We all know one… that person who smothers everything in hot sauce. Some of them carry a bottle in their purse just in case. Some were on the frontlines protesting the threat of a looming Sriracha shortage. Maybe they’re just masochists; maybe they’ve desensitized their taste buds and can no longer taste anything unless it’s drowning in hot spiciness. One thing is for sure – hot sauce can really enhance the flavor of your food and even make dining a more exciting experience depending on the effect you’re going for.
Personally, I like the flavor enhancement a good hot sauce can bring, but I don’t like to be in pain while I eat, sweating, nose running, lips burning… too much! It reminds me of the hot wings served at one of my old university watering holes. If you ordered their hottest wings, you also had to sign a waiver. If you were able to finish them, you got your photo on the wall along with bragging rights (I think you also got your wings for free). Failures were also posted, presumably so we could ridicule their misguided braggadociousness. Those who dared to eat these death wings were said to down pitchers of milk in desperate attempts to calm their flaming tongues. Some vomited, some cried. It all sounded positively traumatizing (but also hilarious) to me.
Don’t let this little tale scare you. No matter your flavor or heat preference, whether tasting something called Satan’s Blood sounds like a good time to you or not, there’s likely a hot sauce out there that’s perfect for you. In fact, you have thousands of options to choose from, and you can even try making your own!
The Scoville Scale
How do you know how hot a sauce is going to be? Thankfully there’s a resource available that compares the heat levels of virtually every type of hot sauce available on the market. The Scoville Scale ranks their hotness according to their capsaicin content (capsaicin is the spicy component in chili peppers) by listing a numerical value in Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
Comparing Popular Hot Sauces
Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular types of hot sauce, their heat level according to the Scoville Scale, and their unique flavor differences in case you want to start a spicy party in your mouth:
Frank’s RedHot Original: The first sauce used in the creation of the classic Buffalo wings recipe, Frank’s RedHot originated in Louisiana, also known as the hot sauce motherland. It consists of an aged blend of spices, vinegar, garlic and cayenne peppers. Frank’s is an incredibly popular hot sauce but it’s not really that hot! It’s near the bottom of the Scoville Scale with a rating of 450 SHU (only 9% as hot as a jalapeno pepper).
Sriracha: Originating in Thailand but now largely produced in the United States, Sriracha is made from a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, salt and sugar. It’s also known as ‘rooster sauce’ due to the illustration on its bottle. Sriracha comes in at 2,200 SHU, or just under half the heat of a jalapeno pepper.
Tabasco Original: The earliest recognizable brand of hot sauce, Tabasco was first produced in Louisiana in 1868. It’s made with tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt, giving it a nice, tangy flavor. Heat level: 2,500 SHU.
Cholula: Passed down through three generations by the same family in Jalisco, Mexico, and now licensed by Jose Cuervo, Cholula hot sauce is a blend of pequin peppers, arbol peppers, spices, salt and vinegar. In Mexico, it’s an essential component in sangrita, a customary accompaniment to a straight shot of tequila (try it – it’s delicious). Heat level: 3,600 SHU.
Other Hot Sauces
If you want to expand your hot sauce repertoire beyond these tried and tested brands, spicy food blogger Scott Roberts has a compiled a lengthy list of hot sauces and their Scoville Scale ratings, which go as high as 16,000,000 SHU. Just perusing the humorous names of these sauces is entertaining in itself (Lethal Ingestion, Pyro Diablo, Texas Creek Pure Evil, and Crazy Jerry’s Brain Damage are just a few).
Make Your Own Hot Sauce
Try this recipe for Harissa, a roasted red pepper based hot sauce that’s super flavorful and easy to make at home. If you’re short on time, treat your tastebuds to Luvo’s Chicken and Harissa Chickpeas.
What’s your favorite hot sauce? Share it in the comments or over on Twitter at @luvoinc.