The first hot sauces in the United States appeared in the early 1800s when a cayenne pepper-based hot sauce first became popular in Massachusetts. Forty years later, Tabasco sauce (made from Mexican peppers) gained popularity. Today, hot sauces of all kinds are used to jazz up chicken wings, omelets, seafood and burritos.
What Makes a Hot Sauce Hot?
The heat you feel when you eat hot sauce is not a burning that can injure you in the same way a fire burns, but is actually a result of a neurological reaction spurred by a chemical called capsaicin found in hot peppers.
Types of Hot Sauces
Hot sauces vary around the world. Mexican hot sauces are typically made from jalapeño or chipotle peppers. Some have high vinegar content and some are more focused on added flavors from other ingredients instead of sold strictly for heat value.
American hot sauces tend to use Tabasco peppers as their base and are usually made with a great deal of vinegar. West Indian hot sauces are usually made from hot chili peppers and have a lot of fruit in them, giving them a hot and sweet flavor. Asian hot sauces are used for flavoring for stir fry dishes and as dipping sauces for seafood, dumplings and other Asian dishes. The Thai people are famous for putting hot sauce and raw hot peppers on fresh fruit.
How to Make Hot Sauce
Making hot sauce is a culinary adventure that is not for the faint of heart. If you want to make a truly fiery hot sauce, you'll want to invest in a pair of latex gloves and safety goggles (or glasses) because you'll be handling some spicy peppers that could seriously hurt you if the secretions get rubbed in your eyes or other sensitive tissues on your skin.
There are several different ways to make hot sauce. Some are as simple as chopping and deseeding about a pound of peppers, adding in a couple of cups of vinegar, sprinkling in some salt, pureeing the three ingredients, heating the mixture to a boil and setting the sauce in the refrigerator to age for a couple of weeks so the flavors will properly meld.
Other recipes involve reconstituting dried peppers or using fresh peppers to make a mash out of a variety of ingredients including sautéed onions, garlic, chopped fruit (mango and lime juice are popular in a lot of hot sauces), wine or fermented vinegar, and a host of spices. Some of these recipes are cooked and some are simply aged. Some recipes are ready for consumption immediately after they are created, while others require a significant time for aging.
Hot Sauce Ratings
Bragging rights aside, the true heat of a hot sauce can be measured by a scale referred to as the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale number reflects the amount of water needed to dilute the capsaicin to the point where the heat would be undetectable. It follows that sauces with higher Scoville ratings are hotter (or contain more capsaicin) than sauces with lower Scoville ratings.
How Hot is Your Homemade Hot Sauce?
Since you probably can't measure how much capsaicin is in your hot sauce, you will need to estimate the heat quotient of your hot sauce by looking at what ingredients you used. Of course you will have to also factor how much of the pepper is used in the hot sauce. If you only use a little of the pepper, your hot sauce might not be as hot as one made from a milder pepper if the chef used a lot of that mild pepper.
The following peppers are listed in order of heat quotient, from the least hot to the most hot:
Green Jalapeño Peppers/Chipotle Peppers
Green jalapeño and chipotle peppers contain the lowest levels of capsaicin and typically are used to make mild hot sauces.
Red Jalapeño Peppers
Red jalapeños have more kick to them than their green cousins.
Cayenne Pepper/Red Chilies
These peppers are often found in Louisiana-style sauces.
These peppers look a lot like jalapeños, but they are about twice as hot.
Many of the hot sauces you'll find made with Tabasco are actually made from a combination of Tabasco and milder peppers.
Habanero peppers are the hottest natural peppers available.
African Birds-Eye Chili
This pepper, also called the Peri-Peri Pepper, is unique in that the sensation of the intense heat is delayed, meaning you will taste the other flavors of the hot sauce before you experience the pain of this intensely hot pepper.
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