If there’s anything that chile heads and spicy food lovers can agree on, it’s that hot sauce makes everything better. Whether you’re a connoisseur of the spiciest sauces or a fan of milder flavors, there is no denying that adding some hot sauce to your meals can really kick things up a notch. But have you ever wondered how to pair your hot sauces with food?
Finding the right combination of flavors can be tricky. Fortunately, there are some basic guidelines that will help you get the most out of your hot sauce experience. Here’s a guide on how to pair hot sauce with food!
Understanding Food Profiles
In order to start learning how to pair hot sauce with food, we first need to talk about and understand food flavor profiles. Food flavor profiles are a great way to understand and appreciate the tastes, aromas, and textures of different foods.
Understanding how different flavors interact with each other, as well as how they can be complemented or contrasted is key to creating delicious dishes.
In general, flavors can be divided into five main components: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (also known as umami). Each component has its own distinct taste that helps to create an overall flavor profile for any given dish.
1. Sweet Flavors
Sweet flavors bring balance and sweetness to a dish. Sweet can come from various sources including sugar, fruits, dairy products like honey or maple syrup. Sugar helps to give a dish a certain sweetness that is softer than that of the fruit itself. Many desserts have sweetness in the form of sugar added to them as an ingredient or drizzled on top as a garnish.
2. Salty Flavors
Salty flavors come from salt, soy sauce, or other forms of condiments and help balance out other ingredients in a dish adding depth and complexity to the overall flavor profile.
3. Sour Flavors
Sour flavors come from citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, or oranges; vinegar; yogurt; and even some vegetables, giving dishes added zinginess or tartness that cuts through the richness of other ingredients used in the dish. Think lemon-like or vinegary, and sometimes bitter or acerbic.
4. Bitter Flavors
Bitter flavors are often found in dark chocolate; coffee beans; beer; tonic water; citrus fruits like grapefruit; parsley; radicchio and endive among others which add bitterness to enhance flavor profiles by providing contrast against more mellow components like sweet or salty ones.
5. Savory (Umami) Flavors
Savory or umami flavors are often found in mushrooms, nuts, legumes, and even some cheeses like Parmesan and Gruyere among others which add a richness or depth to dishes that help enhance the flavor profile of the dish.
Understanding these five main components will help you gain insight into how different foods taste together so you can start experimenting with new recipes or tweaking existing ones for delicious results!
Also think about what flavors will enhance and/or balance each other out. For example:
Flavors that enhance each other:
Sweet and savory
Sour and savory
Sweet and salty
Flavors that balance each other:
Sweet and bitter
Sweet and sour
Sour and spicy
Spicy and sweet
Salty and bitter
Savory and bitter
Pairing Hot Sauce with Food
Once you understand food flavor profiles and how different flavors interact with each other, it’s time to start pairing hot sauce with food! Hot sauces come in all shapes, sizes, types, and heat levels so there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to finding the perfect combination. There are so many different ways to make a hot sauce and so many different chile peppers out there that essentially make an endless amount of options when it comes to flavors and types of hot sauce.
However, there are some basic principles that can help you find a great pair. Let's take a look at some!
Balance Flavors With Food Profiles
When pairing hot sauce with food, it’s important to keep in mind the flavor profile of the dish. The goal is to achieve balance between all components of the flavor profile and not just overpower one particular flavor with your favorite hot sauce.
This goes back to what we mentioned before about balancing and enhancing flavors that go well with each other.
For example, if you are making a spicy taco dish, try to find a hot sauce that has some sweetness as well as heat so that it compliments the other ingredients in the dish rather than overpowers them.
This also goes back to what we started out with about food profiles. Understanding food profiles along with flavor profiles is going to help you pair the correct flavors and hot sauces with your favorite dishes. We'll also give some great examples of this later in the article, so stick around for those!
Consider Heat Level
The next step is to consider the heat level of your hot sauce when pairing it with food. Generally speaking, milder sauces work better for lighter dishes such as salads while spicier sauces are better for heartier dishes such as stews or curries.
If you are unsure of the heat level of a particular hot sauce, start with small amounts and adjust according to taste. You can also somewhat gauge the heat level of a hot sauce by looking at which peppers where used in the hot sauce and then comparing the heat levels of the pepper on the Scoville Scale.
Try It On It's Own
Just dive right in and try the hot sauce on it's own. Take a couple of small dabs on the back of your hand and give it a try. Tasting a hot sauce on its own will give you its purest flavor. This will also help you to better understand what flavors the hot sauce has and how it can compliment your food.
Try Different Combinations
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different hot sauce and food combinations. You may be surprised at how well certain flavors pair together. For example, a mild honey-ginger hot sauce can provide an unexpected sweetness to a savory dish like grilled chicken or pork chops while a spicier chili-lime hot sauce can add zing to tacos or burritos.
Don’t be afraid to get creative when pairing hot sauces with food, you just might create something delicious!
Think about the textures of both the food and hot sauce when pairing. There are only about five textures in foods, and they are creamy, watery, chewy, firm, and crunchy. Often the best pairings to complement textures are opposites like crunchy and creamy.
We like to try a new hot sauce with a crunchy tortilla chip to start with and then move on from there.
Other Things to Consider When Pairing Hot Sauces with Food
On top of everything we just talked about, there are a couple of other notes we would like to touch on. Such as pairings with non-spicy dishes compared to using really spicy sauces. As well as just some general advice on the subject.
Pairing Hot Sauces With Non-Spicy Dishes
If you want to add some spice to a non-spicy dish (like scrambled eggs or fruit salad), then a medium-heat hot sauce is usually the way to go. Medium-heat sauces will still give you some heat but won’t overwhelm the flavor of your meal.
Using Really Hot Sauces
If you really like things extra spicy and want to bring out the full potential of an ultra-hot sauce like Mad Dog 357 or Blair's After Death Sauce, then it might be best to use them as condiments rather than cook them into a dish. That way, you can control exactly how much heat is added without risking making your dish inedible!
Foods That Use Multiple Sauce
It's also really nice to have foods that you can use multiple hot sauces with so that you're not fully committed to that first choice. For example, a steak is great because you can technically try a different sauce with each bite. Versus adding a sauce to mac and cheese. So if you want to try multiple sauces, eat it with a meal that allows you to try something different with each bite.
Try Unique Hot Sauce
The craft hot sauce industry has really grown over the last decade. There are so many different flavors of hot sauce so we want to encourage you to try something new, something different and unique. Go to a local market or search online for some craft hot sauces, there are so many. You'll be sure to find some fun flavors. The latest rage has been dill pickle hot sauces! Which are great on tons of foods such as burgers, pizza, hot dogs, and even bloody marys!
Foods That Go Well With Hot Sauce
OK, finally we want to give you guys a list of some of our personal favorite foods that go well with hot sauce. This is by no means an extensive or exhaustive list, but rather just some of the most popular and a few of our favorites.
Eggs (Try a vinegar base with mild to medium heat or a garlic hot sauce)
Chicken wings (Hot sauce goes well on both fried and grilled chicken)
Mac and cheese (Try a vinegar to cut through the thick mac, maybe a smokey flavor)
Hamburgers (Get a good chipotle hot sauce)
Pizza (A sweet hot sauce or a pineapple and peach hot sauce goes great with pizza)
Tacos (Verde hot sauces are great for tacos as well as a good rounded mild hot sauce)
Chili (Find a hot sauce with red habaneros, or one made with chipotle)
Pork (Red chili sauce, Alabama white sauces, and mustard sauces)
Steak (Go with a sauce with more subtle flavors and notes or a good pepper hot sauce)
Noodles (Look for something that is savory or Umami)
Ice cream (Yup, ice cream, try something with mild to medium heat)
Final Thoughts On Pairing Food With Hot Sauce
At the end of the day, pairing hot sauce with food comes down to personal preference, so don't be afraid to experiment. Try different combinations and find what works best for your palate; after all, that's half the fun!
As long as you keep in mind factors like cuisine types and flavor profiles when choosing your condiment du jour, you should have no trouble finding a delicious combination that brings out the best in whatever dish you're serving up. With this guide on how to pair hot sauce with food in hand (or should we say “mouth?”), we hope that your next meal will be even tastier than ever before! Bon Appetit!
If there are any specific food or hot sauce pairings you guys would like some advice on or questions about food profiles, feel free to leave a comment down below and we'll give you our best advice.