As one of the most popular condiments in the US, hot sauce continues to pique consumer’s interest as an endorphin-boosting thrill (and in medicine to treat pain). The star compound, capsaicin, binds to the tongue’s pain receptors, producing the familiar burning sensation. Why so popular? New Yorker columnist, Lauren Collins offers one explanation:
“As a leisure activity, superhots offer some of the pleasures of mild drugs and extreme sports without requiring one to break the law or work out. They are near-death experiences in a bowl of guacamole.”
Along with its endorphin rush, the hot sauce movement is driven by consumer preferences for more diverse, global flavors, particularly Indian and Mexican cuisines. Expecting to rise from its 2021 value of $9.3 billion, the global hot sauce market is set to reach $15 billion by 2031, at a CAGR of 5% within the forecasted period.
Brands dressed up the heat with novel herbs, spices, fruits and sweeteners
The Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) measures chili pungency related to its capsaicin content via liquid chromatography. For context, a bell pepper is at zero SHU, giving it a neutral flavor, while jalapeños range from 2,000 to 8,000 SHU.
While hot sauce makers at the Summer Fancy Food Show weren’t showing any bhut jolokia (1.1 million SHU) or Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (1.4 million SHU), brands were dressing up the heat through unique twists through herbs, spices, fruits and sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, while doubling up as marinades.
Texas-based Hoff & Pepper Sauce featured its line of sauces with red jalapeño, habanero and chipotle chilis sourced from Tennessee. Your Everyday Hot Sauce features red jalapeño, habanero, chipotle, salt, vinegar and garlic with a medium heat level; while the herbaceous Mean Green gets its heat from green jalapeño and habanero with additions of parsley, lemongrass and garlic. Notably, Hoff & Pepper showcased its Smoken Ghost Ketchup, blurring the lines between its Smoken Ghost Hot Sauce and ketchup, with a heated blend of red jalapeños, habanero, chipotle and ghost peppers.
Known for producing truffle condiments, New York City-based Trufflelist partnered with Tango Chile Sauce to blend the creamy, umami-rich flavor of black summer truffles with chili peppers, lime, apple cider vinegar, carrots and cilantro in its Truffle Hot Sauce.
Clark + Hopkins’ line of hot sauces pay homage to global flavors around the world. Its lineup includes Kerala, Loas, Assam, Ethiopia, Quintiana Roo, Oaxaca, Calabria, Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Ukraine and Nagaland.
Owner and chef, Brandon Clark, studies different regions of the world to identify core ingredients that reflect culinary tastes. “These sauces are more of a culinary sauce than just a topical hot sauce in that you can cook with them,” he explained to FoodNavigator-USA. He adds that mixing in a can of coconut milk with the Kerala sauce, for example, will produce an authentic curry in under five minutes, speaking to the growing number of meal solutions for consumers who want to cook at home without spending too much time.
As activism continues to shape brands’ core business strategies, Clark + Hopkins launches its Ukraine hot sauce, which features beets, caraway and dill, with $1 of every purchase donated to World Central Kitchen and its efforts towards rebuilding Ukraine.
Woman-owned and Queens, NY-based, Queen Majesty Hot Sauce incorporates owner Erica Diehl’s familial cooking traditions into the brand’s line. Featured flavors include Scotch Bonnet & Ginger Hot Sauce which includes fresh scotch bonnet and fresh habanero peppers, along with white vinegar, sweet onions, orange bell peppers, lemon juice and ginger root.
The Red Habanero and Black Coffee Hot Sauce blends fair trade coffee infused with white vinegar alongside fresh red habanero and red bell peppers, sweet onions, raw apple cider vinegar, garlic cloves and ginger root. The Jalapeno Tequila & Lime Sauce combines fresh jalapeño peppers with white tequila, sweet onions, raw apple cider vinegar, lime juice, green apple and ginger root.
The brand partners with Ecologi to plant one tree for every order placed on their site; as well as a partnership with NYC-based, Hunger Free America, a non-profit organization that improves nutrition and food accessibility to at-risk communities.
Latina-and-woman-owned and Brooklyn-based, Cantina Royal, branched off from its namesake restaurant to produce its line of Mexican hot sauces. Owners Diana Beshara and Chef Julio MM combine their extensive restaurant experience with herbs and chilis sourced from Mexico. Resilience features turmeric and tarragon alongside habanero peppers; while Chechare includes green chilis, garlic, celery and onion in an aged house vinegar.
Featured in Hot Ones, a show that puts celebrity spice tolerance to the test, Tamaulipeka features sweet tamarind and smoky chili flavors.