Hot sauce is about so much more than just chillies and vinegar. Indulging in great sauce is a luxury on par with enjoying any fine wine, aged whisky or good cigar. It should be a memorable and complex experience.
The first step to really enjoying hot sauce though is learning what makes the good stuff so great. When thinking about recipes or trying to understand flavours it helps to break things down. That way you can compare, experiment, contrast and enjoy.
Think about it like wine tasting. Some are dry, some are sweet, some are fruity and so on. When you know the elements to look for you begin to learn what you like and don’t like. So, much like wine, here’s what WE look for when trying a new hot sauce:
A solid Base
The base is what holds all the other flavours. From sweet carrot to tangy tomato it dictates what's going to happen from that point onwards. A good base needs to be fresh and versatile enough to mix with other ingredients well.
Think about a comforting pumpkin soup. The sweet pumpkin adds a thick consistency but is subtle enough to be built upon. From there you layer on onions, stock, cream and all that combines to make something beautiful.
Hot sauce is similar in that you need to start with something amazing... but what do you add then? HEAT that’s what.
Layers of Heat
The heat of any sauce is like its soul. The thing that gets you excited and makes the experience a memorable one. We wrote a whole blog on the art of heat and needless to say, it’s a big subject, but the main thing to understand is that things aren’t just hot or mild. There’s a whole spectrum of heat and every chilli has its own character.
Some come on quickly and disappear just as swiftly, some take their time but last. Good hot sauce mixes these characteristics in different quantities to make something special.
But a solid base and some kick isn’t enough on its own. You need something to remember the sauce by.
Heaps of Character
The character is the thing that sets a sauce apart and keeps you coming back for more. It can be a punchy spice or even fresh herbs, but needs to stand out and compliment the base and level of heat that’s been chosen. Take our smokey dragon sauce for example, we chose a high-end paprika to match the base of fresh tomatoes. The result is a savoury sauce with a tangy edge that ends with a sweet and smoky flavour.
It’s the paprika that gives the sauce its personality and luckily for us there’s thousands of things that can be used to impart that personality. Thousands of ways for a sauce to stand out, you’ve just got to find the ones that work for you.
So that’s our quick guide to being a hot sauce sommelier. Next time you crack open a bottle think about these elements and what you love (or don’t love) about what you're tasting. Before long you’ll build up a profile and next time you go to shop for some, hopefully, you’ll know what to look for!