Hot sauce picks

General disclaimer

The contents of this page are the personal opinions of David Flater.  They do not represent endorsements or criticisms by anyone and have nothing to do with reality, such as it is.  You pays your money and you takes your chances.  Reading this page may cause your aunties to spontaneously combust and Sumerian deities to fly out of your nasal passages at inconvenient times.  Run away!  All trademarks are trademarks of their respective trademarkers, in the U.S. and other countries, but possibly not.  Prosecutors will be violated.

General principles

  1. Viscosity:  The sauce must be thick enough that you can't see through it, but not so chunky that it could be mistaken for salsa.
  2. Purity:  There must actually be chile peppers in it.  Making hot sauce out of tomato purée and pepper extract is like making wine out of grape juice and grain alcohol, or making soy sauce out of hydrolyzed soy protein and caramel color.  You're supposed to ferment it, dummy.
  3. Anti-Salinity:  Tabasco has a sodium content of only 30 mg/tsp, and nobody ever complained that it was bland.
  4. Anti-Novelty:  The label should not be too funny.  There are thousands of novelty labels out there and no particular reason to believe that the bottle contents are worth tasting.

The gold standard

Tabasco Pepper Sauce

Ingredients:  distilled vinegar, red pepper, salt
Sodium:  30 mg/tsp
Heat:  (3.75 ± 1.25) kSHU (according to

A straight-up hot sauce with vinegar and salt, but no smoky or garlicky or fruity taste.  2004-07

Tabasco Habanero Sauce

Ingredients:  distilled vinegar, habanero pepper, cane sugar, Tabasco pepper sauce (distilled vinegar, red pepper, salt), salt, mango purée, dehydrated onion, banana purée, tomato paste, tamarind purée, papaya purée, spices, garlic, Tabasco pepper mash (pepper, salt)
Sodium:  140 mg/tsp
Heat:  (7.5 ± 0.5) kSHU (according to

This sauce is a heavy mixture of twangy flavors, the distinctive habanero flavor not being one of them.  Instead of making a neat sauce using habaneros, they started with a base of regular Tabasco and added stuff (notice the redundant ingredients).  For tacos, it narrowly beats out original Tabasco just by being hotter, but it's too salty to use all the time.  2004-09

Category:  Fruity

"The chinense varieties have an unmistakable, fruity aroma and taste that some people describe as apricotlike." — Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland, The Pepper Garden, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA, 1993.  Habanero or scotch bonnet based hot sauces in which you can taste this twang, possibly augmented with other fruity flavors, are categorized as fruity.

Matouk's Hot Pepper Sauce

Ingredients:  aged pickled scotch bonnet peppers, water, vinegar, modified corn starch, salt, mustard, onion powder, spices, potassium sorbate, soyabean oil, xanthan gum, FD&C Yellow #5
Sodium:  90 mg/tsp
Heat:  est. 4.5 kSHU

This is pretty close to what I think a scotch bonnet hot sauce should taste like.  It's not all full of carrots and whatever like some of them.  The one big change I would make is to remove the thickeners so that it would soak into a taco instead of laying on top.  2011-10

El Yucateco Caribbean Hot Sauce

Ingredients:  water, habanero pepper, carrot, salt, spices, acetic acid, onion powder, citric acid, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA
Sodium:  75 mg/tsp
Heat:  5.4 kSHU (according to

This is better, carrots and thickeners and all.  This is in direct competition with Nando's for best sauce to put on chicken.  2015-09

Category:  Garlic

Emeril's Kick it Up Red Pepper Sauce

Ingredients:  cayenne peppers, vinegar, salt, garlic
Sodium:  140 mg/tsp
Heat:  not much

This sauce has too little heat and too much salt, but the garlic flavor is delicious, and it has plenty of it.  It blows away Tabasco Garlic Pepper Sauce.  2004-08

2011:  No longer available in my town.

Category:  Mix-in

El Yucateco Hot Sauce:  Salsa Picante de Chile Habanero

Ingredients:  red habanero pepper, water, tomato, salt, spices, acetic acid, F.D.&C. red 40, sodium benzoate
Sodium:  15 mg/tsp
Heat:  5.79 kSHU (according to

A straightforward, low-sodium mix of habanero and tomatoes.  It tastes more like habanero than most sauces calling themselves habanero sauces, but there's a lot of tomato in there too.  I don't like it by itself, but it's just the thing to mix into Emeril's to make it hotter and less salty without destroying its garlic flavor.  2006-03

Category:  Cumin

Cumin:  a smoky or barbecue-esque flavor.

Habanero Hot Sauce from Hell

Ingredients:  water, habanero pepper, vinegar, carrots, salt, xanthan gum, garlic, spices
Sodium:  55 mg/tsp
Heat:  est. 7.5 kSHU

Hotter than original Tabasco, with a smoky flavor.  Despite its novelty labelling, it's actually pretty good for barbecue and sloppy joe types of applications.  Not so great for tacos, unless you're into smoky barbecue flavored tacos.  Apparently there is a hotter version called Devil's Revenge, but it contains extract.  2004-07

Category:  Spicy

Spicy:  kicked up some other way, with a flavor that is neither smoky, nor garlicky, nor fruity, but definitely not plain.

El Yucateco XXXTra Hot Sauce:  Salsa Kutbil-ik de Chile Habanero

Ingredients:  habanero pepper, vinegar, tomato, salt, spices, sodium benzoate
Sodium:  17 mg/tsp
Heat:  11.6 kSHU (according to

The flavor is unique, containing relatively little salt but a whole lot of mystery spices.  It's fairly thick, but not chunky.  It's brown, with specks of black pepper or something.  The heat is slow to kick in, but when it does, it's hot.  Definitely a different hot sauce.  It goes OK in Manwich, but on tacos it just tastes weird.  2004-08

Category:  Buffalo Sauce

What goes on chicken or vegetarian chikenish-flavory-chunkies.

Nando's Hot Peri-Peri Sauce

Ingredients:  water, vinegar, lemon, onion, salt, Serrano pepper, sunflower oil, spices (incl. Peri-Peri pepper), garlic, xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium EDTA
Sodium:  140 mg/tsp
Heat:  est. 4 kSHU

Mmmm, Serranos.

It's hard to compare the heat of thick sauces to that of thin sauces because you get so much more of it.  The net heat effect of this sauce is comparable to that of standard Tabasco.  2012-09

Oh, wait, stop the presses, there's an extra hot version.

Nando's Extra Hot Peri-Peri Sauce

Ingredients:  water, vinegar, salt, lemon, spices (incl. Peri-Peri pepper), Serrano pepper, onion, sunflower oil, xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, garlic, calcium disodium EDTA
Sodium:  70 mg/tsp
Heat:  est. 4.25 kSHU

I switched from the regular to the extra hot halfway through a meal but did not find it to be dramatically different.  2013-12

Category:  Ketchup

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce

Ingredients:  chili, sugar, garlic, salt, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite, xanthan gum
Sodium:  60 mg/tsp
Heat:  not much

There's nothing wrong with Heinz Ketchup, but this stuff makes a darn good substitute.  Flavorful and zingy, it tastes like a mixture of ketchup, garlic and jalapeños.  It's hard to believe there are no tomatoes in it.  Really good on veggie burgers.  2004-09

Category:  also ran

The great is the enemy of the good, not to mention the bad and the ugly.  One way or the other, these sauces didn't make the cut.