Knowing What You Want In A Hot Sauce
Which hot sauce you choose is very dependent on the kind of experience you want and how you plan to use it.
While some people might like to add just a few drops into a recipe every now and then, others may like to pour their sauce liberally all over everything and there are various hot sauces which are better at one than the other.
Below are some of the various thing you’ll need to take into account before plumping for a peppery condiment:
Type of Pepper
By consulting the ingredients list of a hot sauce, you can learn a bit about the chilli peppers that have gone into it. In general, most hot sauces don’t contain much more than peppers, vinegar and occasionally some herbs and spices, so the defining flavour will most often always be the specific pepper used.
It’s important to take note of these peppers, as certain flavours work better in different cuisines.
For example, jalapenos and chipotle chillies are almost exclusively found in Mexican dishes and so throwing a sauce made up of one of them into your Thai curry might taste a bit odd.
When you see a chilli you don’t recognise, research it’s uses and try and get an idea of which recipes or food it will work well with to make sure you’re buying a hot sauce which will fit your favourite flavour profiles.
The type of pepper may also give you an indication of how hot the sauce is going to be, as chilli’s like Ghost and Carolina Reaper aren’t commonly found in cuisine – as they have simply been bred to blow your head off!
For most people, a good hot sauce needs to pack exciting heat, but also bring a fair bit of flavour to the table as well.
Finding a condiment which can balance these two factors is difficult and fairly dependent on your own heat-handling ability, as the tougher your tongue finds the experience, the less likely you’ll be able to pick up background flavours.
It’s again best to look at the ingredients list: are there added herbs, tomatoes and spices? Or is it almost exclusively pepper extract and vinegar?
Knowing your pepper flavours will help you out here too, as you can begin choosing sauce based on pepper flavours you know you love!
Most hot sauces won’t set you back more than £15 and popular brands found on supermarket shelves won’t be more than a fiver!
For independent sellers who promise hotter and rarer chillies or interesting backstories though, be prepared to shell out nearer to £20!
Scoville Chart/ Heat Factor
To properly understand how hot your chosen sauce is going to be, it’s wise to get acquainted with the Scoville chart (SHU), an official accreditation of heat for chilli peppers.
The Scoville chart is based on a peppers capsaicin content, a chemical irritant within chillies responsible for the burning sensation you either love or loathe.
Scoville ratings come in a numerical value that equates to the amount of dilution which must take place to entirely reduce this spicy sensation to nothing, but understanding them is a little odd when you don’t have any reference points.
So we’re going to give you some!
A normal bell pepper, for example, would rate at 0-100 SHU, as from experience, you’ll know they have essentially no spice.
A jalapeno, however, is rated at 10,000 SHU.
This is a good starting point for working out your required heat level, as if a raw jalapeno is far too hot for you, you’ll want to look for sauces under 5,000 SHU.
If a jalapeno doesn’t even register a pinch on your palette though, this is when you can begin venturing out for some really hot sauces.
Beware though, not every hot sauce has a Scoville rating, as they must be officially tested to get one.
For those without a Scoville rating, you could instead refer to the ratings of the chilli peppers used in the ingredients to get an idea of the heat factor. For example, a Carolina reaper sauce is going to be hotter than a habanero sauce as reapers are over 1,000,000 SHU, whereas habaneros tend not to be over 350,000 SHU.
Remember though that a sauce made from a 1,000,000 SHU pepper is not likely to rate that highly itself, as condiments tend to dilute these levels down to make them more bearable.
If you’re really not sure – it’s best just not to risk it!
Knowing Your Limits
Unless you’re doing some kind of hot sauce challenge where pain and regret is all part of the game, it’s best to be aware of your personal limits when it comes to chillies to avoid being disappointed with a purchase.
We advise starting low and making your way up the chain of command, that way you’ll eventually find your optimum balance of flavour and heat, without feeling the need to push the limit too quickly and get instant regret!
Cautions & Warnings
While hot sauce challenges and series like Hot Ones make testing your body’s spice limits seem fun and a bit of a laugh, it’s still important to remember that seriously hot sauces can have seriously horrible effects if you don’t respect them.
For example, if a sauce label tells you it’s only to be used sparingly and as a food additive only – please take heed!
Otherwise, you’ll be in for a seriously stressful few hours as your body fights off an overdose of headache-inducing, tongue-numbing, painful spice.
Some cautions are of course just playful marketing ploys though and the trick is being able to spot the difference between serious advice and slogans that are just there to egg you on!
The size of the bottle you buy is dependent on how you plan on using it.
For lower-Scoville hot sauce you plan on using as a condiment, it’s obviously wisest to go with larger bottles or multi-packs to help keep up with your spicey appetite.
If the item, however, is a novelty sauce which only needs a drop to completely blow your head off, you won’t need much more than a dinky 50ml bottle.