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How to Pick The Perfect Heat Level For Your Hot Sauce

Updated: Mar 6


How to Pick The Perfect Heat Level For Your Hot Sauce

Hot sauce is an essential condiment for many people, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of brands and flavors available. The hot sauce industry has exploded in recent years and there is no lack of choices when it comes to heat levels and flavors. With a variety of heat levels ranging from mild to super spicy, how do you know which one is right for you?


Whether you’re a fan of subtle back-of-the-tongue heat or want the kind of fire that brings tears to your eyes, there’s a hot sauce out there that will suit you, we promise! To help you find the perfect heat level for your hot sauce, we’ll be taking a look at how you can determine what is the right hot sauce for you.

Let's dive right in!


chile pepper plant outside

1. Understanding the Different Heat Levels - Mild, Medium, Hot, & Extreme

When it comes to the heat levels of peppers, there are four different categories to be aware of - mild, medium, hot, and extreme. Mild peppers include varieties such as bell peppers and banana peppers, which contain very little capsaicin as measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Capsaicin is responsible for giving chilies their spicy kick. The Scoville Scale is a measurement of the Capsaicin in many different peppers. So, by taking a look at the Scoville Scale, you can get a good idea of how hot a hot sauce may be.


In general, mild peppers are not incredibly spicy and they can add flavor without being overwhelmingly hot. Some common and popular mild chile peppers include:


  • Banana peppers

  • Cherry peppers

  • Cubanelles peppers

  • Poblanos peppers


Medium-level heat includes some of the more popular chili varieties, like jalapeños and serranos. While these can still be enjoyed raw, many people like to cook them to bring out their flavor and reduce their spiciness. These typically range in SHU from 2,500-30,000 SHU with jalapeños averaging 2,000-5,000 SHU. Here are a few popular medium-level peppers:


  • Jalapeños peppers

  • Chipotle peppers

  • Hot wax peppers

  • Serrano peppers


Hot peppers tend to have a bit more kick. As a result, these types of chilies should be used sparingly in recipes or cooked down to reduce their spiciness so that it does not overpower the dish. Or should only be used when you've built up your tolerance for hotter peppers. These can usually range from around 100,000 to 350,000 SHUs. Some common hot peppers include:


  • Bahamian peppers

  • Carolina Cayenne peppers

  • Jamaican peppers

  • Bird’s Eye peppers


Extremely hot chilies are reserved for true chili connoisseurs who love a good challenge! Ghost peppers have a reputation for being one of the hottest out there as well as Carolina Reapers which average over 2 million SHU! It is important to handle these with care because even if touched with bare hands they can cause painful burning sensations on contact with skin! These can range from 300,000 and up. Here are some of the hottest chili peppers in the world:


  • Scotch bonnet peppers

  • Habanero peppers

  • Bhut Jolokia peppers

  • Carolina Reaper

  • Pepper Rx


So, start by looking at the chile peppers used in the hot sauce, then compare their heat levels on the Scoville Scale to get a rough estimate of the type of heat that may be contained in that bottle!


2. Consider Your Tastebuds – Can You Handle Spicy Food or Not

It is important to consider your own level of tolerance for spicy food before picking out your hot sauce. Don't try to be a tough guy if you're not used to already eating spicy food. If you cannot handle a lot of heat, it is best to go for something mild or medium-level instead and save the extreme stuff for when you've built up your heat tolerance.


hot sauce poured into a bowl on the table

However, if you are already an experienced chili eater and love some extra kick in your dishes, then don’t be afraid to explore some of the more extreme options!

The good news is that there are so many different types of hot sauces out there, which means there is one for everyone, regardless of your taste and heat level preferences.

Remember that the type of chilies used in a hot sauce will have a HUGE impact on its overall spiciness.


The Scoville Scale can be used as a guide but keep in mind that individual batches of peppers could vary greatly depending on where they were grown and how they were grown.


3. Check the Ingredients List for Additional Heat Sources

It is also a good idea to take a look at the ingredients list before selecting your hot sauce. This can give you an indication of what other spices and flavorings have been added that could affect its overall level of heat.


tacos with hot  sauce on them

For example, some hot sauces use extra ground chilies or chili powders in addition to peppers. While others might contain garlic, onion powder, vinegar, or other acidic elements. All of which can help to enhance its spiciness as well!

By understanding the different types of chilies used in hot sauces, as well as taking into account your own tolerance levels and reading through the ingredients list carefully, you should be able to determine what type of heat level you can expect from that particular sauce before trying it out.


4. Test Out Different Sauces First

Before you start pouring hot sauce all over your food, take a little dab on the back of your hand and give it a try. This will give you a better idea of the flavor and heat level before committing to it. Once you’ve found your favorite, then go ahead and enjoy!

5. Know What Foods Work Best With Each Level of Heat

red chile peppers

It's important to know what types of foods work best with each level of heat. Milder sauces are great for adding flavor without too much heat to lighter dishes, while medium and hot varieties can be used on heartier dishes that can handle a bit more kick.


For example, mild sauces work well on sandwiches or salads, and breakfast foods, while hotter sauces can be used as marinades for meats and vegetables.

No matter which type of hot sauce you choose, just remember to enjoy your food in moderation! The Scoville Scale is a useful tool when selecting the right level of heat for your taste buds but it’s also important to think about how the flavors will complement your dish before diving in.


Have Fun Experiencing All The Flavors

Hot sauces can offer a lot of flavor and variety to your dishes, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands and heat levels. With all the different options available in stores nowadays, you’re sure to find something that suits your palate! So go ahead and have some fun discovering all the flavors hot sauces have to offer. Just remember to use caution when handling those extra-hot varieties!

Good luck on your spicy journey!

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