Spice up your life!
The American palate has grown spicier in recent years: hot sauce sales have skyrocketed since 2000, and many once found only in ethnic restaurants have gone mainstream. For some, variety is the spice of life. But for members of Hot Sauce Nation, who crave chile pepper-based heat and zing, it’s the other way around. Happily, many countries and regions have sauces reflecting local tastes and ingredients. Look for these on your spicy travels.
The nation’s best-selling hot sauce, Tabasco was for decades the main (or only) game in town. Made by McIlhenny Co. (founded in 1868) from Tabasco chile peppers and vinegar, aged in white oak barrels once used for whiskey, , it now comes in seven other flavors from chipotle (smoked jalapeno peppers) to habanero. A factory tour, museum, tropical gardens, and restaurant are also at its headquarters in Iberia Parish, a 40-minute drive from Lafayette or a two-and-a-half-hour drive from New Orleans.
Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
This spicy-sweet sauce from Huy Fong Foods has conquered the hot sauce world from its humble origins in 1980, when Vietnamese immigrant David Tran made it in LA’s Chinatown, delivering it by van to Asian restaurants. Made from fresh jalapeno peppers, garlic, sugar, vinegar and salt, it’s named for Si Racha, a coastal town in east Thailand between Bangkok and Pattaya, known for its dipping sauce. Its factory offers free weekly tours while its annual chile crushing open house (free samples) in early fall draws thousands.
This hot sauce with a distinctive wooden cap (especially popular on the West Coast and Texas) is made from both arbol and piquin chiles (tiny, fruitier, and hotter than arbol) and unnamed spices in Chapala in Jalisco state in west Mexico. The woman on the bottle is the family matriarch, but the company is now owned by tequila maker Jose Cuervo. Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame is a fan (he likes it on scrambled eggs). Oddly, it’s named for a small city in central Mexico just outside Puebla, Cholula, where Mexico’s volcano Popocatepetl looms over its churches and archeology site.
Chung Jung One Gochujang
Gochujang is a beloved Korean condiment used in everything from bibimbap to stews as a paste or sauce. A popular brand, made in Sunchang province, South Korea from red pepper powder, garlic, onion, rice flour, rice wine, cane sugar, and vinegar, is by Chung Jung One. Sweet, tart, thick, gluten-free, and vegan (unlike some brands), it was developed for the US with consulting by Korean-born chef Edward Lee, a Louisville, Kentucky restaurateur.
Walkerswood Jerk Marinade
“Jerk” is a traditional Jamaican cooking style that coats meat or seafood in a spicy seasoning mix or marinade of Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme leaves, nutmeg, allspice, scallions, and sugar, which is then cooked over a wood fire. Walkerswood, a popular brand named for the rural village where the factory is located, makes the spice mix and marinade, plus other sauces that use the chiles like jonkanoo. Recipes for chicken, BBQ ribs, pork, and shrimp are on its website.
Llewellyn’s Hot Pepper Sauce
Made from Scotch bonnet peppers in three flavors (original, with lots of thyme; mango, with garlic and ginger; guava, with garlic, onions, and ginger), Llewellyn’s is a sauce found all over Nevis, a small lush eastern Caribbean island in St. Kitts & Nevis. Created by chef Llewellyn Clarke, the sauce even starred in a Federal Express online ad a few years ago, where it was shipped to China.
Le Diablotin Piri-Piri
Portugal’s traditional piri-piri hot sauce has a base of bird’s eye chile peppers from its former African colonies, first discovered centuries ago by traders in Mozambique. This popular brand comes in plain, extra hot, pineapple, orange, and lemon flavor, and is made in Ribatejo in central Portugal by a family-owned sauce company, Mendes Goncalves. Its name (“little devil” in French) accounts for its logo, whose horns are composed of chile peppers.
CaJohns Sancto Scorpio
WHERE: New Mexico
Considered the world’s hottest chile, the fearsome-sounding Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is the base of this vinegar-based garlic sauce co-developed by the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University at Las Cruces and CaJohns Fiery Foods, an Ohio firm. The CaJohns founder so fell in love with hot flavors after visits to the state and Louisiana, he opened a factory to make his own. In New Mexico, the nation’s top chile producer, you’re asked “Red or green?” for your chile sauce when ordering food. So it’s fitting a portion of sauce sales benefits the institute to ensure chile research will continue. NMSU offers a tour, as does the CaJohns factory in a Columbus suburb.
An orange hot sauce in papaya (mild) and Madam (very hot) flavors made from Madam Jeanette chile peppers, mustard, piccalilli, vinegar, garlic, and onions, all-natural Hot Delight is from this former Dutch colony off the Venezuela coast. It’s a family affair: Owner Aurelio Ruiz uses his grandfather’s recipe and named his firm, Kelant-Rose, after his three children, who, along with his wife, designed the label (a man with a wheelbarrow, an open papaya, and a chile pepper) for the bottle, topped by a jaunty straw hat.
Sambal Cap Ibu Jari
Sambal, a chile paste or sauce, is Indonesia’s go-to condiment for any food at any meal. Hundreds of varieties are available, every region in the archipelago has its own sambal, and every household makes it, as do companies big and small. On Bali, the most popular is sambal matah, made of lemongrass, shrimp paste, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and juice. Sambal terasi, whose main ingredient is shrimp paste, is from Java, while sambal kecap, composed of shallots, soy sauce, and chopped chiles, is widespread nationally. All-natural sambal from Jakarta-based Cap Jempol, a factory-made favorite, comes in original, hot, and sweet seafood and vegetarian flavors. A sambal-eating contest was even part of the 2017 Ubud food festival, with sambals supplied by Hot Mama Sambal, a shop in Ubud selling sauces from all over Indonesia.
Le Phare du Cap Bon Harissa
North Africa’s favorite hot sauce or paste, used in everything from tagines with couscous to pizza to fast food to a spreads, is basically hot red chiles, garlic, coriander, and caraway. It varies by country, neighborhood, and ethnic group but began in Tunisia, where Le Phare du Cap Bon is a well-known brand with a lighthouse logo.
Marie Sharp’s Habanero Sauces
Back in 1980, Marie Sharp began making hot sauces and jams on her farm. Today, her family-owned company makes 11 sauces (most with habanero chiles, carrots, garlic, onions, and vinegar) in Stann Creek in southeast Belize, from mild to one ominously named “Beware.” In 2016, Sharp accepted a Hall of Fame award at the New York City Hot Sauce Expo.
Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce
This sweet, mildly hot thick sauce is made from coarsely ground pickled chiles, sugar, vinegar ,and salt in Nakhon Pathom, a 30-mile drive from Bangkok, by TCC Chaokoh. Street vendors in Thailand often serve it with BBQ chicken.
Lingham’s Hot Sauce
Founded in 1908 in Penang by a Sri Lankan merchant, Lingham & Sons has an all-natural recipe that hasn’t varied since then: local kulai chiles, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Very popular during British Colonial rule of Malaysia, the sauce now also comes in ginger, garlic, and Sri Racha flavors. Factory tours are offered at its location a 45-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur. Recipes for chili mud crab, Nyonya rolls, and fish and chips are on its website.
Peru Chef Salsa de Aji Criollo
A major ingredient in Peruvian food which has grabbed the world’s notice in recent years is aji amarillo paste, which is made from a hot yellow pepper and Peru’s most common chile. This bottled creamy sauce(also containing mustard, peanuts, oregano, cumin, pepper and oil) from Peru Chef is sold by Zocalo Foods, a Latin grocers online.
PICO Bhut Jolokia Sauce
Made from the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia–once the world’s hottest pepper) native to India’s Nagaland, this sauce also has garlic and seasonings. Clad in a face mask, gloves, and body suit, chef Nicole Gonsalves, a Mumbai native who worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill, invented it over nine months and 30 tries before she was satisfied. Aghast that India eats more chiles per capita than any other country but had no bottled hot sauce, three young Indians formed Mumbai-based PICO to fill the gap.
The all-natural sauces from this family-owned firm on Maui have just four ingredients: chiles (ghost peppers and jalapenos), apple cider vinegar, garlic, and Hawaiian sea salt for Hamajang (Hawaiian slang for “messed up,” or how you’ll feel if you douse too much on your food). OK, the mango and pineapple sauces have one more: the fruit. Adoboloco is both the name of Tim Parsons’ former blog on chicken adobo (the best-known dish for Filipinos, a big community on Hawaii) and his sauce line, which uses chiles grown on his farm and other local farmers.
Gindo’s Spice of Life Original Fresh and Spicy
This artisanal small-batch hot sauce line, popular with Los Angeles chefs, roams the globe in 19 sauces. Original (a 2017 Fiery Foods Challenge contest winner) mixes fresh habanero and sweet red bell peppers, peppercorns, Himalayan and other imported sea salts, and vinegar for a balanced tangy/sweet flavor and spicy finish. But Chris “Gindo” Ginder also makes Hmong Pepper (Asian-inspired, fermented aji rico and ghost peppers), a citrusy Piri Piri (with lemon and orange juices), Honey Habanero, and Chocolate Moruga Scorpion flavors.
This mildly spicy organic sauce containing chipotle chiles, goji berries, cacao nibs apple cider vinegar, agave nectar and Celtic sea salt, is found in the San Juan Islands, heavily-forested rural islands north of Seattle in western Washington. It’s made on Lopez Island (population 2,200) by a Texas native with a yen for heat.
The maker of this piri-piri sauce (a variant spelling) uses bird’s eye chiles grown by over 3,000 small farmers in Malawi and has an online store. Headed by a native whose father tasted chiles in India and felt he could do better, Nali donates $1 of each bottle sold to the country’s Rural Poultry Centre.
The Chilli Effect Bunny Chow
Made from three types of chile (habanero, bird’s eye, and cayenne), Indian spices like fenugreek, turmeric, coriander, and cumin plus honey, lime juice, garlic and oil, this sauce is inspired by South Africa’s Bunny Chow: a hollowed-out bread loaf stuffed with curry. Bunny Chow began in Durban’s Indian community as an easy way for sugar plantation laborers to tote their lunch. It’s made by
The Chilli Effect, two spice-loving men in Sydney and Brisbane.