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The Goods

Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce Roundup

March 24, 2022  |   by Monica Hart

The hot sauce market is on fire and the competition is fierce!
There are now literally thousands of zippy hot sauces, bottled and sold in America. The hype is real, and the descriptions read more like a fine wine than a good ol’ taco-topper.

Phrases like barrel-aged, sun-ripened, hand-crafted, and full-bodied…are bantered about. In fact, the new breed of hot sauces goes far beyond chiles with inventive flavor profiles that include lemon drop melon, radishes, tangy citrus, and black truffle. Some are sweet, some are vinegar forward, all bring the heat, at one level or another, with the variety of pepper used in the sauce influencing the spice level.

Many of these hot sauces enjoy a cult following of loyal fans but in the end, the title of best hot sauce around, comes down to personal preference and the taste buds of one, you.

And while it’s challenging to narrow down the fiery playing field, the Metropolitan Market Test Kitchen has come up with 16, legit contenders and I have been asked to weigh in. My mission, to taste through the whole bunch of them, share my findings and humbly offer up pairing suggestions.

Let’s be clear, I like hot sauce. I have been a big pepper fan, since my childhood, pepper picking days in the fields of Yakima. However, sampling all 16 hot sauces in one sitting, is a bit daunting! I’m playing it cool though, armed with a pint of Greek yogurt, and a family size bowl of white rice, in case I need to chill out.

So, here it goes, lets taco about the flavor and heat profiles of all 16 brands and offer some saucy suggestions on how you might use them.

Sambal Oelek Ground Fresh Chili Paste (SE Asia)

  • PROFILE: Smoky, herby, garlicky, salty, tomato, rich, thick
  • HEAT SOURCE: Chili peppers 
  • HEAT LEVEL: High
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Stir fry, beef, gyoza, eggs, fried rice, Thai dishes, dim sum, nachos

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (CA)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, smoky, rich, vinegary, tangy, hint of garlic
  • HEAT SOURCE: Sun ripened chiles 
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium high
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Use in a veggie stir-fry over rice or spice up your noodle or rice bowl, pizza, breakfast hash.

Tiger Sauce Original (New Orleans. LA)

  • PROFILE: Light, sweet, smoky, tangy, spicy, malty, hints of garlic, cumin
  • HEAT SOURCE: Cayenne peppers 
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Shellfish, drizzle over apple pie, ribs, noodles, rice, egg rolls, pizza, tacos
    *Personal favorite

Frank’s Red Hot Original (New Iberia, LO)

  • PROFILE: Smoky, sweet, peppery, buttery, rich, citrus, packed with flavor, notes of paprika
  • HEAT SOURCE: Cayenne pepper
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Wings, deep fried cauliflower florets, hash browns, ribs, potatoes, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce

Louisiana’s Pure Crystal Hot Sauce (Metairie, LA)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, sour, citrusy, vinegary, tangy
  • HEAT SOURCE: Cayenne peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Wings, burritos, hot cocoa, pizza, gumbo, Mexican dishes, Chili

Tabasco Pepper Sauce (Avery Island, LA)

  • PROFILE: Vinegar forward, sweet, sour, fruity, oaky
  • HEAT SOURCE: Red pepper
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium high
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Wings, Mexican dishes, eggs, potatoes, oysters, chowder, pasta, rice dishes, bisque

Hot Winter Sauce (Cottage Grove, OR)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, smoky, tangy, floral, bold, tomato and seedy with a thick texture.
  • HEAT SOURCE: Bulgarian Carrot Pepper
  • HEAT LEVEL: High
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Mac and Cheese, rice bowl, spring rolls, fried chicken, Tofu, wings, smoked meats

Bonache Socorro (Ballard, USA)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, smooth, smoky, tart, bright and grassy with notes of lemony citrus, white wine vinegar and radish.
  • HEAT SOURCE: Dried Chiles
  • HEAT LEVEL: Mild
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS:  Grilled citrus prawns, grilled halibut sandwiches, tacos, enchiladas, gazpacho, pizza, scrambled eggs

Habitual Cactus Chaos Hot Sauce (Kirkland, WA)

  • PROFILE: Limey, light, sweet, fruity with notes of citrus and melon plus the zing of ginger
  • HEAT SOURCE: Jalapeño
  • HEAT LEVEL: Mild
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Citrus and fennel salad, melon and prosciutto salad, tacos, salsa Verde, dumplings, naan, seafood dishes
    *Personal favorite

Secret Aardvark (Portland, OR)

  • PROFILE: Earthy herbal notes of sweet basil, mint and cilantro, fruity, hints of apple, vinegar, onion and zesty lime, smooth
  • HEAT SOURCE: Serrano and habanero peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Toss with pasta, drizzle on avocado toast, grilled chicken, Mexican dishes, chicken flautas, eggs, Asian dishes

RADS Pepper Sauce (Bellingham, WA)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, tangy, fruity, herby, oily, apple forward, flavorful
  • HEAT SOURCE: Jalapeño
  • HEAT LEVEL: Mild
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Celery root and apple stick coleslaw, salads, apple pie and ice cream, grilled fish, pizza, rice dishes, tacos
    * Personal favorite

Cholula Hot Sauce (Jalisco, Mexico)

  • PROFILE: Smoky, grassy, tart, fruity, vinegary, caramelized onions, tamarind
  • HEAT SOURCE: Arbol and Piquin peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Grilled steak, tomato and cucumber salad, grilled eggplant, BBQ pork, BBQ chicken, guacamole, eggs

Valentina Salsa Picante Extra Hot (Guadalajara, Mexico)

  • PROFILE: Vinegary, smoky, tangy, buttery, creamy, notes of tomato
  • HEAT SOURCE: Chili peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Kettle Chips, crudités, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, brisket, shellfish

Tapatio Salsa Picante Hot Sauce (Vernon, CA)

  • PROFILE: Peppery, smoky, tangy, vinegar, and garlic
  • HEAT SOURCE: Red peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: High
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Taco salad with plenty of sour cream on the side, eggs over easy, oyster shooters, nachos, Asian dishes

Brooklyn Delhi Hot Sauce (Brooklyn, NY)

  • PROFILE: Smoky, tomatoey, earthy, smooth, sweet, sour, herbal
  • HEAT SOURCE: South India Chili peppers
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Drizzle over hummus, spice up a bloody mary, Indian cuisine, pork, Thai dishes, pho, wings

Truff Hot Sauce (CA)

  • PROFILE: Sweet, smooth, smoky, rich, truffle forward 
  • HEAT SOURCE: Chili pepper
  • HEAT LEVEL: Medium
  • SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Mushroom risotto, sautéed mushrooms, eggs, truffle fries, popcorn, shrimp, papaya, roasted veggies

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