What is hot sauce?
Hot sauce (also known as chilli sauce or pepper sauce) is a condiment based on one key ingredient – chilli. You’ll find numerous hot sauce varieties around the world, from Thai sriracha to Louisiana-style Frank’s RedHot Sauce.
Asia, South America, the Caribbean and the USA all make their own types of hot sauce. Usually, the main difference between them all is the type of chilli used, and ingredients which are added to it.
Southeast Asian Hot Sauces
- Korean gochujang pairs soybeans with red pepper powder for a fermented umami-hit as well as rich spice. The condiment comes in a paste form and can be added to soups, stews, rice, and in a marinade for bulgogi beef
- Sambal is an Indonesian chilli sauce or paste, typically made with red chillies, garlic, ginger and onions. Tomatoes, tamarind, shrimp paste and palm sugar are also sometimes added
North America, Central America, USA and Caribbean Hot Sauces
- Generally speaking, Mexican hot sauces focus on flavour rather than heat. They use classic Mexican chillies too. Valentina hot sauces are made with dry árbol chillies, and the El Yucateco brand uses habanero peppers as a base
- Belize hot sauces are fiery and typically use habanero chillies and carrots as a base
- Louisiana-style Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce is made with aged cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar and water. Apparently, Frank’s RedHot Sauce was the secret ingredient in America’s first ever buffalo wing sauce, created in Buffalo, NY in 1964
- In Jamaica, scotch bonnet chilli peppers are commonly used in hot sauces
North African and Southeast African Hot Sauces
- Harissa is a North African condiment. Red hot peppers are combined with lemon, herbs (often coriander and caraway seeds) and garlic for a hot, aromatic paste that can be used as a dip, a marinade, or used as it is, stirred through hummus and tagines
- Peri-peri hot sauce originated in Southeast Africa. It is believed that when Portuguese explorers arrived in Mozambique and discovered the fiery bird’s eye chilli, they added lemon and garlic to form a punchy spice. To make a sauce version, bird’s eye chillies are combined with garlic, sugar, salt, vinegar, lemon and olive oil
European Hot Sauces
- Nora pepper paste is made from nora, small round peppers. The flesh of the peppers are air-dried, then made into a purée and mixed with citric acid. Nora peppers have an intense red pepper flavour with very mild heat and fruity notes. The paste is a popular ingredient in Spanish fish stews
- Bomba Calabrese is a spicy Italian spread made with peppers and chilli peppers alongside tomatoes, capers and garlic. The thick vegetable spread - which comes from Calabria - is great tossed through pasta, stirred through green bean salads or spread over a pizza base
What is sriracha sauce and how do I use it?
Sriracha chilli sauce is typically used in Southeast Asian cooking, especially in Thailand and Vietnam. It takes its name from the coastal Thai city, Si Racha, and has a distinctively hot-sweet-sour flavour.
Sriracha hot sauce is made from a paste of chilli peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. The most recognisable brand of sriracha sauce is Flying Goose, which uses sun-dried chillies in its recipe.
Sriracha chilli sauce is often paired with seafood dishes, and is also delicious in a pork bánh mì or with Chinese steamed buns. Stir a spoon of Flying Goose Sriracha chilli sauce through mayonnaise for a great accompaniment to crab or prawns.
Lemongrass adds citric-floral notes to this chilli sauce. It’s gentler than other Flying Goose sauces, and works wonderfully with steamed fish.
Flying Goose’s green sriracha is made with green chillies. It adds both tang and sweetness to pork bánh mì, Chinese steamed buns, and fried rice.
Where was hot sauce invented?
The history of hot sauce starts with the Aztecs, who used chillies for both flavour and medicinal purposes. But in terms of mass-produced hot sauce, one of the oldest brands is TABASCO®, founded in 1860s Louisiana. At the time, that American state’s diet was fairly bland, so founder Edmund McIlhenny decided to create a pepper sauce to give his food some punch.
How is hot sauce made?
In its simplest form, hot sauce is made from a chilli pepper base, plus salt and vinegar. Extra flavourings – including garlic, ginger, herbs and spices – provide warmth, fragrance, or an extra fiery kick.
If you want to make hot sauce at home, below is a step-by-step process. For correct ratios, carefully follow your chosen recipe.
- Mix chopped chillies with sugar, salt, vinegar and water, then leave for a couple of weeks to ferment
- Strain the chillies and add to a blender. Blitz with vinegar and a little of the brine to create a smooth sauce
- You can choose the level of heat you want by picking the right type of chilli
Which hot sauce should I try first?
Valentina's salsa picante, or hot sauce, is designed to add a citrus heat to your cooking. It’s made from puya and serrano chilli peppers making it a medium heat.
Cholula’s Original Hot Sauce is a storecupboard staple for any hot sauce fan – try it drizzled over Mexican eggs, or add a little over a pizza to really spice things up! The sauce is gluten-free and suitable for vegans.
'Shichi' translates as seven, referring to the rich list of ingredients used to create this dry spice blend: chilli pepper, orange peel, black sesame and white sesame seed, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed. Delicious with white fish.
Don't be put off by the vibrant green colour of this bottle - in terms of hot sauce, this is quite a mild one. Use on faijtas and enchiladas, and everything in between.
Japanese chilli meets floral citrus fruit, for the ultimate flavour bomb. Add this complex spice paste to ramen, miso soups, and hot pot.
As Byron himself says: “a little Butt Rub makes everything better”. Loved by American barbecue professionals, this blend of salt and spices sprinkled over a pork shoulder is BBQ perfection.
The world's favourite brand of sriracha has just got even hotter. Not for the faint-hearted, this mouth-tingling sauce is classically paired with fish dishes.
Awarded with geographical indication status, this Malaysian variety of pepper is often considered to be one of the best in the world. To make the most of the big and bold aromas, use this spice with other Malay dishes such as chicken curries and stir fries.
The original not quite satisfying your chilli needs? This extra-hot version offers the same Louisiana flavours, but with an extra zing. Try sprinkling a little over popcorn for your next film night.
Ellie Edwards is a food writer for Sous Chef. Previously she worked at olive magazine, writing about exciting new ingredients, UK restaurants and travelling the world to find the best cinnamon buns. When she's not exploring the likes of Belize, Kerala and Zanzibar, Ellie loves rustling up a feast in her London kitchen, with a particular passion for porridge, sourdough and negronis.