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All about hot sauces

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There are thousands of varieties of hot sauce

A fermented hot sauce

Hot sauce, also known as chilli sauce or pepper sauce refers to any spicy sauce condiment made from chilli peppers and other ingredients.


Humans have used chilli peppers and other hot spices for thousands of years. Inhabitants of Mexico, Central America and South America had chilli peppers more than 6,000 years ago. Within decades of contact with Spain and Portugal in the 16th century, the American plant was carried across Europe and into Africa and Asia, and altered through selective breeding. One of the first commercially available bottled hot sauces appeared in 1807 in Massachusetts. However, of the early brands in the 1800s, few survive to this day. Tabasco sauce is the earliest recognizable brand in the hot sauce industry, appearing in 1868 and becoming synonymous with the term hot sauce. As of 2010, it was the number 13 best-selling condiment in the United States preceded by Frank's RedHot Sauce in number 12 place, which was the sauce first invented and used with the creation of Buffalo Wings.


There are many recipes for hot sauces but the only common ingredient is any kind of chilli pepper. A group of chemicals called capsaicinoids are responsible for the heat in chilli peppers. Many hot sauces are made by using chilli peppers as the base and can be as simple as adding salt and vinegar while other sauces use some type of fruits or vegetables as the base and add the chilli peppers to make them hot. Manufacturers use many different processes from aging in containers, to pureeing and cooking the ingredients to achieve a desired flavour. Because of their ratings on the Scoville scale, Ghost pepper and Habanero peppers are used to make the hotter sauces but additional ingredients are used to add extra heat, such as pure capsaicin extract and mustard oil. Other common ingredients include vinegar and spices. Vinegar is used primarily as a natural preservative, but flavoured vinegars can be used to attain a different taste.



Original Tabasco red pepper sauce

  • Belize: Belizean hot sauces are usually extremely hot and use habaneros, carrots, and onions as primary ingredients.
    • Marie Sharp's is a popular brand of hot sauce produced in Dangriga.
  • Mexico: Mexican hot sauce typically focuses more on flavour than on intense heat. Chipotles are a very popular ingredient of Mexican hot sauce and although the sauces are hot, the individual flavours of the peppers are more pronounced. Vinegar is used sparingly or not at all in Mexican sauces, but some particular styles are high in vinegar content similar to the American Louisiana-style sauces. Some hot sauces may include using the seeds from the popular achiote plant for colouring or a slight flavour additive. The process of adobos (marinade) has been used in the past as a preservative but now it is mainly used to enhance the flavour of the peppers and they rely more on the use of vinegar. Mexican-style sauces are primarily produced in Mexico but they are also produced internationally. The Spanish term for sauce is Salsa (sauce), and in English-speaking countries usually refers to the often tomato-based, hot sauces typical of Mexican cuisine, particularly those used as dips. There are many types of Salsa (sauce) which usually vary throughout Latin America.
  • These are some of the notable companies producing Mexican style hot sauce.
    • Búfalo A popular Mexican sauce
    • Cholula Hot Sauce Known for its iconic round wooden cap
    • Valentina A traditional Mexican sauce
  • Artisan hot sauces are manufactured by smaller producers and private labels in the United States. Their products are produced in smaller quantities in a variety of flavours. Many sauces have a theme to catch consumer's attention. Some of the notable companies producing these sauces are:
    • Blair's 16 Million Reserve is certified by the Guinness book of World Records as the hottest product available.
    • Crystal Hot Sauce Famous for its sign that's a New Orleans landmark
    • Dave's Insanity Sauce - Only hot sauce ever banned from the National Fiery Foods Show for being too hot.
    • Dog-gone Sauce Company donates profits to Animal Shelters
    • Steve's Pepper Sauce Produced in Grand Rapids, Minnesota from locally grown chilli peppers. Ingredients: Water, peppers, onions, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, black pepper, molasses, xanthan gum. The sauce is available in four heat levels, although, it is made for the flavour not necessarily for the heat.
  • Louisiana-style: Louisiana-style hot sauce contains red chilli peppers (tabasco and/or cayenne are the most popular), vinegar and salt. Occasionally xanthan gum or other thickeners are used.
  • Frank's Red Hot Known as the primary ingredient in the first buffalo wing sauce
  • Louisiana Hot Sauce Introduced in 1928, A cayenne pepper based hot sauce produced by Bruce Foods Corporation in New Iberia, Louisiana
  • Tabasco sauce Earliest recognizable brand in the hot sauce industry, appearing in 1868.
  • Texas Pete Introduced in 1929, developed and manufactured by the TW Garner Food Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Trappey's Hot Sauce Company was founded in 1898
  • United States: Most often called hot sauce, they are typically made from chilli pepper, vinegar and salt. The varieties of peppers that are used often are cayenne, chipotle, habanero and jalapeno. Some hot sauces, notably Tabasco sauce, are aged in wooden casks similar to the preparation of wine and fermented vinegar. Other ingredients, including fruits and vegetables such as raspberries, mangoes, carrots, and chayote squash are sometimes used to add flavour, mellow the heat of the chillies, and thicken the sauce's consistency.
  • Chilli pepper water: Used primarily in Hawaii, this concoction is ideal for cooking. It is made from whole chillies, garlic, salt, and water. Often homemade, the pungent end product must be sealed carefully to prevent leakage.
  • Sriracha sauce A traditional Thai hot sauce, made primarily of ground chillies, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Often called "rooster sauce" after the most widely sold U.S. brand's label.
  • A very mild chilli sauce is produced by Heinz and other manufacturers, and is frequently found in cookbooks in the U.S. This style chilli sauce is based on tomatoes, green and/or red bell peppers, and spices; and contains little chilli pepper. This sauce is more akin to tomato ketchup and cocktail sauce than predominantly chilli pepper-based sauces.
  • New Mexico: New Mexican style chile sauces differ from others in that they contain no vinegar. Almost every traditional New Mexican dish is served with red or green chilli sauce. The sauce is often added to meats, eggs, vegetables, breads, and some dishes are, in fact, mostly chilli sauce with a modest addition of pork, beef, or beans.
  • Green chilli: This sauce is prepared from any fire roasted native green chilli peppers, Hatch, Santa Fe, Albuquerque Tortilla Company, Bueno and Big Jim are common varieties. The skins are removed and peppers diced. Onions are fried in lard and a roux is prepared. Broth and chilli peppers are added to the roux and thickened. Its consistency is similar to gravy, and it is used as such. It also is used as a salsa.
  • Red chilli: A roux is made from lard and flour. The dried ground pods of native red chillies are added. Water is added and the sauce is thickened.
  • West Indies - Hot pepper sauces, as they are most commonly known there, feature heavily in Caribbean cuisine. Like American-style sauces, they are made from chilli peppers and vinegar, with fruits and vegetables added for extra flavour. The most common peppers used are habanero and Scotch bonnet, the latter being the most common in Jamaica. Both are very hot peppers, making for strong sauces. Over the years, each island developed its own distinctive recipes, and home-made sauces are still common.
  • Barbados - Bajan pepper sauce, a mustard and Scotch bonnet pepper based hot sauce.
  • Haiti - Sauce Ti-malice, typically made with habanero, shallots, lime juice, garlic and sometimes tomatoes
  • Puerto Rico
    • Sofrito - small piquins ("bird peppers") with annatto seeds, coriander leaves, onions, garlic, and tomatoes
  • Jamaica - Scotch bonnets are the most popular peppers used on Jamaica. They are often pounded with fruits such as mango, papaya and tamarind.
  • Pickapeppa sauce
  • Picante Chombo D'Elidas is a popular brand in Panama, with three major sauces. The yellow sauce, made with habanero and mustard, is the most distinctive. They also produce red and green varieties which are heavier on vinegar content and without mustard.
  • Panama


East Asia

  • China. Chinese chilli sauces usually come as a thick paste, and are used either as a dipping sauce or in stirfrying.
    • Dou ban sauce (la dou ban jiang, la dou jiang, dou ban jiang), ("la" is "spice", "dou" is "bean", "ban" is "piece", and "jiang" is "sauce") originates from Szechuan cuisine in which chillies are used liberally. It is made from broad bean or soybean paste, and usually contain a fair amount of chilli. Often referred to in English as chilli bean sauce.
    • Pao la jiao or yu la jiao, dipped chilli or fish chilli, is made by pickling whole, fresh red chillies in a brine solution; this sauce is the key ingredient in the famous Sichuan dish Yuxiang rousi, julienned pork in fish fragrance sauce. The key to this pickle is to add a live crucian carp to the pickling pot along with the chillies, hence the name fish chilli. The carp is supposed to lend its fragrance and umami to the pickle.
    • Chilli oil, La jiao You or hong you, is another distinctive Sichuan flavouring found mainly in cold dishes, as well as a few hot dishes. Chilli oil is made by pouring hot oil onto a bowl of dried chillies, to which some Sichuan pepper is usually added. After steeping in hot oil for at least a few hours, the oil takes on the taste and fragrance of chilli. The finer the chilli is ground, the stronger the flavour (regional preferences vary - ground chilli is usually used in western China, while whole dried chilli is more common in northern China.)
    • Guilin (Kweilin) chilli sauce (Guìlín làjiāojiàng) is made of fresh chilli, garlic and fermented soybeans; it also is marketed as soy chilli sauce (la jiao jiang and la dou ban jiang are not the same thing, though they look vaguely similar in the jar).
    • Duo jiao sauce (duo jiao) originates from Hunan cuisine, which is reputed to be even spicier than Sichuan cuisine. Duo means chopped, and jiao means chilli. Duo jiao is made of chopped red chillies pickled in a brine solution, and has a salty and sour pickled taste; it is the key flavouring in the signature Hunan dish duo jiao yu tou, fish head steamed with chopped chilli.
    • XO sauce
  • Japan
  • Rāyu or La Yu chilli oil, is the same as la jiao you, and is often used for dishes such as gyoza.
  • Shichimi togarashi and ichimi togarashi are seven or one ingredient spicy seasoning mixes, with chilli, used for many soups and foods, such as udon.
  • Okinawa - Kōrēgūsu, made of chillies infused in awamori rice spirit, is a popular condiment to Okinawan dishes such as Okinawa soba. It refers to Goguryeo.
  • Gochujang
  • Korea

Southeast Asia

  • Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei
    • Sambal is a generic term for many varieties of chilli-based sauces popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. Most of sambals are traditionally made using stone pestle and mortar, according to each recipe. Nevertheless, there are some bottled mass-produced sambal brands today.
    • Saus Cabai (Indonesia) or Sos Cili (Malaysia), a category of its own, uses tomato puree, chilli juice, sugar, salt and some other spices or seasonings to give the spicy, but not too hot, taste. Some countryside commercial varieties use bird's eye chilli (cili padi, cabai rawit or burung) together with its seeds to raise the level of heat (piquancy) of the sauce. Variants include the typical concoctions with ginger and garlic (for chicken rice) and variants that are made into gummy consistency as with ketchup/tomato sauce.
  • In Thailand, Thais put raw chillies on a very wide variety of food, in lieu of chilli sauces. Chilli sauces are eaten as condiments but they can also be used as an ingredient.
  • Nam phrik is the generic name for a Thai chilli dip or paste. Nam phrik phao (roasted chilli paste), nam phrik num (pounded grilled green chilli paste) and nam phrik kapi (chilli paste made with fermented shrimp paste) are some of the more well-known varieties.
  • Many Thai dipping sauces (nam chim) contain chilli peppers. Nam chim chaeo uses ground dried chilli peppers to achieve its spiciness. Available worldwide is nam chim kai, also known as "chilli sauce for chicken" or "Thai sweet chilli sauce".
  • Phrik nam pla is fish sauce (nam pla) with chopped raw chillies, lime juice and sometimes garlic.
  • Sriracha sauce is a Thai chilli sauce. Shark brand Sriracha sauce is an authentic, classic Thai version, made in Si Racha, Thailand.
  • Vietnamese hot sauce is made from sun-ripened chilli peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It is very popular in Vietnamese cuisine, often used in a wide variety of foods.
  • Vietnam

Phrik nam pla is served with nearly every Thai meal

Middle East and North Africa

  • Levant
    • Shatta (shaṭṭah) is a popular hot sauce made from wholly grounded fresh chilli peppers by mixing them with oil (usually olive). Vinegar, garlic, or other spices are commonly added. There are two varieties of Shatta: green and red. The red variety is made with tomatoes. It is made from piri piri, or similarly hot peppers. The degree of hotness varies according to the type of chilli used and preference of the maker (homemade Shatta is usually hotter than commercial brands). Commonly used in falafel sandwiches, hummus dishes, or as a condiment.
    • Muhammara (muḥammarah) is a hot pepper dip made from Aleppo pepper, ground walnuts, dried bread, and olive oil. Other spices and flavourings may be added. It is served as a dip or spread for bread or as a sauce for fish and meat. The dish is also known in Turkey, where it may be called acuka.
  • Maghreb
  • Harissa (harīsah) is a popular hot sauce used in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Maghreb (especially Algeria and Libya). It is usually made from ground red birdseye chilli peppers with olive oil, garlic, cumin and coriander although caraway is sometimes used instead of cumin and recipes vary. The sauce is of a dark red grainy texture. It is sometimes spread on bread rolls but also used as a condiment with a variety of meals. Tunisian Harissa is much hotter than that found in neighbouring countries. Cap Bon is a popular brand of Harissa. Harissa is often sold in tin cans. Harissa is also popular in Israel, on account of immigration of Maghrebi Jews.
  • Yemen
  • Skhug (saḥawaq) is produced by grinding fresh peppers with garlic, coriander, and sometimes other ingredients. It is popular both in Yemen and in Israel, where it was brought by Yemenite Jews, and where it is called סחוג s'khug.

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • South Africa
    • Peri Peri sauce is a style of piri piri chilli sauce used by Nando's Chicken fast food restaurants.
  • Malawi
  • Nali Sauce is a style of piri piri chilli sauce.


  • United Kingdom - Two of the hottest chillies in the world, the Naga Viper and Infinity chilli were developed in the United Kingdom and are available as sauces which have been claimed to be the hottest natural chilli sauces (without added pepper extract) available in the world. (The Naga Viper and Infinity were considered the hottest two chilli peppers in the world until the Naga Viper was unseated by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion in late 2011.).
  • Hungary - Erős Pista (lit. "Strong Steve") and Piros Arany (lit. "Red Gold") hot pepper paste, both made from minced hot paprika (Capsicum annuum L.); paprika is commonly grown in Hungary and both hot and mild paprika are in common usage there.
  • Portugal - Piri piri is the popular chilli sauce; the term "piri piri" came to English through the Portuguese language through contact with Portuguese Mozambique.


  • The Pacific Islands are influenced by Asian and European cuisines
    • Hot chilli sauce is a thick Chinese style sauce.
    • Sweet chilli sauce is a Thai style sweet dipping sauce.
    • Peri Peri sauce is a Portuguese style piri piri sauce.
  • New Zealand has had many influences reflecting the increasingly diverse ethnicity of its population. Common styles available in supermarkets are:
  • Sweet chilli sauce - a Thai style sweet dipping sauce (debatable as to whether this can be called a hot sauce).
  • Hot sauces based on North & Latin American types (Tabasco, Huffman, Kaitaia Fire are most commonly available but Mexican and Peruvian branded sauces may also be found)
  • Malaysian chilli sauces with Indian influence
  • Peri Peri sauce is a Portuguese style piri piri sauce that is also common in South Africa.
  • Chinese style sauces such as black bean and chilli.


Habanero, bell pepper and garlic hot sauce

The heat, or burning sensation, experienced when consuming hot sauce is caused by capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. The burning sensation is not "real" in the sense of damage being wrought on tissues. The mechanism of action is instead a chemical interaction with the neurological system.

The seemingly subjective perceived heat of hot sauces can be measured by the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale number indicates how many times something must be diluted with an equal volume of water until people can no longer feel any sensation from the capsaicin. The hottest hot sauce scientifically possible is one rated at 16,000,000 Scoville units, which is pure capsaicin. An example of a hot sauce marketed as achieving this level of heat is Blair's 16 Million Reserve (due to production variances, it is up to 16 million Scoville units), marketed by Blair's Sauces and Snacks. By comparison, Tabasco sauce is rated between 2,500 and 5,000 Scoville units (batches vary) - with one of the mildest commercially available condiments, Cackalacky Classic Condiment Company's Spice Sauce, weighing in at less than 1000 Scoville units on the standard heat scale.

A general way to estimate the heat of a sauce is to look at the ingredients list. Sauces tend to vary in heat based on the kind of peppers used, and the further down the list, the less the amount of pepper.

Cayenne - Sauces made with cayenne, including most of the Louisiana-style sauces, are usually hotter than jalapeño, but milder than other sauces.

  • Chile de árbol - A thin and potent Mexican chilli pepper also known as bird's beak chile and rat's tail chilli. Their heat index uses to be between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville units, but it can reach over 100,000 units. In cooking substitutions, the Chile de árbol pepper can be traded with Cayenne pepper.
  • Habanero - Habanero pepper sauces were known as the hottest natural pepper sauces, but nowadays species like Bhut jolokia, Naga jolokia or Trinidad Scorpion Moruga are even five or ten-fold hotter.
  • Jalapeño - These sauces include green and red jalapeño chillies, and chipotle (ripened and smoked). Green jalapeño and chipotle are usually the mildest sauces available. Red jalapeño sauce is generally hotter.
  • Naga Bhut Jolokia - The pepper is also known as Bhut Jolokia, ghost pepper, ghost chilli pepper, red naga chilli, and ghost chilli. In 2007, Guinness World Records certified that the Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia) was the world's hottest chilli pepper, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce; however, in 2011 it has since been superseded by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.
  • Piri piri - The Peri Peri pepper has been naturalized into South Africa and is also known as the African Bird’s Eye pepper, Piri-Piri pepper or Pili-Pili pepper, depending on what area of the country you’re in. The pepper ranges from one half to one inch in length and tapers at a blunt point. The small package packs a mighty punch with a 175,000 rating on the Scoville scale which is near where the habanero pepper is but the pepper is smaller and has a much different flavour. It is most commonly used in a hot sauce, combined with other spices and seasonings because it has a very light, fresh citrus-herbal flavour that blends well with the flavours of most other ingredients.
  • Scotch Bonnet - Similar in heat to the Habanero are these peppers popular in the Caribbean. Often found in Jamaican hot sauces.
  • Tabasco peppers - Sauces made with tabasco peppers are generally hotter than cayenne pepper sauces. Along with Tabasco, a number of sauces are made using tabasco peppers.
  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion The golf ball-sized chilli pepper has a tender fruit-like flavour. According to the New Mexico State University Chile Institute, the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend ranks as high as 2,009,231 SHU on the Scoville scale.
  • Capsaicin extract - The hottest sauces are made from capsaicin extract. These range from extremely hot pepper sauce blends to pure capsaicin extracts. These sauces are extremely hot and should be considered with caution by those not used to fiery foods. Many are too hot to consume more than a drop or two in a pot of food. These novelty sauces are typically only sold by specialty retailers and are usually more expensive.
  • Other ingredients - heat is also affected by other ingredients. Mustard oil and wasabi can be added to increase the sensation of heat but generally, more ingredients in a sauce dilute the effect of the chillies, resulting in a milder flavour. Many sauces contain tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic or other vegetables and seasonings. Vinegar or lemon juice are also common ingredients in many hot sauces because their acidity will help keep the sauce from oxidizing, thus acting as a preservative.


Capsaicinoids are the chemicals responsible for the "hot" taste of chilli peppers. They are fat soluble and therefore water will be of no assistance when countering the burn. The most effective way to relieve the burning sensation is with dairy products, such as milk and yogurt. A protein called casein occurs in dairy products which binds to the capsaicin, effectively making it less available to "burn" the mouth, and the milk fat helps keep it in suspension. Rice is also useful for ameliorating the impact, especially when it is included with a mouthful of the hot food. These foods are typically included in the cuisine of cultures that specialise in the use of chillies. Mechanical stimulation of the mouth by chewing food will also partially mask the pain sensation.

Cooling and mechanical stimulation are the only proven methods to relieve the pain; many questionable tips, however, are widely perpetuated. Since capsaicin in its pure state is poorly soluble in water, but is more so in oils and alcohol, an often heard advice is to eat fatty foods or beverages, assuming that these would carry away the capsaicin. The value of this practice is questionable and the burning sensation will slowly fade away without any measure taken. Milk, however, has been found to work. Milk contains the protein Casein Micelles, which helps remove the 'burning' sensation. This is seen on the American TV shows Good Eats, MythBusters (2007 season) and Food Detectives.

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