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Hot Sauce: The Complete Guide

TRUFF Hotter Sauce on top of chilis.

Hot Sauce: The Complete Guide

If you're a foodie — especially one who loves spice — chances are you're a fan of hot sauce. Whether you're a frequent hot sauce consumer or a casual now-and-then enjoyer, you probably have a few unanswered questions about this delectable spicy sauce. 

Keep reading as we answer all your burning questions and teach you everything you need to know about hot sauce.

The History and Origins of Hot Sauce

Many examples of early hot sauce variations can be traced back to different locations and time periods. That said, it's believed that the beginnings of hot sauce came from the Aztecs and other early Mesoamerican groups.

Early Mesoamerican Chili Pepper Usage

Research has shown that hot sauce's main ingredient, the chili pepper, has been grown for hundreds of years in Mexico and other Central American countries. During that time, the land belonged to the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican people. 

Starting around 7000 B.P., these ancient people would use chili peppers in a ground-up mixture with water alongside other herbs. This mixture was consumed and used as medicine and, on some occasions, as a punishment or weapon. 

Since it was frequently eaten with other foods, it’s considered the unofficial first-ever hot sauce.

The Pepper’s Expansion to Europe and Beyond

Several years after the creation of this original hot sauce, European explorers found their way to modern-day Mexico and Central America. These explorers took a liking to the unique spices and flavors the Aztecs were using.

One of the explorers, Christopher Columbus, initially came in search of black pepper from India. Instead, when he found the Aztec's spicy fruit and believed it was a type of pepper. This gave the fruit the name we know today: the chili pepper. 

As the European explorers were intrigued by the hot Mesoamerican flavors, they took it upon themselves to export them around the world. In no time, chili peppers made their way to multiple countries, from Hungary to China. They were then used in various recipes that eventually led up to the bottled hot sauce we know and love today.

Hot Sauce: Made in America

Long after the initial European exportation of spices, hot sauce finally got its start in the United States. This happened in the early 1800s when a newspaper in Massachusetts began advertising a bottled product called cayenne sauce. 

This cayenne sauce contained cayenne chili peppers and is regarded by many as the first “real” hot sauce. Since the Aztec chili pepper and water mixture was never referred to as a sauce,  it couldn't be considered an official hot sauce.

Information on this first hot sauce is limited as the only evidence confirming it existed is found in the small newspaper article from 1807. Despite this, there are other notable hot sauces that emerged around the same time that we can count among the firsts.

For instance, several years after the introduction of cayenne sauce, a New York City-based business, J McCollick & Company, released their own take on hot sauce:bird pepper sauce. It's believed that this sauce used the key ingredient of bird-eye chili peppers, the red peppers that we know today as Thai chili peppers.

After the release of J McCollick & Co.'s product, hot sauce variations and brands only continued to grow in the United States in the following years.

The Rise of the Scoville Scale

One of the biggest developments in hot sauce culture was the Scoville Scale. This scale was the first of its kind to measure the heat of chili peppers.

What Is the Scoville Scale?

The Scoville scale measures the heat level of chili peppers in a unit called SHU (Scoville heat units). Therefore, it can also give an idea of the heat level of hot sauces. This scale was pivotal in hot sauce history as, without the Scoville scale, people were previously unable to recognize the varying levels of spiciness in peppers and hot sauce in a concrete way.

The scale recognizes the amount of capsaicin in a chili pepper. Capsaicin is one of the  capsaicinoids or chemical compounds in chili peppers that give them their signature spiciness. 

The Creation of the Scoville Scale and How It Works 

For the creation of the Scoville scale, we can thank Wilbur Scoville, who invented it in 1912 after experimenting with chili peppers.

The experiment was done by grinding up chili peppers and mixing them into a solution of sugar water. He then had different test subjects taste the solutions and make comments on the level of heat. If the subjects could still detect the heat, he would add more sugar water solution to the ground-up chili pepper to decrease the spiciness.

Scoville would continue to dilute the chili pepper mix with more sugar water until the heat was untraceable. Once a chili pepper mix reached that point, Scoville would count the number of times it was diluted and note that number as the pepper's ranking on the Scoville scale. Thus, the more times a chili pepper had to be diluted, the stronger its heat and the higher its Scoville scale ranking was.

Today, we use the same Scoville scale process, with a few tweaks. The heat of chili peppers is not measured by grinding them up but by extracting oil from them.

Chili Peppers and Their Heat

As we mentioned, the main ingredient in hot sauce is the chili pepper. Because the Scoville scale assigns a heat level to different chili peppers, it also assigns a heat level to different hot sauces. 

Some hot sauces use a blend of multiple chili pepper types. This means that though a hot sauce may claim to be, for instance, a habanero hot sauce, that sauce may be more or less hot than a habanero pepper due to the other peppers mixed in. This also means that the hottest hot sauces may be made from a combination of the hottest peppers.

It's a good idea to look at the full ingredient list on the back of your hot sauce for more information about all the peppers that may be included in your sauce before consuming it.

What Are Some Popular Peppers and their Scoville Rankings?

Here are the Scoville heat levels for some popular chili peppers used in hot sauces, so you have an idea of what to look for when picking your next sauce.

  • Jalapeño Pepper: This is a mild pepper that ranges from 2,000 to 8,000 SHU.

  • Chipotle Pepper: These are jalapeño peppers that have been ripened, smoked, and dried. They also range from 2,000 to 8,000 SHU but tend to have a bolder flavor than typical jalapeños.

  • Cayenne Pepper: This chili pepper is famously used in Louisiana Hot Sauce and the first-ever known hot sauce in the United States. The cayenne pepper has a powerful but not overly intense heat and can range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU.

  • Habanero Pepper: The habanero pepper has a medium to intense heat level with a Scoville rating that can range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.

  • Scotch Bonnet Pepper: Just like its friend, the habanero pepper, the Scotch bonnet pepper can be quite intense and as hot, ranging between 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. 

  • Ghost Pepper: Also known as Bhut Jolokia, these peppers from Northern India gained popularity online after word of their intense spiciness spread. A ghost pepper typically has a Scoville rating of around 1,041,427 SHU, making it quite a hot pepper.

  • Carolina Reaper Pepper: Bred and created by pepper enthusiast Ed Currie, the Carolina Reaper has been the world's hottest chili pepper for years, thanks to the Guinness World Records. It has a Scoville ranking of 2.2 million SHU.

Even Spicier Peppers

Although the Carolina Reaper is recognized as the world's hottest pepper, recent discoveries have found several chili peppers considered even hotter than the Carolina Reaper. These peppers include Pepper X and the Dragon's Breath pepper, both of which were created and bred by the Carolina Reaper's creator, Ed Currie. 

Pepper X has a Scoville heat ranking of 3.18 million SHU, while the Dragon's Breath pepper has a slightly lower ranking of almost 2.5 million SHU. However, neither chili pepper has been officially recognized as the world's hottest, and the Carolina Reaper retains its title.

When it comes to these peppers, be cautious, as some of the extra hot ones aren't all fun and games. Some have reported side effects after consuming the Carolina Reaper, including mouth numbness and burning, alongside more extreme side effects like intense headaches and vomiting.

Other Ingredients In Hot Sauce

While hot sauce relies largely on the chili pepper for flavor and heat, other ingredients play a major role in any hot sauce's flavor.

The vast majority of hot sauces are made using two essential ingredients that are not chili peppers. These ingredients are xanthan gum for texture and vinegar to create hot sauce's well-known zesty flavor. 

Xanthan gum is an all-natural, plant-based thickening agent. It's used in many hot sauces to enhance the texture and thickness of the sauce itself.

Although most hot sauces will have these two ingredients, some sauces can distinguish themselves from the masses by deviating from the norm and using more unique flavors. Some examples include:

  • Using Lime: Some hot sauces utilize lime juice rather than vinegar to create a balance of acidity. This can evoke a unique, fresh tanginess in these sauces.

  • Fermenting the Sauce: Some hot sauce makers ferment their hot sauce by letting the chili peppers age. This can develop a stronger presence of chili flavor that doesn't affect the pepper's heat level.

  • Adding a Sweetener: Some hot sauces have a bit of sweetener added to them. This is often seen in Asian hot sauces like sriracha. Adding sweetener creates a whole new style of hot sauce and can complement dishes by creating a new flavor profile. 

  • Incorporating Unique Ingredients: Some hot sauces feature specialty ingredients, such as our truffle-infused TRUFF Original Hot Sauce. We incorporate real black truffle flecks into our hot sauce blend for a decadent, elevated twist.

Overall, it's essential to note as a consumer that hot sauce comes in many varieties and flavors and can always surprise you!

Is Hot Sauce Healthy?

Now that you know how hot sauce came to be and what to look out for when picking your sauce, you might be wondering if it's considered healthy. You're in luck; hot sauce is known for its powerful health benefits, including the following properties:

  • Antioxidant: Hot sauce's main ingredient, the chili pepper, is rich in antioxidants. These help fight off free radicals (unstable metabolic molecules inside of us). 

Antioxidants protect your body against those unstable molecules and can strengthen your immune system.

  • Anti-inflammatory: Chili peppers and their spice also boast anti-inflammatory benefits. Preventing inflammation inside of your body can help prevent autoimmune diseases, improve blood sugar levels, and help increase your general energy levels. 

  • Anti-cancerous: Because of the chili pepper's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it may be anti-cancerous as the general maintenance of one's health and protection against disease can help prevent cancer. 

  • Diabetes-fighting: Research has shown that capsaicin, the key chemical compound in chili peppers that creates spice, can help strengthen the immune system and improve insulin regulation and sensitivity. 

Most hot sauces are also gluten-free and vegan, though some brands might sneak animal-based ingredients in. However, at TRUFF, all of our hot sauces are gluten-free and vegan, so you never have to worry.

Hot sauce is also considered healthier than many food items because most hot sauces don't contain a lot of sugar or other unhealthy ingredients. This is also why many believe that hot sauce can help them lose weight. 

We can't guarantee you'll lose weight through hot sauce consumption. However, we can say it's one of the healthier sauce options available and that adding a dollop to your sandwich won't add a ton of calories.

What Can You Eat With Hot Sauce?

Now, it's time to pick the best dishes to pair with your best hot sauces — if you still aren't sure what you'd like, we recommend trying our Best Seller Pack to see what best suits your tastebuds. This pack even includes our beloved TRUFF Black Truffle Oil, which you can add to elevate your sauces and dining experience alongside your hot sauce.

Hot sauce condiments can have a powerful tangy flavor that pairs deliciously with bright, flavorful Mexican dishes, especially those from the Mexican and Central American regions where the chili pepper originated. Feel free to try your hot sauce on dishes like tacos, Mexican soups, or alongside something like our Layered Taco Dip for an extra kick of spice.

Hot sauce goes great with grilled dishes, too. Add hot sauce to chicken as a marinade alongside some BBQ sauce for a perfect wing sauce. You can try our TRUFFalo™ Wings recipe if you’re interested in some juicy hot wings to enjoy with the family.

Regardless of what you pair your hot sauce with, enjoy yourself and try whatever feels right. If you're really still not sure where to start, you can check out some of our recipes for a starting point on how to include TRUFF in your cooking.

Getting Your Sauce

Now that you know everything there is to know about hot sauce, it's time to find your perfect sauce!

You can find TRUFF hot sauces and other products at grocery stores (try our store locator to find us near you) or order your TRUFF products directly through our website.

If you can't choose just one hot sauce to start with, try our TRUFF Variety Pack, which includes our three most popular hot sauces! It might even be the perfect gift set for the hot sauce lover in your life. 


Multiple Lines of Evidence for the Origin of Domesticated Chili Pepper, Capsicum annuum, in Mexico| PMC

Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico | PMC

Antioxidant Activity of Capsinoids | PubMed


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