Updated: Jan 24
Many dishes originating from different parts of the world have commonalities with each other, and it can be difficult to understand the connection between them. A great example of this is hot sauces; they come in many regional variations that are enjoyed by people across the globe.
Archaeologists found chile peppers at sites dating as far back as 7000 BC which proved that the Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans all cultivated and ate chile peppers regularly. Jumping forward today, we literally now have thousands of hot sauce varieties all made with many different types of chile peppers!
Today we explore how far we have come with a deep dive into the many varieties of hot sauces! Although we won't be able to touch on every single hot sauce, we're going to cover quite a lot of them and all of the most popular and common hot sauce types. Along with the basics of hot sauces, how to choose a hot sauce, how to pair food with them, and much more!
A Brief History Behind the Varieties of Hot Sauce
From the vinegary and fermented hot sauce of Louisiana to the fiery sriracha of Thailand, hot sauce comes in many different varieties. But what is hot sauce, and where did it come from?
Hot sauce is typically made from chile peppers, vinegar, and salt. The earliest form of hot sauce is thought to have originated in Central America, where the chile pepper was first domesticated.
Over time, the chile pepper spread to other parts of the world, and people began to experiment with different ways of preparing it. In China, for example, soy sauce and ginger were often used to add flavor to chile pepper-based sauces.
Today, there are literally hundreds of different types of hot sauce available on the market. Some are extremely spicy, while others are only mildly spicy. Some are thick and creamy, while others are thin and watery. And some hot sauces are sweet, while others are savory.
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference. So whatever your taste buds are craving, there’s sure to be a hot sauce out there that will suit your needs!
What Defines a Hot Sauce
Although there is an endless list of unique flavors and heat levels found in hot sauces, they all have one thing in common and that is they are all made with some sort of chile peppers, which provides the spicy and flavorful kick. Over the course of hundreds of years, through breeding and hybridization of chile pepper plants has resulted in an estimated 50,000 chile pepper cultivars today.
The only exception to making a hot sauce without chile peppers would be using pure capsaicin, which is the compound found in chile peppers that is responsible for the spicy heat.
With so many chile peppers to choose from, the possibilities with hot sauces are truly endless! However, there are definitely favorites among spicy food lovers and chile heads, such as habanero peppers, jalapeño peppers, ghost peppers and even carolina reapers.
Other spices such as cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika can also be used to create a spicy flavor as well. The key ingredient in hot sauce though is the chile pepper and the capsaicin it contains. When making hot sauce, the more capsaicin in the peppers will result in spicier heat levels.
However, it is important to find the right balance of heat and flavor in order to create a delicious sauce. Too much capsaicin will make the sauce too spicy to enjoy, while too little will result in a bland sauce.
Ultimately, it is up to the cook to decide how much heat to include in their hot sauce. However, there are some general guidelines that can be followed in order to create a flavorful and enjoyable sauce.
What is Hot Sauce - What Makes it Hot Sauce
Hot sauce is really just a sauce that is made with chile peppers.
The ingredients may vary depending on the region and/or culture, but typically include vinegar, onions, garlic, and salt. Then you have texture, which can vary as well, anywhere from thick and creamy to thin and runny.
Chile peppers are the main source of heat in hot sauce, and the type of pepper used will determine the level of spiciness. For example, habanero peppers are among the hottest chile peppers, while jalapeño peppers are relatively mild. However, there are other things such as chili powder that can be added for more heat and spice.
In addition to adding flavor to a dish, hot sauce can also be used as a condiment or added to food to give it a fiery kick. While here in the U.S., hot sauce is often associated with Mexican cuisine, it is also very popular in Asian and Indian dishes, along with many other cultures/cuisines.
Whether you like it mild or hot, there's a hot sauce variety out there for everyone to enjoy.
Fermented Vs. Non-Fermented Hot Sauces
Another thing to keep in mind when talking about the varieties of hot sauces is the difference between fermented and non-fermented types. You can make hot sauces both ways.
Fermented hot sauce is made with fresh chilies that are left to ferment in a saltwater brine for several weeks. During this time, the chilies break down and release their flavor into the surrounding liquid.
Non-fermented hot sauce, on the other hand, is made with roasted or dried chilies that are blended with something such as vinegar.
While both types of hot sauce will add a spicy kick to your food, there are a few key differences between them.
Fermented hot sauce can have a deeper, more complex flavor, while the non-fermented hot sauce can be brighter and more vinegary. In terms of heat, fermented hot sauce is typically milder than its non-fermented counterpart.
However, both types of hot sauce can vary widely in terms of heat (depending on the peppers used), so it's always best to start with a small amount and add more to taste. When it comes to choosing between fermented and non-fermented hot sauce, it really comes down to personal preference. Try both types and see which one you prefer!
Types of Hot Sauce Bases
To understand the flavor of a hot sauce, it is important to know about the different types of bases that are used in its production.
The most common type of hot sauce base is tomato sauce. This gives the sauce a familiar, tangy flavor that is enhanced by the addition of spices.
Another popular type of base is just plain old chiles. This provides a more complex flavor if you use multiple types, with layers of heat and spice that can be adjusted to taste.
For others, you'll find them made with fruits or vinegar. These bases add a tartness to the sauce that can really make your taste buds stand up and take notice.
How to Choose The Right Type of Hot Sauce
We haven't shown you exactly how many different types of hot sauces there are, but by now, you're probably starting to see that there is a massive variety out there based on how it's made, the culture, ingredients used, and much more.
Not All Sauces Are Made The Same. Period.
So, when it comes to finding the right type of hot sauce to use, there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting a hot sauce:
First, consider the level of heat you want. Hot sauces can range from mild to extremely spicy, so think about how much heat you can handle. If you're new to hot sauce, start with a milder variety and work your way up.
Usually, labels can give you a good idea of how hot the hot sauce may be, but another thing to look at is the chile pepper that was used to make it. Chile peppers can be rated on the Scoville Scale which will give you a great idea of just how hot it could be!
Second, think about the other ingredients. Some hot sauces are made with other spices, while others contain fruit or vegetables. Choose a hot sauce that contains ingredients that you enjoy.
3rd, take a moment and think about the food that you're using. Think about what may pair well with the ingredients that were used in the hot sauce.
For example, a hot sauce with a lot of vinegar in it may not pair well with sushi, but go great with rich or fatty foods that need a sharp complement, such as wings or pork.
Lastly, always try a very small dab of hot sauce on the back of your hand before adding it to any food. And make sure to have fun and experiment! Don't be afraid to try new things. With so many different types of hot sauces out there, you're sure to find one.
With these factors in mind, you should have no trouble finding the perfect hot sauce for your needs. However, if you're looking for some more advice on how exactly to pair hot sauces with food and flavor profiles, don't worry... we've got you covered! Let's dive into flavor profiles.
How to Pair Hot Sauce With Food
Now that you know a bit more about the different types of hot sauces, it's time to learn how to pair hot sauces with food. The best way to do this is by understanding flavor profiles.
A flavor profile is simply a combination of flavors that work well together. There are 5 primary flavor profiles that makeup food:
Savory - Umami
As we already mentioned, start by trying a bit of hot sauce on the back of your hand before adding to your food. This way you can try to identify some of the taste profiles present in the sauce.
When we refer to a "salty" hot sauce, we mean a subtle saltiness, not an overpowering taste. Many savory sauces contain some level of salt, so this one is often paired with either sour or savory flavors. Avoid sweet dishes and use salty hot sauces on almost any savory snack instead.
There are plenty of sweet hot sauces out there and generally you're taste buds will pick up on that sweetness right before the heat comes on. These types of hot sauces are great for things such as pizza, bread, and noodles. Sweet and heat go hand and hand.
Sour hot sauces can feature citrus ingredients to give them their signature taste of a “zing”. These types of sauces are great on tacos, nachos, guac, or anything you might chase with a shot of tequila or margarita. Also, think about pairing with firm and crunchy texture foods.
The savory flavor profile is versatile and can be found in grilled meats, aged cheeses, and fermented foods. These versatile flavors can be used to enhance just about any dish, from pan-seared steak and smoked pork chops to stir fry, pizza, and pasta.
You'll also want to think about consistency when pairing hot sauce with food. Hot sauces can range from thin and watery to thick and creamy. It's really about preference, just remember, depending on the heat level a little can go a long way!
For simplicity, here are some flavor profiles that go well with each other:
Flavors that enhance each other:
Sweet and salty
Sweet and savory
Sour and savory
Flavors that balance each other:
Salty and bitter
Savory and bitter
Sweet and bitter
Sweet and sour
Sour and spicy
Spicy and sweet
There are endless possibilities when it comes to pairing hot sauces with food. So have fun experimenting and enjoy your newfound knowledge about hot sauce!
Beginner Hot Sauce Types
Now that we've gone over some tips on how to choose and pair hot sauce, let's dive into some of the most popular types of hot sauces for beginners.
When it comes to sauces that are perfect for beginners you'll want something that is relatively mild in terms of spice level. You also should probably not get too crazy with the flavor profiles until you feel a little bit more comfortable with hot sauces unless you're an adventurous eater that is!
Make sure to pay attention to the chile pepper that was used in the hot sauce. If you're not sure where your tolerance is with heat levels, try to base it on something common, such as a jalapeño. If you use the jalapeño on the chile pepper Scoville Scale, it's rated with 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville ‘heat units’.
Whereas a scotch bonnet can range in heat from 100,000-350,000 Scoville units. So if the jalapeño is already hot for you, you're going to want to avoid hot sauces made with scotch bonnet until you get your tolerance up.
Here are two really great beginner hot sauces that we recommend:
Zing, is Mikey V's mildest hot sauce, however, it's one of our crowd favorites and packed full of flavor! It's made with a very mild red pepper, and fresh garlic, and mixed with sugar and vinegar. It's a versatile sauce that can be used as a glaze or dipping sauce on just about anything.
Here are some great pairings for the Zing hot sauce: Asian food, chicken, pork, ribs, and pizza.
The name says it all for this beginner hot sauce. This mild taco sauce will make your taste buds sing and your Taco Tuesdays will never be the same! You can use the taco sauce on much more than tacos too. It's great for pizza, burgers, wings, quesadillas, salads, and more!
The Different Types of Hot Sauce
Now that we've gone over what hot sauces are, some of the bases, food profiling, and given some suggestions for beginner hot sauces, let's move on to going over all of the different types of hot sauces there are.
We're going to break the types of hot varieties down into five sections: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and The Middle East. Where we'll give a brief overview of some of the most popular types of hot sauces used in those regions. This is not a completely exhaustive list, however, it does go over the majority of them as well as the most popular ones! With that being said, let's take a look.
North American Types of Hot Sauces
These hot sauces are thin, vinegary, and slightly salty. They can also be fermented for a slight depth in taste! The most popular are Tabasco, Crystal, and Frank's Red Hot. Since they are more acidic they are great for cutting fatty foods.
One of the most famous of all the US-Based hot sauces. Buffalo sauce is usually composed of a combination of a Louisiana-style hot sauce, and butter or margarine. It's mostly used to coat chicken wings but can be used on many other dishes! Restaurants all over the country love to serve this type of hot sauce.
Green Chile Hot Sauce
Green chile hot sauce is a staple in New Mexico. It's made with chile peppers like anaheim, rio grande, and/or hatch chiles (hatch chiles are somewhat famous and are only grown in the Hatch Valley). It does not typically include vinegar and can sometimes use flour to thicken it up.
Red Chile Hot Sauce
The red chile hot sauce is another favorite of New Mexicans and is similar to their green chile style hot sauce. It's made with red chile peppers, and can often contain things such as bacon for a smoky flavor, and a stock like beef or chicken. This type of sauce can be used as a marinade or dip!
Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce
This type of hot sauce is made with scotch bonnet peppers, which are native to the Caribbean. This pepper is a bit hotter compared to a habanero pepper and has a sweet, tropical flavor reminiscent of tomatoes, apples, and cherries. It's often used to make sauces for jerk chicken or fish and other Caribbean dishes!
Mustard Pepper Sauce
Mustard pepper sauces are popular in the British Virgin Islands and Trinidad. They are usually made with either scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, yellow mustard, and other ingredients like cilantro, thyme, curry, mango, and more.
Picante sauces are characterized by their smooth texture and consistency. They are often made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeños, and other spices like cilantro and lime juice. This type of hot sauce is often used as a condiment and used as an accent for things such as eggs or tacos.
Sos Ti-Malice is a concoction of scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and green or red bell peppers. It's a traditional Haitian condiment but is now widely enjoyed throughout all of North America. It goes great on dishes such as fried pork and fish.
Cajun Pepper Hot Sauce
This type of hot sauce uses aged red peppers, cajun spices, and garlic which make a perfect blend of flavor and heat. Whether you use it for jambalaya or gumbo, eggs, or wings, cajun pepper sauce is a staple and has been a New Orleans tradition that dates back to 1889.
South American Types of Hot Sauces
Ají is a popular hot sauce from Peru. It's made with a paste of ají amarillo peppers, jalapeños, cilantro, and lime juice. This sauce generally contains a creamy element like mayonnaise and can be used as a dipping sauce or added to popular dishes. It's also used and popular in Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Chile.
Habanero Hot Sauce
Habanero hot sauce is a flavorful and spicy sauce, made from habanero chilies. It has a unique citrusy taste, with smoky undertones. Its colors vary depending on how it's made and it's packed full of fruity aromas. This type of hot sauce pairs well with tropical fruits like apples and oranges.
Molho De Pimento
Molho de Pimento is one of the most popular hot sauces in Brazil. It's made with the malagueta pepper, which can be quite spicy having a scoville heat unit between 60,000 to 100,000. You'll often find malaguetas, green bell peppers, onions, vinegar, and olives in this type of hot sauce.
Using a combination of ají chiles, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, vinegar, and garlic, the Pebre style of hot sauce is used widely in Chile. It's traditionally served with bread as a starter to your meal.
European Types of Hot Sauces
Paprika paste is the national condiment of Hungary and an absolute must-have for any hot sauce aficionado. It's made with paprika, salt, and some type of acidic element (usually citric acid), plus stabilizers and emulsifiers. Hungarians will sometimes use it as a substitute for paprika powder in certain dishes such as chicken or beef dishes.
Peri Peri Hot Sauce
This sauce is made with peri-peri peppers (thus the name) and has been a part of Portuguese cuisine since the 1400s. It's often used as a marinade for piri piri chicken (a Portuguese staple), but it can also be added to just about anything. The Oxford Dictionary of English records peri-peri as a foreign word meaning "a very hot sauce made with red chilli peppers".
Asian Types of Hot Sauces
Hot mustard is a spicy condiment that originated in China. It's made with hot and spicy brown mustard powder, vinegar, oil, sugar, salt, and other spices like cumin. This type of hot sauce is often served at Chinese restaurants as a dipping sauce for dumplings or spring rolls. If you're eating Chinese cuisine, you'll want some hot mustard (it's pretty intense though!).
Sriracha is an iconic hot sauce that has become popular around the world in recent years. It was brought to the U.S. by Vietnamese-born chef David Tran in Los Angeles in 1980 and consists of chile peppers, garlic, distilled vinegar, sugar, and salt. However, there are both traditional Thai styles and new American styles of Sriracha sauce.
Gochujang is a popular hot pepper paste that has been part of Korean cuisine since the 18th century. It's made from sticky rice, red chile peppers, and fermented soybeans, and gives dishes a unique sweet and funky flavor. Gochujang's thick consistency makes it best as a base for a dish rather than something added at the end.
Chile oil is a staple in Chinese cuisine and is made from vegetable oil and hot red chiles. It can also include other seasonings such as sichuan peppercorns, dried garlic, or paprika. This type of hot sauce is popular in the Sichuan Province, where they often add mouth-numbing sichuan peppercorns for extra heat. Chile oil can be used as a table condiment or as an ingredient in cooked dishes.
Sambal is a spicy condiment that originated in Java, Indonesia but has since become popular throughout Southeast Asia. It's often bright red in color and contains red chiles, vinegar, and salt or sugar. It's perfect to use as an addition to other sauces and dressings.
Vietnamese Chile Garlic Style
This style of hot sauce comes from Vietnamese cuisine and is typically a combination of chile peppers, garlic, oil, and fish sauce. This tasty concoction adds lots of flavor and heat to all kinds of dishes, from summer rolls to vermicelli noodles. It can also have a strong aroma from the fish sauce, which people either love or absolutely hate.
Originating from British Indian cuisine, Phall is considered to be the hottest kind of curry. It's a mix of eight types of peppers, including habanero and scotch bonnet peppers, and some even incorporate the famous carolina reaper for an even spicier version. Regardless, Phall is not for the faint-hearted!
African Types of Hot Sauces
Awaze is a hot sauce made throughout Ethiopia that's often used as an accompaniment to couscous and stews, or simply as a dip. It usually contains hot peppers such as cayenne, garlic, and various spices like cumin. However, the way this style of hot sauce is made varies widely based on family traditions and regions.
Harissa is a hot sauce made in North Africa and uses dried tunisian baklouti chiles. It's often used as a base for cooking local dishes and can also be found/popular in Morocco, Libya, and Algeria as well. The sauce is made usually from both dried tunisian baklouti and serrano peppers, making it fairly hot.
Shatta is a type of hot sauce that originated in Egypt. It's made with red chiles, garlic, olive oil, tomato, and parsley and has a thicker consistency than other types of hot sauces. This type of hot sauce is often served with Egypt's national dish koshari. It is also often used with soups and can pack quite a lot of flavor and heat.
Shito is a spicy condiment from Ghana, typically made with oil (fish or vegetable), chiles, ginger, and dried ground fish or shrimp. It's traditionally served with a variety of dishes and can provide a unique twist to almost any dish. It's most commonly used in the kenkey dish which is a sourdough corn dumpling.
Middle Eastern Types of Hot Sauces
Zhug or Schug
Zhug is a hot sauce from Yemen popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. It's traditionally made with fresh green chiles, garlic, and cilantro, but it can also have other ingredients such as coriander, cardamom, or caraway. This type of hot sauce usually has a thicker consistency and can be quite spicy depending on the type of chiles used. It can also usually has a slightly sweet taste.
Muhammara is a hot sauce from Syria that has a unique flavor profile. It's made with either fresh or dried-out aleppo peppers, which aren't too hot but come with plenty of flavors. It's used as both a condiment and can also be eaten as a dip for bread, pita, and veggies.
How to Use Different Hot Sauce Types
Hot sauces are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. You can use them as condiments on sandwiches, mixed into dips, added to soups for extra zing, or even used as marinades for meat. It really comes down to the type of hot sauce, the food you're about to eat, and your preferences for taste and texture. The best thing to do is to start experimenting with different types of hot sauces and find out which ones you like best!
With that being said, we won't leave you completely hanging. Here are a couple of broad ideas on how to use different hot sauce types:
For thin hot sauces such as Louisiana-style and Cajun style hot sauce, they go great on just about anything. You can use them as a condiment or even part of the cooking ingredients.
For Asian-style hot sauces or most fermented, they come usually with a unique flavor. These are great as a condiment for stir fries. They can also be used as dipping sauce for fried foods.
For Mexican-style hot sauces, think about what chile peppers are used in the sauce. Since they vary so widely, you'll really want to know what is in the sauce in order to pair it with something.
Your red and green chile hot sauces are perfect for baking into Chilies Rellenos, adding to breakfast burritos, and using over your enchiladas!
Middle Eastern-style hot sauces such as harissa are great when they are eaten alongside things such as hummus, falafels, and breads.
When it comes to Caribbean-style hot sauces, beware of the heat level. These tend to be super spicy and they are typically best alongside starchy dishes or on top of meat or fish.
Superhot Hot Sauces
Hot sauces range from almost no heat to medium, hot, everything between those, and then SUPER HOT. These types of hot sauces are typically not made from chile peppers anymore but rather from chile pepper extract. Which is an oily extract of the peppers capsicum. Which can make things SUPERHOT!
These are generally so hot that you're not really tasting much in flavor anymore, but rather just hanging on for dear life!
As of 2022, Mad Dog 357 Plutonium No. 9 is arguably one of the hottest hot sauces in the world. It comes in at a whopping 9 million SHUs. Which is EXTREMELY HOT. There are quite a few other extremely hot hot sauces that are similar and there are new ones coming out all the time!
Hot Sauces for Beginners
As we already mentioned, Zing and I love Tacos Sauce (mild), are both really great beginner hot sauces. They are both fairly mild, packed full of flavor, and can be used on just about any dish. Which makes them perfect for people just getting into hot sauce and trying new things.
If you want to be a little bit more adventurous, you can also try Mikey V's Dill Pickle Jalapeño Hot Sauce. If you love pickles, hot sauce, and flavor, this one is for you! It's made with jalapeños, so it's not too hot. Think hot dogs, burgers, pizza, and bloody marys!
Hot Sauces for Flavor
If you're looking for hot sauces that are packed full of flavor, we've got you covered.
First is Sam Sauce, which is a creation of two chile heads who went a little bit crazy in the kitchen. It uses Japanese Black Vinegar and Yuzu Vinegar. Be ready for some explosive flavor profiles but also be ready for some serious heat as it contains the 7-pot primo pepper.
Next, we want to highlight Garlic Scorpion. This is for all you garlic lovers out there. It's a combination of fresh garlic with scorpion peppers. If the dish goes well with garlic, you can add this hot sauce to it!
Winning multiple awards, Peach Habanero is a hot sauce that packs a tropical blend of flavors. Using mild peppers, red onion, habaneros, and pineapples, it's naturally sweet and full of the island flavor.
Last, but certainly not least, is Sweet Ghost Pepper. Made with the bhut jolokia ghost pepper, this hot sauce is the perfect blend of hot and spicy with sweetness. It has also won multiple awards!
Hot Sauces for the Brave
Alright, we've given you some ideas for beginners as well as flavor lovers. We're also going to mention two other hot sauces, however, beware, these are only for the brave!
Made with the famous carolina reaper, this hot sauce is blazing hot! In addition to the heat levels, it's packed with garlic flavors as well! Roasted Garlic Reaper is full of heat, flavor, and more heat. Strap in for this one!
Reaper Unleashed is another hot sauce that comes packed with heat from the carolina reaper pepper. Its heat level is somewhere around 9/10 so it won't necessarily melt your face off hot, but certainly packs a punch.
Understanding The Varieties of Hot Sauces
There are a variety of different types of hot sauces available on the market, each with its own unique flavor profile and heat level. Whether you're looking for something mild that can be used on any dish or something superhot that will make your taste buds tingle, there's a hot sauce out there for you!
Hopefully, this guide was able to answer all of your questions about the different types of hot sauces, how to use them, and which ones you may want to start trying! If we missed any and you have more questions, feel free to leave a comment down below or send us a message here on Mikey V's, we would love to share more of our hot sauce knowledge!