Enchilada sauce is not something that everyone has in their kitchen. So finding a good substitute is a common question that I hear people ask. I’ve tried just about every possibility over the past 50 years, and this is what I learned.
The best similar substitute for red enchilada sauce is taco sauce. Although the former is chili-based and the latter is tomato-based, the two can be used interchangeably because of similar qualities, such as taste. Only slight modifications are needed to make taco sauce a great alternative.
Although taco sauce is a suitable substitute, the perfect alternative depends on your recipe’s needs; thus, you might prefer other options as they match the flavors or textures better. Learn more about substituting enchilada sauce in this article.
What Is Enchilada Sauce Made Of?
Before anything else, knowing what enchilada sauce is would help significantly in determining substitutes. It allows you to choose the ones closest in composition or offer the most similar flavors. Instead of using alternatives, you can also use such info to make it from scratch.
Enchilada sauce is primarily made of chilis and spices. The most common type, red enchilada sauce, also contains tomatoes; thus, you can swap it with other tomato-based sauces. However, two types – green and white enchilada – may have little to no tomatoes.
To choose the perfect substitute, you must determine what enchilada sauce you need. Otherwise, you may substitute a red tomato-based sauce for a green or white enchilada, leading to many flavor differences.
1. Taco Sauce
Taco sauce is a tomato-based sauce that may also contain chilis, seasonings, and spices. Thus, it’s similar to red enchilada sauce in color and flavor.
However, a lesser-known type of taco sauce called green sauce contains green tomatoes instead. Thus, it could be an excellent alternative to green enchilada sauce.
Another way to use taco sauce for green enchilada is to add green salsa or tomatillos.
Can I Use Taco Sauce Instead of Enchilada Sauce?
However, with all those similarities, taco and enchilada sauces aren’t direct substitutes. That’s because they are different in spiciness and consistency.
You can use taco sauce instead of enchilada sauce, but you’ll have to adjust the amount. Adjusting the amount allows you to cook the taco sauce for longer until it reaches the desired consistency without overwhelming the dish. Moreover, the taste and intensity of the spice would be different because the sauces use different peppers.
Taco sauce often uses cayenne pepper, while enchilada sauce has chilis or chili powder at its core. As cayenne is hotter or spicier than chili powder, using less taco sauce than the equivalent enchilada sauce is crucial.
You can also follow this Chicken Enchiladas recipe from Allrecipes. It uses taco sauce and cheddar cheese to cover the chicken tortilla rolls before baking.
2. Salsa Sauce
Although salsa is used more as a dip or condiment than a sauce, it also works fine when you run out of enchilada sauce. However, the texture is noticeably different because salsa is naturally chunkier than enchilada or other flavorings.
There are many kinds of salsa, but the most familiar would be salsa roja, made from red tomatoes and can be used to replace red enchilada sauce. But if you need a green enchilada alternative, use salsa verde instead, which consists of tomatillos and green chilis.
Can I Use Salsa in Place of Enchilada Sauce?
You can use salsa in place of enchilada sauce, but there’s a significant difference in texture and flavor. It would be noticeably chunkier as it’s harder to cook out the salsa to make it as thin as enchilada sauce. Although salsa also has chilis, it’s less flavorful because of the fewer spices.
If you have to use salsa, you’ll have to use more than the needed amount of enchilada sauce. You may also add liquid instead, which might help make the consistency runnier and, thus, more similar to enchilada sauce.
You may also have to add more seasonings to achieve the flavor complexity of the enchilada. Some spices and flavorings you can find in homemade enchilada recipes are the following:
- Ground cumin
- Garlic powder
- Onion salt
- Chili powder
- Dried oregano
If you want to avoid arbitrarily adding spices, go for an enchilada seasoning mixture instead. You can make it at home with the following:
- Chili powder
- Dried onion flakes
- Palm sugar
- Ground cumin
- Garlic powder
But if you want to avoid the hassle of making spice mixes, there’s also this type of enchilada seasoning found on Amazon, which is a very good ready-made mix. It comes in a shaker bottle for easy storage and addition to dishes. It also has a chicken flavor for a subtle meaty taste classic in enchiladas.
3. Ranchero Sauce
Ranchero sauce is another tomato-and-chili sauce that’s an excellent substitute for enchilada sauce. Some describe it as the cross between a salsa and an enchilada sauce; thus, it would work well as an alternative for red enchilada recipes.
While enchilada sauce usually has chili powder and the usual red or green chilis, these are some of the peppers (besides chilis) used in ranchero sauce:
- Guajillo chili peppers
- Dried New Mexico chili peppers
- Habanero peppers
- Chipotles in adobo
- Jalapeno peppers
- Ancho chilis
- Cayenne pepper
The overall spiciness of your ranchero sauce would depend on the type or combination of peppers you’ll use.
Like enchilada sauce, ranchero sauce is also very flavorful. Depending on the recipe, it may include the following spices or seasonings:
- Mexican oregano
If you want to make ranchero sauce for enchiladas, you can use this recipe from Hispanic Kitchen. It is designed for enchiladas, so the consistency, texture, and flavor would be as similar as it could be to authentic enchilada sauce. But as it uses red tomatoes, this is good for red enchilada recipes only.
4. Picante Sauce
Another underrated Mexican sauce is Picante sauce. Like red enchilada sauce, it has chili and tomatoes, so they make suitable substitutes for each other. However, Picante sauce has distinctly brighter, tangy flavors from the added limes and apple cider vinegar.
Although it’s often used as a salsa, it’s also suitable as a sauce. Compared to salsa, it’s also more flavorful and less chunky, so it could be a better substitute for red enchilada sauce.
To make enchiladas using Picante sauce, you can follow this Picante Chicken Enchiladas recipe from Just A Pinch. It combines Picante sauce with sour cream and chili powder to make the sauce for the chicken enchiladas.
Another recipe you can follow is this Chicken Enchiladas from Campbell’s. It covers the bottom and top of the dish with the Picante sauce. The remaining sauce combines sour cream, chili powder, chicken, and cheese to fill the enchilada.
You can choose homemade or bottled if you’re set on using Picante sauce for your enchiladas. Homemade is great for fresh flavors, but bottled is more convenient and consistent. You can also find the latter on Amazon.com:
- Pace Picante Sauce Mild. This Picante sauce is made from tomatoes, hand-picked jalapenos, onions, vinegar, salt, flavoring, and water. It’s designed to have a mildly spicy flavor, so it’s the best alternative for those who want an enchilada sauce that’s less hot than usual.
- Pace Medium Picante Sauce. This Picante sauce is similar to the previous one but much spicier and hotter. Thus, it better matches enchilada sauce’s traditional flavors and spice levels.
5. Sofrito Sauce
Sofrito is an aromatic and flavorful blend of spices, seasonings, and other ingredients. It is common in many households worldwide, with specific compositions varying per culture.
For instance, in Spanish cuisine, sofrito typically consists of the following:
- Olive oil
The flavors and textures of sofrito are different from the usual enchilada sauce. Indeed, some sofrito recipes don’t even have chili peppers, which are the essence of enchilada sauces. However, this is a good alternative if you want a new experience in your enchilada.
If you use sofrito for enchiladas, consider this No-Bake Vegetarian Enchiladas from Food & Wine. The vegetarian enchiladas are covered with a medley of sofrito, smoky tomatillo salsa, and queso franco. The flavors are new and fresh – a twist from the usual rich, spicy-hot enchilada.
6. Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce is a puree usually made out of ripe red tomatoes. But it has a thinner consistency than actual tomato puree, hence the different labels. It may also have various spices and flavorings.
If you have to use tomato sauce for your enchilada, it’s best to treat it not just as a substitute. You can mix it with a bunch of spices and seasonings to make red enchilada sauce from scratch! This is perfect if you don’t have ready-made enchilada sauce but want to retain much of the flavor, texture, and quality.
Can I Make Enchilada Sauce With Tomato Sauce?
You can make enchilada sauce from scratch with tomato sauce. You’ll also need oil, chili powder, self-rising flour, water, ground cumin, garlic powder, and onion salt. Others also add cinnamon and broth for more flavor and complexity.
To make homemade enchilada sauce with tomato sauce, follow this recipe from AllRecipes. You’ll need to cook the sauce, so make sure you have pots and a stove. Ingredients and procedures are simple and take less than 20 minutes to complete.
If you prefer tomato paste, with its thicker consistency and more concentrated flavor, you can follow this recipe from Cookies and Kate instead. It’s similar to that of AllRecipes, but with more flavorings like:
- Dried oregano
- Vegetable broth
- Apple cider or distilled white vinegar
- Black pepper
An advantage of making homemade enchilada sauce is you can control the spice level. So if you find store-bought enchilada sauces too hot or mild for you, try the recommended recipes. You can cut back or add more chili powder as you prefer.
7. Chiltomate Sauce
Chiltomate is a special tomato sauce from the Yucatan region of Mexico. It stands out for its combination of tomatoes and habanero peppers. Habanero is known to be one of the hottest and spiciest chili peppers, so a dish with chiltomate is bound to have a great kick and heat.
To make chiltomate sauce from scratch, you’ll need the following:
- Roma tomatoes
- Habanero peppers
- Garlic cloves
- Red onions
- Sour orange juice
Some recipes use white onions instead of red and do not include sour oranges or citrus juice. Also, chiltomate sauce has less variety in spices and seasonings than traditional enchilada sauce. While this allows the heat to come through better, you wouldn’t have the same complexity as you get from the usual sauce.
Thus, if you’re going to use this for enchiladas, consider adding more seasonings, like the enchilada seasoning mix. But if you’re alright with the chiltomate’s natural flavors, you can work with that, too. After all, its textures and consistencies are already similar to the traditional sauce.
You can also follow this Kale & Mushroom Enchiladas recipe with Chiltomate Sauce. It’s perfect for vegetarians or people on gluten-free diets who want to enjoy the great taste of enchiladas. Also, this recipe solely relies on the chiltomate sauce for moisture – there’s no tomato paste, sauce, broth, or anything else.
8. Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti sauce may seem like an odd alternative for enchilada sauce, but it is one of the most convenient. You’re likely to have it in your pantry; if not, most groceries would have them. The flavors are also familiar, which is excellent for those with particular tastes.
To make an enchilada sauce using spaghetti sauce, follow this recipe from The Decorated Cookie, which combines it with the following spices:
- Chili powder
Within a few minutes, you have enchilada sauce ready for use. However, note that the original flavors of your spaghetti sauce would affect your enchilada’s final flavors. For instance, if you use sweet spaghetti sauce, expect the flavors to have a distinct sweetness that’s not typical of enchiladas.
What Is the Healthiest Substitute for Enchilada Sauce?
There are many possible substitutes for enchilada sauce, and many of them you can buy ready-made or in bottles, like Picante or taco sauce. However, that isn’t that healthy, so what’s the best option for the health-conscious?
The healthiest substitute for enchilada sauce would be homemade salsa, ranchero, or chiltomate sauce. These are the options you are likely to make from scratch and, thus, use fresh and nutritious ingredients. For instance, all have fresh tomatoes rich in vitamin C, K, potassium, and lycopene.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.