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The Ultimate Guide to Types of Hot Sauces

Updated: Jan 24


The Ultimate Guide to Types of Hot Sauces

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?

map of mexico and central america

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.

capsaicin infographic with chile pepper

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.

mikey v's sam sauce hot sauce

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.