11 ways to thicken hot sauce


Some hot sauce recipes may leave a sauce that is runny, watery, or very thin. This is due to the water content of hot peppers and the addition of the liquid consistency of ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice, or others. Additives can be blended or cooked into a hot sauce to thicken it up without changing the heat or flavor.

Xanthan gum, corn starch, and flour are the most common ingredients for making a thin or watery hot sauce thicker. Fruits and vegetables can be added to change the consistency, but this will change the flavor and heat of the sauce. Other methods such as roasting or reducing hot peppers will draw out the water and make a thicker hot sauce and this will also make a richer tasting sauce but could reduce the level of heat and the number of nutrients.

Hot peppers or all peppers contain a lot of water therefore some hot sauce recipes can have a liquid-like consistency close to water once the peppers are blended. The water content is more prominent with fewer ingredients because the water content of the peppers has nowhere to go and doesn’t have substances like flour to absorb it. Choosing a thickening agent for hot sauce may be based on the acid level of your hot sauce or the cost and availability of certain thickeners.

Hot sauce is known for its bold and tangy flavor. Anything added to a hot sauce recipe can alter the flavor but thickening additives are usually added in minimal amounts so the more common thickeners used generally won’t change the flavor of the hot sauce.

Thickeners can ad carbohydrates and calories to a hot sauce

A traditional or classic hot sauce is known for being free of fats, calories, and carbohydrates but adding thickeners will add these elements to the sauce. Some can add up to 25 grams of carbs per serving (tbsp) and others as much as 30 calories. Fortunately, there is usually not a “serving” in a bottle of hot sauce when using some thickeners like xanthan gum.

Hot pepper and vinegar combinations are already low in calories. Adding thickeners will increase the calories but could be avoided if processes like roasting or cooking are used. Some brands of corn starch can add almost 30 calories to a bottle of 10-ounce hot sauce.

Many forms of starch and flours need to be mixed with water or liquid and added to a cooked sauce. If your recipe does not use a cooking process you will need to find another thickening agent like xanthan gum or guar gum. One of the more commonly used thickeners for a hot sauce is corn starch and this will require being cooked into the sauce.

1 ] Cornstarch

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.34/oz 7 g 30/tbsp1 tbsp/1 cup X

Many well-known name-brand hot sauces use corn starch as a thickener as well as many other types of food products. To use it properly mix the corn starch with water in a separate bowl before adding it to the hot sauce. Slowly add it to a pot of hot sauce with a temperature of at least 110 degrees. Cornstarch will not thicken unless it is cooked but add it slowly as you are stirring the sauce.

Compared to other thickening agents the cost of corn starch can cost an average of $.34 an ounce which is much more expensive when compared to flour or other gum type thickeners. Wheat flour has an average cost of $.10 an ounce and can be much lower if purchased in larger quantities. Although the cost of cornstarch is not a significant amount per ounce…it will add up over mass production.

Recommendations from cornstarch manufacturers are 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of hot sauce to get a thin to medium consistency. If you have never used corn starch before decrease the amount to 1 teaspoon per cup so your hot sauce doesn’t become too thick.

Cornstarch can have more calories and carbs than other thickeners like xanthan gum but that is primarily because you are using more. Also, cornstarch can provide a source of calcium that may otherwise not be included in a hot sauce.

2 ] Xanthan Gum

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.83/oz 1 g 5 cal1/8 tsp/1 cupXX

Xanthan gum is one of the commonly found hot sauce and condiment ingredients used to stabilize, bind and thicken hot sauces. There are hundreds of hot sauce brands that use xanthan gum because of the ease of use and the ability to hold up to the acidic conditions of hot sauce.

Xanthan gum has an average cost of $.83 an ounce. Although the cost per ounce is for expensive than cornstarch and flour, it takes less per cup to thicken a sauce. Don’t choose a thickener based on price but understand more how they affect your hot sauce.

Xanthan gum can be added to hot or cold sauces during the mixing process and does not need to be cooked into the hot sauce, although it can also be added during the cooking process.  Use 1/8 teaspoon of xanthan gum per 1 cup of hot sauce for light to moderate thickening.

3 ] Guar Gum

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.93/oz 3 g 10 cal1/8 tsp/1 cupXX

Although guar gum is commonly used in many food products there are not many hot sauces that use it as a thickening agent. Guar gum can be added to a hot sauce to give a creamy texture much like a dressing. Guar gum should be dissolved in water before it is added to a hot sauce similar to cornstarch and flour. It will need to be blended, emulsified, or agitated to ensure that it does not become lumpy as other thickeners may as well.

One negative about guar gum is that can lose the ability to thicken in very acidic foods, like hot sauce. More often it is used in a mild sauce to give it the texture of a dressing. These types of sauces are not always as acidic as other hot sauces but may still have a kick to them. Guar gum does not need to be cooked into a sauce like cornstarch or flour but functions fine if it is.

Guar gum costs an average of $.93 an ounce, which is only slightly more than xanthan gum. Also much like xanthan gum, there is only a minimal amount used before it can thicken a sauce. Although the cost difference between xanthan gum is minimal, the amount used is reduced.

Like xanthan gum, guar gum takes very little per cup to thicken a sauce. Anthony’s Organic Guar Gum recommends 1/8 teaspoon per cup to thicken cold foods. Many manufacturers will recommend reducing the amount of guar gum when replacing xanthan gum to half the amount.

4 ] Wheat Flour

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.05/oz 11g 55 cal2 tbsp/1 cup X

Some popular brands of hot sauce use wheat flour to thicken hot sauce, especially a buffalo wing sauce. Wheat flour will hold up to the acidity of hot sauce but it works best if it is mixed with water and stirred into a cooked sauce.

Flour is a common thickening agent for homemade gravy and is used in some hot sauces. One reason to use another additive to thicken a hot sauce would be the allergic reaction to wheat. Adding wheat flour will make a hot sauce non-gluten-free. Many simple hot sauce recipes are known for their attention to being a healthy condiment and even minimal amounts of wheat can cause a reaction to a gluten allergy.

Many different kinds of flour do not contain wheat. These can be used in similar ways to make a thicker hot sauce but many sauces that use gluten-free flours also use guar gum or xanthan gum. Any non-wheat flour will be much more expensive than wheat flour.

Flour can be purchased for as low as $.05 to $.10 an ounce. Although flour is much less expensive than many other thickeners, it may take more to make a hot sauce thicker. When compared to cornstarch that would use 1 tablespoon to 1 cup wheat flour is still only about a third of the cost.

How much of a thickener is need depends on how thick you want the sauce. Use 2 tablespoons per one cup of sauce but dilute the flour in minimal amounts of water until it is a thin consistency.

5 ] Arrowroot Powder

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.60/oz 6 g 27 cal1 tbsp/1 cup X

Although not as commonly used as some other thickeners, arrowroot powder can contain more calcium than cornstarch and is gluten-free, making it an alternative to wheat flour that is commonly used as a thickener. Arrowroot powder has many nutritional values to include high protein value.

Arrowroot powder costs an average of $.60 an ounce, making it more expensive than many other thickeners per ounce. A bottle of 10-ounce hot sauce can be thickened for about $.30 using arrowroot powder.

6 ] Cooking (or reducing)

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
Varies N/A N/A20 min X

Reducing a hot sauce by slow cooking with an open-top pan is an excellent way to thicken up a hot sauce without any additives. However, this process can be very time-consuming and takes some temperature control to release the water without overcooking. This method can also be used in combination with adding thickeners such as corn starch or arrowroot powder.

The cost associated with cooking would be the cost needed to operate a stove or oven and these costs will vary greatly. The obvious cost would be money needed upfront to purchase equipment for cooking but there are many ways that this can be done.

Although there are no carbs or calories associated with reducing a sauce this method can reduce some of the nutritional value of the hot peppers. Also, it has been my experience that the heat level of hot peppers can also be reduced.

7 ] Roasting

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
Varies N/A N/A20 min X

Roasting hot peppers will draw out the water and make a thicker hot sauce without adding anything. This method will also reduce the heat of a hot pepper significantly. I use this method primarily to reduce the heat of a hot pepper before I make hot sauce and it can also make the hot sauce become the consistency of ketchup.

Similar to cooking, roasting does not add any calories or carbohydrates. The nutritional value of any fruit or vegetable will diminish significantly with any cooking process. If hot peppers are over-roasted, they can lose much of their flavoring as well.

8 ] Sugar

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.12/oz 4 g 15/tspVariesXX

Although not used directly to thicken hot sauce the way some other thickeners do, many forms of sugar can be used to thicken hot sauce just by adding it. Sugar will alter the flavor much more than other thickeners but doesn’t always make them sweet if they are used correctly. Some sugars work well with the subtle sweetness of many hot peppers.

Sugar will have the highest calorie and carbohydrates of any “thickener” and this should be taken into consideration if you are concerned with the healthiness of your sauce. Adding 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1 cup of sauce will only slightly thicken it but it will also alter the flavor significantly.

Granulated sugar can have an average cost of $.12 an ounce. Some other forms of sugar such as brown sugar or confectionary sugar can be more expensive and have the same results toward consistency because they will dissolve the same in the hot sauce.

9 ] Corn Syrup

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.27/oz 31 g 120 cal2 tbsp/1 cupXX

Corn syrup is a form of sugar. Any form of syrup will thicken a sauce but many are very sweet. This sweetness can work with many combinations of hot peppers and other ingredients but putting it in a hot sauce will change the flavor.

Corn syrup is not used in the same manner as corn starch is used to thicken the hot sauce. However, it is a thick liquid that can bind an ingredient together. It will only make a hot sauce as thick as the corn syrup itself.

The amount used would depend on how sweet you want a hot sauce and not necessarily hot thick you want it. I would not use more than 2 tablespoons per 1 cup of hot sauce because anything beyond this will make a sauce too sweet. It can be used hot or cold but if it is used in a reduction it will become very thick.

Corn syrup is very common in many food products but is often looked at as being unhealthy due to the high-calorie content and increased carbs compared to other thickeners.

10 ] Fruits and Vegetables

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
Varies 12-25 59-95VariesXX

Many fruits such as pineapples, mangos, and citrus are common hot sauce ingredients, especially when used with the fruity tasting habanero pepper. Carrots are common as well and produce a nice orange color. Each of these ingredients should not be added just to thicken a hot sauce because they will influence the flavor of the sauce but they will certainly make a thicker sauce.

Carrots will not produce a strong flavor in the hot sauce as lemons or limes may. If blended correctly they can add a thick texture to a hot sauce as well as a rich orange color. The hot sauce will retain this color when used with any orange hot pepper such as habanero.

Many fruits and vegetables can have high water content. Although the pulp will produce a thicker hot sauce the juice can heavily influence the flavor, especially citrus fruits like lemons, limes, or oranges.

11 ] Potato Starch

Ave. Cost Carbs CaloriesAmountColdHot
$.30/oz 10 g 40 cal1 tbsp/1 cup X

Some brands of hot sauce use potato starch as a thickening agent. Potato starch has a bland flavoring to it and won’t alter the flavor of your hot sauce. Used like many different forms of starch, potato starch needs to be mixed into a slurry and added to the sauce during the cooking process.

Use 1 tablespoon of potato starch to 1 cup of sauce. Use less if you are unfamiliar with using potato starch but remove it from heat once it begins to thicken. You can always repeat and add more if needed. To get your hot sauce to an acceptable consistency.

Per usage, potato starch is much lower in calories and carbohydrates than many other common thickeners used. Take this into consideration when making a hot sauce that you intend to be marketed as being healthy.

Do I need to list the thickener on the Ingredient label?

If you are using a thickening agent in a hot sauce then it needs to be listed on the ingredient label. However, the most common thickeners used will be tasteless and unseen in the sauce. These are all common thickening agents found in many brands of hot sauce.

Table 1 *all cost are average

 CostCarbsCaloriesAmountColdHot
Corn Starch  $.34/oz7g301 tbsp/1 cup  X
    
Xanthan Gum $.83/oz1g5 1/8 tsp/1 cupXX
       
Guar Gum $.93/oz3g10 1/8 tsp/1 cup  X
       
Wheat Flour$.05/oz 11g 55  2 tbsp/1 cup X
       
Arrowroot Powder$.60/oz6g27 1 tbsp/1 cup 
       
Cooking (reducing)Varies N/A N/A20 min X
       
RoastingVariesN/A N/A 20 min X
       
Sugar$.12/oz  4g 15VariesXX
       
Corn Syrup $.27/oz 31g120  2 tbsp/1 cupXX
       
Fruits Vegetable Varies12-25g  59-95 VariesXX
       
Potato Starch$.30/oz 10g 401 tbsp/1 cup X

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