Greatest Adobo Sauce Substitutes

Can you remember the first time you tasted a great Adobo sauce? Its sweet, earthiness is virtually incomparable.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Adobo is a traditional Mexican sauce of Spanish origin that’s made with dried chilis, cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, and a touch of apple cider vinegar.

There’s really nothing like it!

Unfortunately, it’s fairly common to get a hankering for Adobo without having the right ingredients to make it. If that’s your predicament, check out this list of Adobo sauce substitutes.

1.      Adobo Dry Rub

Is this cheating? Maybe. But it’s way easier to find the individual dry ingredients for Adobo than to get your hands on a sauce or make it yourself. Here’s what you will need.

Gourmet Adobo Dry Rub:

  • 1 dried ancho chili
  • 1 dried pasilla chili
  • 4 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Remove the chilis veins, stems, and seeds, then roughly chop them. Lightly the spices – except for the paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oregano – then pulverize everything in a spice grinder or blender.

Basic Adobo Dry Rub:

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1.5 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika

Turn an Adobo Dry Rub into a Sauce

Adobe sauce includes tomatoes and acidic elements. You can use the dry rub as a seasoning, but remember to use tomato sauce, paste, or crushed tomatoes.

2.      Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce is a jalapeno-based tomato sauce that can be much easier to find or make than Adobo.

You can buy pre-made ranchero (sometimes called ranchera sauce) or find salsa versions. Adding some chipotle, ancho, or pasilla chilis will create an Adobo sauce substitute.

How to Make Ranchero Adobo Sauce Substitute

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced (white or yellow is fine)
  • 2 jalapenos, diced
  • 3 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 16 oz can, fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
  • ½ tablespoon chipotle powder
  • ½ dried ancho chili
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Sauté the onion, garlic, jalapenos, plum tomatoes, and dried spices until the onions are translucent. Then add in the crushed tomatoes and let that cook for 5 minutes. Add the broth, cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce simmer for around 5 more minutes, then blend.

3.      Achiote Paste

Achiote paste or recado rojo is an earthy red paste traditionally made from annatto seeds, garlic, Mexican oregano, cumin, cloves, and pepper. It can also have vinegar, lime juice, bitter orange juice, allspice, and bay leaves.

Achiote paste can be tricky to find. However, multicultural grocery stores or international store sections often carry it. Achiote comes in blocks of paste. You can also get annatto powder, or annatto seed seasoning, and add in the other ingredients yourself.

This is an authentically Mexican spice blend that might just hit the spot as an Adobo sauce substitute.

4.      Hoisin and Sriracha Sauces

Please don’t try to cancel us for listing hoisin and sriracha sauces as a possible Adobo sauce substitute. We know it’s nowhere near authentic, but these sauces are pretty much ubiquitous and can be used to simulate other sauces.

Sriracha sauce is chili-based, while hoisin is sweet, dark, and rich. It’s better than nothing when mixed with some cumin, ancho, and chipotle chili.

5.      Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasoning isn’t Mexican or even Tex-Mex, but it’s getting a little closer. A traditional blend contains paprika, garlic, cayenne, oregano, thyme, onion, and black pepper.

Enhance it with chipotle, ancho, or other dried chilis for something close to Adobo sauce.

Try This Adobo-Flavored Cajun Spice Mix:

  • 3 teaspoons paprika – use sweet, smoked, or both
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried chili

6.      Homemade Adobo

Feel up to making your own from scratch? Here’s a basic homemade Adobo sauce.

Adobe Sauce Ingredients

  • ½ cup chili powder or around 8 whole dried chilis (use a blend of anchos, guajillo, chipotle, and pasilla)
  • 1 ½ boiling water for powder or 3 cups boiling water for whole dried chilis
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (or regular)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice (pimento)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Homemade Adobo Sauce Instructions

  • If using chili powder, combine with boiling water and blend when safe.
  • If using whole chilis, place them in a heatproof bowl and pour boiling hot water over them. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, then remove peppers and place in blender with ½ cup fresh water.
  • Sauté onion and garlic in a pan until translucent, then add in spices and toast lightly.
  • Transfer spices to a blender, then blend.
  • Add sugar and apple cider vinegar to taste.
  • Transfer to a sealed container and store in the fridge.

7.      Store-bought Chili Garlic Sauce

Chili forms the base of Adobo sauce, so try using chili garlic sauce as an alternative. It’s not as earthy, smoky, or deep as Adobo but it can make a good base.

Try working with a popular brand like Huy Fong chili garlic sauce. It’s made with jalapenos, vinegar, salt, and sugar, so it isn’t exactly like Adobo. But add a dash to a fire-roasted tomato sauce, along with some chipotle and smoked paprika. That will get you a lot closer to Adobo, with far less work.

8.      Homemade Chili Paste

A simple paste made with one, two, or a few chili varieties can be mind-blowing.  For this recipe, skip Szechuan and other Asian or Indian chili varieties. Those are delicious, but we’re trying to get this as close to Adobo as possible.

Stick to ancho, guajillo, arbol, pasilla, and other Mexican varieties.

Homemade Chili Paste Ingredients

  • 10 to 20 dried, whole Mexican chilis
  • 2 to 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped

Optional:

  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon brown sugar

Homemade Chili Paste Instructions

  • Place chilis in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water
  • Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent
  • Carefully remove the stems, seeds, and large veins from chilis
  • Place chilis in a food processor with onion, garlic, pinch of salt
  • Taste, then add brown sugar and apple cider vinegar to taste

9.      Mojo Rojo or Mojo Picón

Mojo rojo or mojo picón means red or spicy sauce. This sauce comes from the Canary Islands and is traditionally made from red peppers, garlic, paprika, cumin, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and water. You can find some versions with bell pepper as well.

It’s not as smoky as Adobo, but it’s garlicky, zesty, utterly delicious, and just might hit the spot.

Mojo Rojo Sauce Recipe

  • 2 dried chilis – try finding pimienta palmera or guindilla
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin – preferably roasted
  • 1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Use a food processor to crush the chilis, garlic, cumin, paprika, and salt. Then drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar.

10. Adobo Flavored Sofrito

Sofrito sauce is made of diced or pureed bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, culantro, onions, and garlic.

It’s a flavorful Latin sauce that can be used as-is or combined with Adobo seasonings. To switch up the original version, add in some chipotle peppers.

You can find pre-made sofrito sauces from Goya and other Latin brands. But it’s pretty easy to make this yourself.

Sofrito-Based Adobo Sauce Substitute Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 2 green bell peppers, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, peeled and chopped
  • 2 orange bell peppers, peeled and chopped
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1 small bunch culantro or recao
  • 5 aji dulce peppers, stemmed
  • ½ cup chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon black pepper

Process all ingredients in a food processor until well combined.

11. Adobo-ish Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is made from tomato sauce, flour, broth, chili powder, garlic powder, and cayenne. That’s pretty much it.

You can make that a little more interesting by including some fire-roasted tomatoes and non-generic chilis.

Adobo Enchilada Sauce Recipe

  • 3 cups fire-roasted tomatoes (crushed or as sauce)
  • 1 or 2 fire-roasted bell peppers (either homemade or store-bought)
  • 2 cups vegetable, beef, or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Lightly toast the chili, cumin, allspice, and flour in the oil. Then whisk in the broth, roasted tomatoes, and roasted bell peppers.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then let simmer for around 10 minutes.

12. Salsa Borracha aka Drunk Salsa

Salsa borracha is a tequila-containing salsa that doesn’t get enough shine. Traditionally, these are prepared with fermented agave sap, but that’s difficult to find outside of Mexico.

It’s deep, rich, roasted, and boozy. This has to be made at home, but it’s well worth the effort. You may even end up liking this alternative sauce even more than Adobo.

Salsa Borracha Recipe

  • 2 pasilla chilis
  • 5 fresh jalapeno chilis
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 ounces of tequila
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro

Salsa Borracha Instructions

  • Remove the chilis stems and seeds.
  • Toast the dried chilis in a pan until they smoke.
  • Soak dried chilis in boiling water for 15 minutes.
  • Sauté jalapenos, tomatoes, garlic, and onion in the same pan as chilis.
  • Transfer all ingredients into a food processor and process down.
  • Place mixture back in the pan and simmer lightly.

13. Salsa Roja

Salsa roja is the popular red salsa served at Mexican restaurants. It’s traditionally made with jalapenos, but you can add in a pinch of ancho chili powder to give it an Adobo twist.

Salsa Roja Ingredients

  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • ½ onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 jalapeno
  • ¼ bunch of cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Salsa Roja Instructions

  • Process the garlic, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and jalapeno in a food processor.
  • Simmer it on the stove with the oregano, chili powder, and a touch of olive oil.

14. Spicy Salsa de Tomate or Spanish Tomato Sauce

Adobo originates in Spain. So, let’s consider a classic Spanish sauce as an Adobo alternative.

Salsa de Tomate is a nicely spiced Spanish tomato sauce made with plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, and pepper.

Homemade Salsa de Tomate Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, seeds removed
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Sauté the garlic, onions, and pepper in olive oil. Then add in the ripe tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes and blend in a food processor.

15. Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Happen to find a can of chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce? Go ahead and use that! You can add those chipotles into just about any tomato-based dish to include classic Adobo notes.

You won’t get the complete impact or richness of an Adobo sauce, but it’s better than nothing.

Adobo is unlike any other sauce. It’s hard to find a substitute, but these 15 come pretty close.

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