries
  • Spread on pitas, flatbreads and pizza
  • Add to bloody marys and other cocktails
  • Mix into ground meat for spicy meatballs
  • Toss with popcorn along with olive oil
  • Spread inside grilled cheese for a flavor boost

The combinations are endless! Harissa's versatility comes from its complexity - chili heat paired with earthy, robust spices. It livens up anything it touches.

Common Harissa Ingredient Substitutes

Don't have all the right ingredients to make harissa from scratch? Not to worry, there are some great ingredient substitutes you can use in either homemade harissa or when turning powder into paste:

  • For dried chilies - Chili powder, cayenne powder, red pepper flakes
  • For cumin - Ground coriander or caraway seeds
  • For smoked paprika - Additional chili powder
  • For mint - Dried oregano or marjoram
  • For citrus juice - Vinegar, red or white wine
  • For olive oil - Neutral oil like grapeseed or sunflower
  • For garlic - Onion powder, garlic powder

Worst case, you can make a quick harissa paste with just chili powder and oil. It won't have the same depth of flavor as traditional harissa, but will still provide spice and color.

Is Harissa Healthy?

One of the things that makes harissa so appealing is that it is relatively healthy as far as condiments go. Some key benefits of harissa:

  • High in antioxidants - From the chili peppers and spices like cumin
  • Rich in vitamins - Particularly vitamins A, E and C
  • Contains capsaicinoids - Compounds in chilies with health benefits
  • Adds lots of flavor - Allows you to use less salt, sugar, fat
  • Anti-inflammatory properties - From the chili peppers and garlic
  • Low calorie - Just 30 calories in 1 tablespoon
  • Vegan - Traditionally made without animal products

Harissa paste is higher in beneficial oils from the olive oil, while powder offers concentrated spices without added fat. But both provide a big flavor punch that enhances healthy vegetables, beans, grains and lean proteins.

So enjoy harissa guilt-free! Just be mindful of your tolerance for spicy foods. And pair it with nutritious whole foods like veggies, eggs and chicken.

Homemade Harissa Paste Recipe

Want to try making your own harissa at home? Here is an easy, customizable recipe:


  • 4-5 dried chilies, mild and/or hot - guajillo, ancho, arbol etc.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste


  1. Remove stems and seeds from dried chilies. Place in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes to rehydrate.
  2. Drain chilies and place in a food processor along with remaining ingredients. Pulse until a paste forms, stopping to scrape down sides.
  3. Adjust consistency with more olive oil if needed. Season with additional salt if desired.
  4. Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Feel free to adjust the quantities of different chilies to control the heat level. Add fresh herbs like cilantro or mint for extra flavor too. Enjoy your homemade harissa!


What does harissa taste like?

Harissa has a spicy, robust flavor with notes of earthy spices like cumin and coriander. It also often has touches of garlic, citrus and smoke from peppers like chipotle. Overall it is very savory and versatile, pairing well with many foods.

Can I make my own harissa?

Yes, making homemade harissa is easy! Simply soak dried chilies, then blend with spices, garlic, oil and citrus to form a paste. Adjust ingredients to taste.

How spicy is harissa?

Harissa can range from mild to very spicy depending on the type of dried chilies used. Check labels for an indication of heat level or adjust the amounts of different chilies when making your own.

Can I substitute harissa powder for paste?

Yes, combine harissa powder with oil and/or water to recreate the paste. Use a 2:1 ratio of powder to oil/water, adjusting amounts until you get the right consistency.

How should I store harissa?

Store harissa paste in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. The powder will keep for 4-6 months in a sealed container in a cool, dark place.


Harissa is a versatile condiment that can liven up many dishes.

With its addictive flavor, vibrant color and versatility, harissa is a phenomenal addition to your spice collection.

Start experimenting with this North African staple today!

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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