While the hot sauce craze in the US has grown drastically over the last three decades, hot sauce is nothing new. We’ve decided to join the craze and share with you all things hot sauce in our Ultimate Guide to Hot Sauce. Humans have been flavoring their food with hot sauces and condiments since we stopped our hunter/gatherer lifestyle and transitioned to an agricultural lifestyle.
Once we humans settled down on farms, hot peppers quickly traveled the world along trade routes and made their way to peoples’ tables globally. While traveling the world, hot sauces picked unique ingredients and flavorings from every different region giving the condiment regional flavors and styles that we’ve grown to love on our foods.
Hot sauce is the number one growing condiment in the United States.
Over 56% of American households have hot sauce in their cabinets.
What is Hot Sauce?
At it’s most basic (and delicious) level, hot sauce is boiled down hot peppers in a pot with water, salt, and vinegar. Hot peppers are easily dried, and many times hot sauce is made from boiling dried chilis with these other ingredients.
Hot sauces have picked up regional various from all over the world, resulting in several different “styles” of hot sauce.
Types of Hot Sauce:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the fundamental varieties of hot sauce you will find on most grocery market shelves.
Louisiana style is the first culturally American variety of hot sauce created by Edmund Mcilhenney. Tobasco is a simple style hot sauce with very few ingredients. Hot peppers, vinegar, and salt are essentially the entire recipe. Edmund’s hot sauce was famously called Tobasco Sauce from the Tobasco variety of peppers he used. To this day, Tobasco sauce is one of America’s favorite hot sauces. We love using Tobasco in clam chowder!
This style of hot sauces comes from Mexico and South America. Picante sauces are a smooth salsa-like chili sauce made by using hot peppers and various other ingredients used to create a spicy sauce used on a variety of Mexican and South American dishes. Valentina and El Yucateco are two popular Picante hot sauces you will find in grocery markets.
Siracha-style hot sauces are an Asian variety of hot sauces originating from Vietnam. Spicy Siracha is a thick sauce with a consistency similar to ketchup. Siracha uses chilis and vinegar but also includes other ingredients such as lemongrass and sugar. The brand Siracha is one of the most widely sold varieties of hot sauce sold in the United States.
Chili Garlic Sauce:
This sauce is similar to siracha in flavor, but it is not blended. Chili garlic sauce is slightly chunkier, with the pepper seeds being one of the most visible components. Garlic Chili sauce is a paste most commonly used while cooking stir-fries and other Asian inspired dishes. It’s also delicious on tuna wraps!
Harissa is a hot sauce or chili paste style that originates in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In addition to chilis and vinegar, you will find ingredients such as coriander, cardamom, and cherries in Harissa style chili paste. We love using Harissa as a pizza sauce with goat cheese!
Red/Green Chili Sauce:
Red and Green Chili sauces are similar to Picante style hot sauce. The color comes from the variety of peppers used in making the sauce. Restaurants that offer both types usually have one that is hotter than the other. Red sauces are generally a bit sweeter because the peppers are allowed to ripen a bit longer on the vine leading to a different flavor profile than green chilis.
The Scotch Bonnet and the Trinidad Scorpion peppers are two popular peppers native to the Caribbean. Pepper Sauces from the Caribbean often incorporate lots of vegetables and fruits, making a thick, flavorful sauce. Most households in the Caribbean have their own unique variety of “pepper sauce.”
Ultimate Guide to Hot Sauce: The Peppers
Hot Peppers are the key to the heat and intensity of the hot sauce.
Worldwide there are over 50,000 different varieties of hot peppers.
Thousand of different hot peppers with differences in flavor profiles and heat levels make hot sauces unique and delicious. The variations of hot sauce recipes are endless!
A chemical compound called capsaicin found in the seeds and veins inside the peppers gives peppers their heat. Capsaicin is the natural defense system of the pepper plant to keep predators at bay. Luckily for us, humans love the pain and flavor of the capsaicin in hot peppers!
The Scoville Scale:
The Scoville Scale organizes the heat levels of hot peppers. The scale measures capsaicin in hot peppers. The Scoville scale is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) and helps people tell how hot or mild peppers are.
Ultimate Guide to Common Hot Peppers and their Scoville Scale:
- Bell Pepper: 0 SHU
- Banana Peppers: 100-500 SHU
- Anaheim Pepper: 500,2500 SHU
- Poblano Pepper: 1,000-2,000 SHU
- Jalapeno: 2,500-5,000 SHU
- Serrano: 6,000-23,000 SHU
- Cayanne: 30,000-50,000 SHU
- Tobasco Pepper: 30,000-50,000 SHU
- Bird’s Eye Pepper: 50,000-250,000 SHU
- Habanero: 100,000-350,000 SHU
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper: 100,000-400,000 SHU
- Ghost Pepper: 850,000-1,050,000 SHU
- Carolina Reaper: 1,500,000- 2,200,000 SHU
The current holder of the World Record for Hottest Pepper is the Carolina Reaper.
Two other peppers are awaiting official testing from the Guinness Book of World Records, and both could surpass the Carolina Reaper as the hottest pepper in the world.
When making hot sauce, it’s essential to know your tolerance levels when it comes to heat. Some people can tolerate much hotter peppers than others.
Our Favorite Hot Sauce Brands:
El Yucateco is a habanero chili sauce that offers several flavors and varieties. We love their green style chili sauce. We add this sauce to almost any meal from eggs and rice to soups.
An American classic, Tobasco, has to be on this list. First made in 1868, Tobasco is classic, but it also boasts the flavor that keeps it an American favorite.
Siracha is a fantastic condiment to put on your dinner table with almost every meal. We love the easy to use squirt bottle that allows you to use just the right amount.
Cholula sauce is one of the most widely sold hot sauces in the United States and with good reason. Cholula’s original variety uses the Cayenne pepper, but they offer several types of delicious sauces using different peppers.
Ultimate Guide to Hot Sauce: Making Hot Sauce:
While it’s easy and convenient to buy delicious hot sauces, creating your own unique hot sauce blend is part of the charm of hot sauces. Households worldwide have hot sauces that they all claim to be the best.
Joining the ranks of hot sauce creators is fun, easy, and makes for excellent holiday gifts!
We’ve written on this subject in a couple of different ways.
For the Best DIY Hot Sauce making kits, check out this article here!
If you want to get creative and make hot sauce from scratch, we’ve done that too!
Check out our Guide to Making Hot Sauce at Home!
Regional Variations on Hot Sauces:
Picking a hot sauce recipe means knowing what you want and don’t want in a hot sauce. Different regions of the world have developed hot sauces that we’ve grown to love.
Eastern Europe: (Paprika Paste) Eastern Europe uses paprika and other hot peppers to create a paste that is used to flavor dishes and marinate meats.
Asian: (Chili Oils and Siracha) Chili oils and siracha style sauces create spicy dishes from pho and ramen to tasty meats and seafood.
Mexico and South America: (Salsa Picante) Tomatillos and red tomatoes add flavor and complexity to hot sauces with jalapenos, serranos, and other dried chilis being favored in this part of the world.
Caribbean: Fruits, green onions, cilantro, and other vegetables create thick and flavorful Caribbean-style hot sauces.
Ways to Use Hot Sauce:
- On chicken wings
- Mixed into eggs
- Add heat to meat and ribs.
- To make a spicy salad dressing.
- Add on to sandwiches and burgers (even hot dogs).
- Drizzle onto soups.
- Add flavor to your deviled eggs.
- On Tacos and other wraps
- Add some spice and flavor to hot chocolate.
- Homemade Bloody Mary’s!
- Mix with melted butter for a spicy butter!
- Drizzle over watermelon on sliced cucumber!
What to Drink with Hot Sauce:
While most people reach for lots of water while eating spicy foods, water can actually make the heat feel worse! Drinking a glass of milk or eating some yogurt in between bites helps to neutralize the heat.
The next time you’re competing in a hot wing challenge, reach for the milk instead of water. If you’re just enjoying a spicy meal, anything goes!
The Bottom Line:
Hot sauce is a delicious and flavorful condiment that tastes good and challenges your taste buds and pain tolerance! The more hot sauce or spicy foods you eat, the better your heat tolerance becomes. Start with peppers on the lower end of the Scoville scale and work your way up to hotter peppers! We hope you’ve enjoyed our Ultimate Guide to Hot Sauce as much as we’ve enjoyed eating hot sauce and growing hot peppers!
Check Out Our Series on Hot Sauce and Hot Peppers!
- How to Grow Hot Peppers in a 5-Gallon Bucket
- Caribbean Style Hot Sauce at Home
- How to Make Spicy Korean Kimchi
- Five Best DIY Hot Sauce Kits
- How to Make Homemade Salsa
- Make Your Own Hot Sauce
- How to Make Homemade Red Hot Sauce
- How to Make Your own Buffalo Sauce