The bottled hot sauces we eat today have been around for over 200 years. Some have changed dramatically by becoming increasingly hotter and some have not changed at all with a mixture of just three simple ingredients. The most common hot sauce ingredients, hot peppers, vinegar, and garlic, are used in many of the top-selling varieties of hot sauce for a few reasons. They taste great, work well with other ingredients and add natural preservation.
A traditional or classic hot sauce is made using hot peppers as the main ingredient and combining it with some type of vinegar, citrus-based juice, or water. Many gourmet hot sauce recipes today use other ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, and different types of sugar. This is combined with a variety of spices making an almost endless combination of ingredients.
Don’t think by selecting the ingredients below that your hot sauce will not be original. There are many combinations of just a few ingredients that can make your sauce unique. The process in which a sauce is made has a lot to do with the flavor of a few simple ingredients.
Common hot peppers found in hot sauce (in no particular order)
This is not a complete list of every type of hot pepper variety available to make hot sauce, but these are the more common ones found in traditional, gourmet, and artisan hot sauce creations on the market today. The increasing demand for hot sauce has forced the creation of unique sauces expanding on the traditional hot pepper and vinegar conception.
A hot sauce starts with the hot pepper…or at least it should. Many popular and successful hot sauces may have hot peppers listed as the second or THIRD ingredient, but the flavor of the pepper should take precedence. Here are a few of the more commonly used ingredients in some of the top-selling and great-tasting hot sauce brands.
The most common form of cayenne peppers is an aged mash from red cayenne pepper. This has been the main ingredient for brands of hot sauce such as Tabasco for over 200 years. This is also the type of pepper used in a Louisiana-style hot sauce and the pepper behind many great buffalo wing sauces. Recognizable as being about 3 1/2″ long, thin and bright red color it has a medium heat level compared to many other hot pepper varieties.
2] Chile de Arbol
Chile de Arbol is related to the cayenne pepper and can be swapped out with each other for certain recipes, although the Arbol is not as hot it is similar in shape, size, and color to the cayenne. Used in the Cholula original hot sauce these peppers are flavorful but mild in heat. This is still very mild compared to modern-day cultivation such as the ghost pepper.
3] Ghost pepper
Bhut Jolokia or Ghost Pepper is a hybrid hot pepper cultivated from India with a SHU of 1,041,427. This bright red pepper is the seventh hottest pepper in the world. These types of hot peppers would be used to make a hot sauce with an extreme level of heat. Sauces using ghost peppers will be an average of about 625,000 SHU.
4] Carolina Reaper
The hottest pepper in the world! If this pepper is used in a hot sauce, it is also for the level of heat that it creates. This bright red pepper measures only about an inch long and has bumpy, textured skin. Sauces that use the Carolina Reaper could reach a SHU of over 1,000,000.
A chipotle is a smoked jalapeno and is a very popular pepper due to its mild to moderate heat level z. They will usually have a deep, rich smokey flavor and will not have the same level of heat like a fresh jalapeno. The smokey flavor will permeate through the other ingredients of the hot sauce and so will the dark brown color.
At one time the habanero was one of the hottest peppers in the world. Known for its fruity overtones and bright orange colors habaneros are often used with fruits and other vegetables in a hot sauce. Carrots and onions are often combined with habanero.
A jalapeno has some of the lowest heat value compared to many other hot peppers, but I love em, and so do many people who tolerate the heat of a Carolina Reaper. Many hot sauce recipes use them because their medium heat level can be tolerated by a broad audience.
8] Trinidad Scorpion
These peppers are hot! But you already knew that! This is another example of a hot pepper combined with a variety of fruits and vegetables due to its fruity flavors. With a SHU of 1.2 million, these peppers will attract a thrill-seeking personality when used in a hot sauce.
9] Scotch bonnet
Related to the habanero with a similar flavor. Grown in a variety of colors bright yellows and reds to a deep, rich chocolate brown. Named for the Scottish Tam O’ Shanter hat it resembles these peppers rank anywhere from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.
Many hot sauces use vinegar
All vinegar types add unique flavoring and natural preservation to a hot sauce. Some are more commonly used than others due to the flavor combinations in the hot sauce. Vinegar is an inexpensive additive that will thin out a hot sauce.
10] Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is becoming more commonly used in gourmet hot sauces due to its flavoring and health benefits it is assumed to provide. It is not as acidic as distilled white vinegar therefore it is often combined with citric juices to lower the pH level.
11] Distilled white vinegar
Distilled white vinegar is used in hundreds of hot sauces some of which have been around for hundreds of years. It is the most used vinegar in a hot sauce because of its acidity, making it capable of preserving hot sauce.
12] Red wine vinegar
Not as commonly used as apple cider vinegar or distilled vinegar, red wine vinegar is not as tart but still offers the preservation capabilities of any vinegar. It is often used with other kinds of vinegar for commercial branded hot sauces.
Some hot sauces use juice as an alternate to vinegar
Juices will not only add a great amount of flavoring to a hot sauce, but they can also contribute to the high acidity to preserve the sauce. Juice is a great additive to a hot sauce because it also gives the sauce extra vitamins and minerals. When used as a replacement for vinegar Some fruit juice may cost more.
13] Lemon juice
Citrus juices are often used in combination with vinegar or as a replacement to provide the acidity needed for extended shelf life. Lemon juice provides a bold flavor to a hot sauce and works well with many combinations of hot peppers. Read Why Lemon Juice Is Used In Hot Sauce.
14] Lime juice
Lime juice, like lemon juice, is also used for the same reasons. Adding a little more tartness in flavor lime juice is not as acidic as lemon juice. These juices work well with most hot pepper combinations along with cilantro, garlic, and salts.
15] Orange juice
Orange juice is not as acidic as other citrus juices and is often combined with habanero or scotch bonnet peppers due to their fruity overtones. Orange juice has a pH level of about 3.7 so it may need to be combined with other ingredients if you are aiming for a pH below 3.4.
16] Pineapple juice
Pineapple juice is used as commonly as orange juice and is often combined with other fruits as well. Adding hot sauce will emphasize a Caribbean-style sauce. Sauces of this style pair well with ham and chicken entrees.
17] Apple juice
Apple juice is not as commonly used as citric juices because it does not provide acidity and is used primarily for flavoring and not as a replacement for vinegar. Apple juice will add a different flavoring to a hot sauce than apple cider or apple cider vinegar.
Herbs and spices are essential to a good hot sauce
Spices can be hidden within other ingredients and still play a prominent part in the flavor of a hot sauce. Salt is the most used hot sauce spice, but some other popular spices are garlic, cilantro, basil, cumin, and paprika.
Garlic is the most widely used spice in a hot sauce next to salt. There are many ways to use it such as roasting which will bring out the flavor even more. Fresh garlic will add a strong flavor to a hot sauce. Garlic powder is used more than fresh garlic because it takes less processing.
Salt is a necessity in hot sauce and almost all cooking. However, if overused it can ruin a hot sauce. Salt can be used before or after preparation to enhance the flavor of individual ingredients or the overall flavor of the sauce.
Allspice is not a combination of all spices but is unripe dried and ground berries from the Pimenta dioica tree (Jamaican Bayberry tree). The flavor emulates several spices like cinnamon cloves and nutmeg. Allspice is used in many Mediterranean-inspired hot sauces.
Cilantro is a great spice in combination with lemon and lime juice in a hot sauce. It also works well with most varieties of hot peppers. A lot of cilantro can be added to hot sauces because the heat can divert from the flavor of cilantro.
Basil is a great herb addition to many food combinations. Basel works great with almost all varieties of hot peppers and some of the additional fruits and vegetables as well. According to Healthline basil dried basil compared to fresh will have more concentrated nutrients. Both dried and fresh basil will provide vitamin K.
Cumin has a distinct flavor like many herbs and spices do and is often combined with paprika in a hot sauce. Cumin is often described as an earthy and hearty flavor and is often found in taco seasoning and chili powder. Cumin is right at home in Indian and Middle Eastern-inspired hot sauces.
Ginger works with many fruits and vegetables within a hot sauce. Fresh ginger can fibrous and somewhat juicy. Like many spices, ginger has many health benefits. Ginger can add some spiciness and contains a trace amount of capsaicin.
Made from peppers paprika can also have a bit of a kick to it if eaten in large quantities and can brighten up a hot sauce with its vibrant red color. Smoked paprika has a great flavor within a hot sauce. Some recipes use as much as 2 tablespoons per every 4 ounces of peppers.
26] Tamarind Paste
Tamarind is used in paste form in a hot sauce. Slightly sour and fruity tasting it is used in curries and chutneys. Tamarind will often be used in Indian, Thai, and Mediterranean-influenced hot sauces. Some sauces use it to replace vinegar and lemon or lime juice.
Fruit mixes well with many varieties of hot peppers
Fruits are often combined with some of the juices listed above and combine great with many varieties of hot peppers. They add nutrients to a hot sauce and can provide a thicker texture to the sauce. All fruits can be purchased fresh or preprocessed but are healthier when fresh.
Mango, papaya, and peach will all blend into a smooth but thick textured hot sauce. Mango will provide a tropical influence to a hot sauce and the pulp will provide juice. Mangos are packed with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, protein, and fiber.
Papaya is often used with scotch bonnet and/or habanero peppers. Like mango, papaya is combined with other fruits within a hot sauce to add to a Caribbean-style hot sauce. Because it is very fibrous papaya will need to be blended vigorously within a hot sauce.
Peach ads a great sweet and fruity flavor that combines well with many hot pepper varieties. It will also thicken a hot sauce to a creamy texture. Peaches work excellent for a low heat grilling sauce.
Pineapple is delicious grilled or roasted and combined with hot peppers blended into a sauce. Often used with habanero because of its fruity flavors. Pineapples, like papaya and mango, also work great for a Caribbean-inspired hot sauce.
Additional vegetables are a hot sauce staple
Although not as commonly used as a fruit, vegetables can play an important role in the flavor, consistency, and nutritional contents of a hot sauce. Like many fruits, they provide nutritional benefits to a hot sauce like vitamins and minerals.
Onions are very common in a hot sauce especially a sauce used for barbequing meats. Onions can be used in the form of a powder or mince much like garlic can. Fresh onions can be cooked, roasted, fermented, smoked for added flavoring before they are blended into a hot sauce.
Carrots are often combined with a habanero when blended into a hot sauce. They are similar in color, blend to a thick consistency, and are packed with vitamin A. The beta carotene in carrots gets released more when they are cooked states berkleywellness.com.
Celery may seem like an odd selection to put into a hot sauce but believe it or not it is just as common as other fruits and vegetables. Often combined with equal parts carrots and onions (mirepoix) for soups and stews the same flavor combination is used in many hot sauces.
Tomatoes are used in hundreds of hot sauces because they can be blended well, cooked down into a sauce, and taste great with most hot peppers. Tomatoes or tomato paste are a great source for sauces and condiments. Tomatoes are often used in a barbeque style or buffalo wing sauce. It is probably no surprise they are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium.
Adding sugar to a hot sauce can enhance flavors
Sugar is not uncommon in many gourmet hot sauces but may add unwanted calories to a hot sauce. There are many forms of sugar and most will have the same reaction when blended in a hot sauce, but some will be much sweeter than others.
35] Granulated Sugar
Cheap and easy! Works great with almost any hot pepper variety. Granulated sugar will dissolve into a hot sauce, make it slightly thicker and sweeten up some otherwise bitter hot sauces. Sugars will only temporarily hide or mask the heat of a hot pepper.
36] Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is much sweeter than a graduated or brown sugar. It is usually used in syrup form and works well with other fruits in combination with hot peppers. Agave nectar works great with fruit-based hot sauces.
37] Brown sugar
Brown sugar comes from the same source as white granulated sugar with molasses to give it a rich dark color. Although it is different in flavor than white sugar it is not as sweet. Brown sugar is used a lot in barbecue-based hot sauces.
38] Cane sugar
There isn’t a significant distinction between cane sugar and regular granulated sugar. There is a distinction in the way they are processed but that doesn’t affect the taste too much.
39] Corn syrup
Corn syrup has had many negative reactions to how it is used in commercialized foods. It is used in hot sauce as a sweetener and also as a thickening agent. Healthline states that corn syrup is almost identical to granulated table sugar.
It takes a lot of honey in a hot sauce for the flavor to stand out so using it may cause the sauce to have a honey base instead of hot peppers. Some hot sauces use the honey as a base and add the hot peppers making hot honey.
Molasses is a dark and sweet sugar made from the boiled-down juice of crushed cane or beet sugar. Commonly found in a barbecue-style sauce the sweetness also combines well with the heat level of hot peppers.
Many hot sauce use additional preservatives
Preservatives will be needed in a hot sauce if you are not using vinegar or if the minimal amount of vinegar you are using is not enough to preserve the hot sauce. Some preservatives may “sound” as if you are putting unhealthy ingredients into your body but are natural and commonly found in many hot sauces and other condiments as well.
42] Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C)
Many brands of hot sauce use ascorbic acid to increase the preservation if vinegar or other sources of preservation are not used. It can also add a citrus flavoring as well as a higher vitamin C content in the hot sauce and is safe to add to any sauce.
43] Acetic acid
Acetic acid is another commonly used preservative in hot sauce. Acetic acid is a colorless liquid with a strong odor of vinegar. Typically, acetic acid is combined with other preservatives in a hot sauce.
44] Citric acid
Citric acid is found naturally in citrus fruits like lemons and limes. However, it is the manufactured form of citric acid that is found in most foods. When used in a hot sauce, like many preservatives it is used in powder form.
45] Potassium sorbate
A synthetically produced salt potassium sorbate prolongs the shelf life of foods. Like most hot sauces that are not low on the pH scale preservatives such as potassium sorbate need to be used.
46] Sodium benzoate
Sodium benzoate can prolong the shelf life of a hot sauce without jeopardizing the flavor or quality of the sauce. A whole natural product sodium benzoate is safe to consume. Sodium benzoate is sour and bitter which is why it pairs well with hot sauce.
Oil is used in moderation in a hot sauce
47] Canola oil
Oils are used in gourmet hot sauces, chutneys but will work against the high acidic value of vinegar, used for preservation. Canola oil has the least amount of saturated fat of all the vegetable oils. Extra virgin olive oil also considered healthier and adds great flavoring.
A hot sauce may need a thickener or binding agent
Thickeners are commonly used in a hot sauce to make a thick textured hot sauce and some are also used to keep certain hot sauce ingredients from separating. Some thickeners will need to be cooked into a hot sauce like cornstarch where others like xanthan gum can be used hot or cold.
Cornstarch is found in many food products and is also found in a hot sauce to thicken up a liquid sauce. Unlike other thickeners cornstarch needs to be cooked into the sauce before it will produce results.
49] Xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is the number one thickener and binding agent used in a hot sauce due to its ability to function in acidic environments of hot sauce. It can thicken a hot sauce and keep the ingredients from separating, especially if you are using water and oil.
Hot sauce can have many other ingredients
Believe it or not, water is a common hot sauce ingredient and in some hot sauces, it’s the main ingredient. It is not cheating a recipe if it is used correctly and there are usually not any health concerns with fresh or filtered water.
Coloring is not as commonly used in a hot sauce
It is not too often that coloring additives are used in a hot sauce because the main ingredient, hot peppers, have a bright and appealing color to them already. If you are using a lot of ingredients in your hot sauce the color outcome can affect the appearance of the sauce and this can have a direct influence on the appeal.
Caramel color (E150)
Carmel color will provide a deep, rich color to a hot sauce and have no significant effect on the flavor of the sauce because it is used in small amounts. Caramel coloring is recognized as being safe to consume by the FDA.
Adding non-conventional or nontraditional ingredients to a hot sauce is what has been leading hot sauce creations for the last 25 years and will continue to do so for at least the next 5 or 6. Adding an ingredient to a hot sauce is a matter of personal preference.
Uncommon hot sauce ingredients
Mustard is an easy additive because it is already mixed into a tasty condiment and it works well with spice. Adding pre-made mustard to a hot sauce recipe means that all the ingredients in that condiment will need to be listed on the ingredient label.
Soy sauce is another easy ingredient to put into a hot sauce and will also need the ingredients listed on the label. Soy sauces add a salty flavoring and a deep, rich color. Soy sauce works well with citrus, sugars, and oil.