Hot Sauce 101

Anatomy of Hot Sauce : Flavor Base

Many of the best tasting hot sauces will have a flavor base to help round out the pepper.  They can include vegetables, fruit, salt, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, garlic and spices.  Cheaper sauces are made using commercially processed pepper mash which is prepared with distilled vinegar and salt.  Better quality sauces use fresh peppers, often grown in close proximity to where the sauce is manufactured.  This eliminates much of the salt and vinegar, except where they are added to enhance the flavour.  Sauces that rely primarily on the pepper for all of the flavour are sometimes called pepper mash and are often thicker and chunky.

Regional Sauces 

The types of peppers and ingredients often compliment the style of the foods in a given region.  These are some of the most recognizable, although just about every place on the planet has some kind of spicy specialty.

  • Mexican: These have pronounced red chile flavour, sometimes smoked or aged, with very little vinegar.  They pair well with rice, beans, and saucy simmered meat dishes. Cholula 
  • Louisiana: Cayenne or Tabasco peppers are combines with a little vinegar for balance; sometimes they include onion and garlic, pairing well with savory cajun and creole dishes.Tabasco
  • Central American (Costa Rica, Belize): Habanero is combined with a carrot and onion base, often with a little vinegar or lime, garlic, and salt to round out the flavor.  These make good “table sauces” to use on anything.  The most classic chicken wing sauce recipe is a bottle of habanero sauce and stick of butter. Marie Sharp’s
  • Caribbean: Scotch Bonnets, which have a touch of sweet pepper flavour, are mixed with mustard and a little vinegar or lime.  They pair well fish, poultry, fresh vegetables, and mango. Melinda’s Scotch Bonnet
  • Asian: Hot thai chiles or flakes are mixed in a sweet, often thick, base.  Perfect pair with Pan Asian dishes from all around the Pacific Rim, especially with soya sauce. Tiger Sauce
  • African/Portuguese: Peri-Peri peppers are blended with vinegar, garlic, lemon, herbs & spices with a distinct flavor.  It’s traditionally used as a sauce with chicken but also pairs well with breakfast burritos and lunch wraps.  Peri-peri sauce makes a great base for a chicken or pork marinade because of the garlic & lemon flavours. Zulu-Zulu or Nando's

Chile Pepper Sauces  

Some sauces are based on the pepper more so than a regional style.

  • Jalapeño: These sauces using green jalapeños tend to be the mildest.  They usually have a carrot, onion, garlic base and often include unique ingredients like cactus, apple, tomatillos, lime juice, cilantro, or tequila.  They make good all-around sauces, especially with fish, chicken, fresh salsa, and eggs.  Pain is Good Jalapeño
  • Chipotle: These sauces, using dried, smoked jalapeños, are often combined with fresh or roasted garlic, or cane sugar for a sweet, smokey flavour.  They work well with many foods… breakfast eggs & potatoes, chicken wraps, Tex-Mex dishes, barbecue sauce, baked beans, sweet potato fries, enchiladas & burritos. El Yucateco Chipotle
  • Naga Jolokia (Ghost Pepper): The hottest chile pepper to date, the jolokia, is twice as hot as the Red Savina habanero.  As such, it’s used in combination with other peppers and ingredients like habanero, cider vinegar, cane sugar, and sea salt.  The sauces which contain it tend to have a bright, clean taste.  It works well on any dish where you want lots of kick. Cajohns Holy Jolokia
  • Extract Sauces: These superhots use capsaicin extract, also called oleoresin, to add more heat intensity than a chile pepper could on its own.  The more extract added, the hotter the sauce becomes, whereas, a sauce of plain chiles will only be as hot as the pepper itself.  These sauces are intended for use as ingredients only and can be quite expensive.  Some will be produced in limited quantity and packaged specially for collecting. Mad Dog 357 Silver Edition with Bullet Keychain

Other hot sauce facts

Scoville Heat Units are the standard measurement for heat intensity.  Some hot sauces will claim a certain SHU rating.  To be truly accurate, the sauce must be submitted for laboratory testing and even then, is subjective.  It’s often reserved for a company’s top of the line specialty sauce.  The SHU listed on the label may, however, be based on the rating of the chile or extract in the sauce and not the actual sauce itself.  True chileheads can be fanatical about this.

The hottest sauce on record is The Source made by Original Juan in Kansas City.  It’s rated at 7.1 million SHU.  Police grade pepper spray is 5.3 million and pure capsaicin extract is 16 million.

A dash of hot sauce has been known for ages to pique the flavor of a dish, however, chileheads claim to get a rush from hot sauce.  Capsaicin stimulates pain receptors and it has been theorized that an endorphin rush follows in response in response to the pain.  Anecdotally, we can say that reactions to hot sauce consumption include sweating, flushing of the face, runny nose, tearing eyes, hiccuping, mouth breathing, a glazed look, and what we refer to as happy feet.  The only effective ways to cool the burn are to consume a full fat dairy product or a room temperature sugary drink.  Casein in the milk binds to the capsaicin molecules and allows them to rinse away.  Sugar blocks the pain receptors.  A creamy dip, bowl of ice cream, or glass of milk are traditional remedies, but who knows, perhaps a milk chocolate bar is the solution.


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