How Hot is Too Hot? A Study of Hot Sauces

How Hot is Too Hot? A Study of Hot Sauces

Through history, foods have been prepared by a multitude of cooking techniques, preserved famously and spiced extravagantly to enhance flavors and to make them more desirable. We often complement the flavors of our foods and mask off notes as well as drive crave-ability with hot sauce.  This is done by brightening taste and adding personality with the flavors of chilies and taste of vinegar. Hot sauces are prevalent across the globe on every continent to enhance and customize the flavor and taste of a dish. Hot sauces range from very hot to mild and bold flavor.
There are several methods to prepare hot sauce, with the primary being fermented and acidified with vinegar. Salt plays a big part to control microbial growth as well as aid in taste bud activation.   Salt can be mounted on the lid of a pepper mash oak barrel to create a hermetically sealed container. Prohibiting bacteria from entering the mash during fermentation and aging extends shelf life and allows the sauce to age gracefully and develop intended flavors. Stainless or wooden bourbon casks can be used to age hot sauce.  Sauces will gain flavor and complexity from the medium in which it is aged.  The acidity of the sauce will interact with the char in wooden barrels to develop more caramel notes.  Smoking or roasting peppers prior to fermenting can also add complexity and depth of flavor to hot sauce. Often various spices and other inclusions are added to hot sauce to add bold and distinctive flavors and broaden culinary applications.  This also usually serves to impart the maker’s personality, ethnic background, and intended usage.
Exhibit 1.0 – Types of inclusions in hot sauces:

Aromatics Liquid Carriers Sweeteners/ Thickening Agents Fresh/ Smoked/ Roasted
Garlic, Onion, Leek, Ramp, Vidalia Onion   White Vinegar, Apple Cider, Red Wine Vinegar Sugars: Cane, Molasses, Brown Sugar Green Varieties: Jalapeno, Poblano, Green Chile, Banana Pepper
Roasted Garlic Spirit Vinegar: Porter Beer, Bourbon, Wine, Rum Sweet Potato Red Varieties: Jalapeno, Cayenne, Tabasco, cherry bomb
Black Pepper Dry Spices Figs and Dates, Raisin   Orange Varieties: Habernos
Herbs: Chives, Oregano, Parsley, Cilantro Fruits: Pineapple Juice, Tamarind, Mango Miso Man-Made: Ghost, Scorpion
Tomatillo, Tomato Fish Sauce Gochujang, Doenjang, etc. Salt, Smoked Sea Salt, Pink Himalayan

Culinary applications range from using hot sauce as a topical condiment or finishing agent for soups and stews, ragouts.  It is used as flavor enhancer or main ingredient in dipping sauces and spreads as well as to season ceviche’s and marinades, or add a zing to glazes, savory and sweet sauces, and syrups.  We have even used them to put a twist of spice into beverages and drive complexity into bakery items. We will dive into applications more with some flavorful and creative global insights.  
The taste and flavor of a dish are both impacted by a hot sauce. The taste is primarily how the hot sauce affects the salt and acid balance in your taste buds.  Bitter notes might be relevant too is some forms. Sugar is added to some hot sauces to lessen the bitter or acid taste profile. The flavor on the other hand is more about the aroma, color and other inherent flavor attributes. For example, if you use smoked chilies this may affect the bitterness in taste but will certainly change the flavor with a smoky aroma. So, it is important to recognize and design both the taste and flavor of a hot sauce and then balance with salt, sweetness and acidity.  
Globally we are obsessed with hot sauces.  It is the ultimate in customization.  You can finalize your meal with whatever spice and flavors you love.  Culturally we see hot sauce vary in profile, but the intension and usage is the same.  We quite often see the physical consistency change as well.  Vietnam may have invented the sriracha craze, but it has swept the world.  The obsession has spread to flavoring agents for all sorts of product.  Sambal Olek has a similar function but different texture and consistency; more spoonable to sriracha’s squeezable.  Tabasco and Texas Pete have a distinctly American Palette.  Cholula, Valentina, and several other variations all derive from Mexico.  South American Hot Sauces derive from indigenous peppers like aji amarillo, or aji panca.  These sauces are thought to invigorate the spirit, palette, and metabolism.  African derivatives are from the peri peri strain of peppers, or bird’s eye chili.   
Exhibit 1.1 – Various types of hot sauce/ nationality/ make up matrix

Louisiana; Frank’s, Texas Pete, Tabasco   American Vinegar, chile, salty
Peri Peri or Piri Piri; Nando’s Portugal, Africa Habernos, vinegar, lemon, onion
Shatta Egypt Tomato, parsley, red chile, evo
Awaze Ethiopia Berbere, fenugreek, ginger, red chile, tej
Shito Ghana Black dried cayenne, chili, ginger, dried fish or shrimp
Muhumara/ Romesco Aleppo, Syria, Mediterranean Aleppo, walnuts or almonds, pomegranate or balsamic
Zhug Yemen/ Israel Red or green, parsley, lemon
Chile Oil China Sichuan peppercorns
Gochujang Korea Mix in to homemade and some commercial sauces- gaining in popularity
Sambal; Sambal Olek Indonesia Chile, garlic, sugar
Paprika Paste Hungary Paprika peppers, salt, lemon
New Mexico Hatch Valley New Mexico Meat infusion, red or green
Salsa Picante; Cholula, Sabor, Valentina, Tapatio Mexico Vinegar, cumin, red jalapeno,
Scotch Bonnet Jamaica Vinegar, pepper, allspice, brown sugar
Mustard Pepper BVI Curry, Mango, Carrot
Sus Ti- Malice Haiti Shallot, tomato, garlic, lime
Aji Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, Bolivia, Chile Garlic, lime, different colors of peppers
Molho de pimento Brazil Malagueta peppers

What makes hot sauces hot; capsicum is the chemical or agent. Capsicum can be measured in Scoville units. When developing a product, we can determine the heat level by measuring and managing the Scoville units. Scoville units range from those of a green bell pepper, ghost pepper, to a scotch bonnet.

Per Mirriam-WEBSTER dictionary capsicum and capsaicin are defined:
Definition of capsicum – “an oleoresin derived from the fruit of some capsicums that contains capsaicin and related compounds and is used medicinally especially as a topical pain reliever”
Definition of capsaicin – “a colorless irritant phenolic amide C18H27NO3 found in various capsicums that gives hot peppers their hotness and that is used in topical creams for its analgesic properties”
Product developers have many forms for hot sauce and varieties to choose from to develop complex flavors with a kick of heat. It is critical to understand the heat level desired for your target market in product development. Often we will test the heat level and compare to Scoville units when testing with consumers to optimize consumer preference. When determining which hot sauce to use there are various considerations. Hot sauce comes in a wet or dry form. Dry is perfect for a dry spice blend (rub)or when blended with other dry ingredients prior to blending with wet. Wet form is function when used in the same.
The vast and complex flavor and taste components in hot sauce are listed here as a lexicon of terms.
Exhibit 1.2 – Hot sauce flavor description lexicon matrix
smoky, vinegary, salty, earthy, herbaceous, upfront heat, back heat, bell pepper, raisin, plum, vegetable like, briny, sweet, sour, woody, garlic, black pepper, cumin, Mexican oregano, sea salt, Szechuan peppercorn, mesquite, hickory, pecan, oak, honey, molasses, garlicky, tomato, onion, rancid, sweet, molasses, tamarind, anchovy, green pepper
When developing a product that will be using hot sauce in an application that you need to control the heat there are some tricks. You can also drop the pH which gives a false impression of spice or heat. Study the specific flavor nuances and highlight the desired flavors without adding more hot sauce. For example; when using, a chipotle based sauce add smoke, garlic, and tomato to build the savory flavors without adding more heat.
Exhibit 1.3 – Hot sauce clean ingredients Matrix
garlic powder, cumin, aged peppers, natural garlic flavors, tomato paste, hot pepper extract, onion, spices, soybean oil, Canola oil, paprika, natural butter flavor, natural caramel color, tamarind, anchovy, arbor, piquin, chipotle, guajillo, cayenne, crushed red pepper, brown sugar, honey, kosher salt, herbs and spices
The color of a hot sauce may have effect on finished color of product. If you want to enhance the color of hot sauce you may want to add a natural color to leverage the authentic hot sauce appearance. When making, or mimicking a specific genre like buffalo style you may want to enhance the orange-ish red color. At other times, you may only want to add flavor and not color. Either way this perspective can be managed.
Clean label hot sauces are trending as transparency, authentic, clean label are main stream. Since hot sauce (mash fermentation) manufacturing process is natural with salt and acidulants pH controlling microbial counts. This is an excellent product and process to maintain a “clean label”. Below is a list of functional ingredients we found on labels on the market that don’t follow the clean label movement.
Exhibit 1.4 – Functional (not clean label) ingredients matrix
Sodium benzoate, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80, artificial flavor, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed corn protein, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, anything w GMO’s, caramel color, artificial color
There are various ways to acidify a hot sauce. The white distilled vinegar provides the cleanest taste while other vinegars such as apple cider with provide more depth of flavor. Below is a list acidulants.
Exhibit 1.5 – Acidulants list
Apple cider rice, red wine, champagne, white distilled, citric acid, distilled vinegar, cane vinegar, concentrated lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, Yuzu
The nutrient levels of chili peppers and hot sauce is highest in vitamin C and sodium. No fat or carbs that add calories are hardly ever used in most common hot sauce. Overall a big bang of flavor for minimal sodium intake. Most hot sauces add a strong vinegar taste with some heat.
The viscosity ranges from very thin vinegar based to a thicker purée of chilies and spices. Some contain xanthan gum or other gums and starches. For example, Cholula hot sauce has more body than a Tabasco hot sauce. But the thicker does not mean more flavorful. The various thickness ranges in color too.
The colors of hot sauces range from bright reddish/orange, pale red, dark brown, yellow to green. Colors are all over the board depending on color of chili and how the process affects color.
Aroma can add complexity and craveability as some hot sauces are fragrant. While others have a strong vinegar hit that in combination with the natural essence of the chili can burn your nose a bit. When spices are used to supplement the flavor, I find a more distinctive Ariana from the roasted spices. Some sauces are so hot they mute any potential for Aroma but deliver the bold taste and heat that may be desired.
Hot Sauces are still evolving.  As you can see, there are some that focus specifically on just that flavor of the pepper and driving the highest level of capsicum possible.  Other sauces are more concerned with being a tool for customizing flavors and nuances of your personal cuisine either through being included in dishes or as a topical.  They are as wide and varied as they nations, country and cultures of our world.  
Exhibit 1.6 – Scoville units from least to greatest
Fact File – The Scoville scale is a measure of the ‘hotness’ of a chili pepper or anything derived from chili peppers, i.e. hot sauce. The scale is named after Wilbur Scoville who developed the test in 1912, for more information see Measuring Chi` li Heat.
Scoville Heat Units
Scoville units Chilli Pepper / Hot Sauce
16,000,000 Pure capsaicin and Dihydrocapsaicin
16,000,000 Blair’s 16 Million Reserve, from Gardner Resources, Inc.
16,000,000 Blair’s 6 A.M., from Gardner Resources, Inc.
13,500,000 Blair’s 2005 Halloween Reserve from Gardner Resources Inc.
9,100,000 Nordihydrocapsaicin
8,600,000 Homodihydrocapsaicin and Homocapsaicin
7,100,000 The Source, from Original Juan Specialty Foods
5,500,000 Blair’s 5 A.M., from Gardner Resources Inc. – No Longer available
5,300,000 Police grade Pepper spray
4,000,000 Mad Dog 44 Magnum Pepper Extract, from Ashley Food Company, Inc.
4,000,000 Blair’s 4 A.M., from Gardner Resources Inc. – No Longer available
2,000,000 Common Pepper spray
1,500,000 – 2,000,000 Blair’s 3 A.M., from Gardner Resources Inc.
1,500,000 Da’ Bomb The Final Answer, from Original Juan Specialty Food
1,100,000 Blair’s Jersey Death from Gardner Resources Inc.
1,001,304 Naga-Bih Jolokia pepper
1,000,000 Cool Million Pepper Extract, from the Poison Pepper Co.
1,000,000 1 Million Scoville Pepper Extract, from Ashley Food Company, Inc.
923,000 The Dorset Naga Pepper, from Peppers by Post
855,000 (reported) The Naga Jolokia pepper (Capsicum frutescens), not confirmed
800,000 Satan’s Blood, from Sauce Crafters Inc.
700,000 The Slap Heard Around the World, from Tiguana Flats
600,000 – 900,000 Blair’s 2 A.M., from Gardner Resources, Inc.
600,000 Mad Dog 357 with Bullet Keychain, from Ashley Food Company
550,000 Blair’s Mega Death Sauce, from Gardner Resources, Inc.
500,000 – 750,000 Dave’s Insanity Private Reserve, from Dave’s Gourmet (estimated)
500,000 Pure Cap, from Garden Row Foods
400,000 – 500,000 Spontaneous Combustion Powder, from Southwest Specialty Foods Inc.
357,000 Mad Dog 357 Hot Sauce, from Ashley Food Company
350,000 – 577,000 Red Savina habanero (Capsicum chinense Jacquin)
350,000 Marie Sharp’s Belizian Heat, from Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods, Ltd.
283,000 Blair’s Possible Side Effects, from Gardner Resources, Inc.
250,000 Vicious Viper, from CaJohns Fiery Foods
250,000 Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Sauce, from Dave’s Gourmet (estimated)
234,000 Da’ Bomb Ground Zero, from Original Juan Specialty Foods
225,000 You can’t Handle this Hot Sauce, from Peppers
225,000 Not Cool Chocolate Habanero from Bahama Specialty Foods, Inc.
180,000 Dave’s Insanity Sauce, from Dave’s Gourmet (estimated)
175,000 Predator Great White Shark, from Peppers
150,000 Mad Dog Inferno Reserve, from Ashley Food Company
125,000 Crazy Jerry’s Mustard Gas, from Crazy Jerry’s, Inc.
119,700 Da’ Bomb Beyond Insanity, from Original Juan Specialty Food
100,000 – 350,000 Habanero (Capsicum chinense Jacquin)
100,000 – 325,000 Scotch bonnet (Capsicum chinense)
100,000 – 225,000 Birds Eye pepper
100,000 – 200,000 Jamaican Hot pepper
100,000 – 125,000 Carolina Cayenne pepper
95,000 – 110,000 Bahamian pepper
90,000 Mad Dog Inferno, from Ashley Food Company
85,000 – 115,000 Tabiche pepper
75,000 – 80,000 Red Amazon Pepper
75,000 Chile-Today Red Amazon Powder, from Chile Today-Hot Tamale
50,000 – 100,000 Thai pepper (Capsicum annuum)
50,000 – 100,000 Chiltepin pepper
49,250 Blair’s After Death Sauce, from Gardner Resources, Inc.
40,000 – 58,000 Piquin pepper
40,000 – 50,000 Super Chile pepper
40,000 – 50,000 Santaka pepper
33,390 Endorphin Rush Beyond Hot Sauce, from Garden Row Foods
30,000 – 49,999 Lottie’s Original Barbados Red Hot, from Lottie’s Island Flavours
30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne pepper (Capsicum baccatum and Capsicum frutescens)
30,000 – 50,000 Tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens)
15,000 – 30,000 de Arbol pepper
15,000 – 29,999 Lottie’s Traditional Barbados Yellow, from Lottie’s Island Flavours
12,000 – 30,000 Manzano pepper
11,600 El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Habanero, from El Yucateco Salsas Y Condimentos S.A. de C.V.
11,000 Crazy Jerry’s Brain Damage, from Crazy Jerry’s, Inc.
8,910 El Yucateco Green Chile Habanero, from El Yucateco Salsas Y Condimentos S.A. de C.V.
7,000 – 8,000 TABASCO® brand Habanero Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
6,000 – 23,000 Serrano pepper
5,790 El Yucateco Red Chile Habanero, from El Yucateco Salsas Y Condimentos S.A. de C.V.
5,000 – 10,000 Hot Wax pepper
5,000 – 10,000 Chipotle, a Jalapeño pepper that has been smoked.
3,600 Cholula Hot Sauce, from Casa Cuervo S.A. de C.V.
3,400 El Yucateco Chipotle Hot Sauce, from El Yucateco Salsas Y Condimentos S.A. de C.V.
2,500 – 8,000 Santaka pepper
2,500 – 5,000 Jalapeño (Capsicum annuum)
2,500 – 5,000 Guajilla pepper
2,500 – 5,000 Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
2.085 FRANK’S® REDHOT® XTRA Hot, from Reckitt Benckiser Inc.
1,500 – 2,500 TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
1,200 – 2,400 TABASCO® brand Garlic Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
1,500 – 2,500 Rocotilla pepper
1,000 – 2,000 pasilla pepper
1,000 – 2,000 Ancho pepper
1,000 – 2,000 Poblano pepper
747 Texas Pete®, from T.W. Garner Food Co.
700 – 1,000 Coronado pepper
600 – 1,200 TABASCO® brand Green Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
500 – 2,500 Anaheim pepper
500 – 1,000 New Mexico pepper
450 FRANK’S® REDHOT® Original, from Reckitt Benckiser Inc.
400 – 700 Santa Fe Grande pepper
100 – 1000 Cubanelle Pepper (Capsicum annuum)
100 – 600 TABASCO® brand SWEET & Spicy Pepper Sauce, from McIlhenny Company
100 – 500 Pepperoncini, pepper (also known as Tuscan peppers, sweet Italian peppers, and golden Greek peppers.
100 – 500 Pimento
0 Sweet Bell pepper


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