The Ultimate Hot Sauce Taste Test

hotsaucetest.JPG
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
Behold, all the glorious sauces from aisle 13 at H-E-B.
There's evidence that people in the Amazon basin were eating chili peppers as much as 6,100 years ago. Shortly thereafter, from what we can tell, native South Americans began domesticating the plant with the fiery hot fruit. They weren't content to simply forage for it. They needed it at all times.

Many thousands of years later, we can still relate. The first thing we do upon getting a bowl of gumbo, a basket of wings or a plate of tacos is reach for the hot sauce. We've come to expect--and crave--both the heat and the acidity in each bottle of vinegar-soaked pepper purée.

But as anyone who's ever been to a Bloody Mary bar can attest, there are a lot of sauces out there on the market. Tabasco is the oldest recognizable one, tracing its roots back to 1868. In areas of the country not so saturated with hot sauce, Tabasco and hot sauce are synonymous.

Here, though, where Mexican and Cajun food abound, we have much more than just Tabasco to choose from at most grocery stores and even most restaurants. How is one to decide which is the best?

Armed with crackers and a pint of milk, I set out to determine that for you.

hotsaucetest2.JPG
Do not attempt without milk.
Here are my tasting notes:

Tabasco - Smells citrusy and vinegary; not much flavor but a lot of heat; boring; heat lingers

Valentina - Thick and less transparent than others; more earthy chili taste (like cumin, but there's no cumin listed in the ingredients); flavorful; moderate heat

El Yucateco - Salty with good habanero taste; packs a lot of heat; thick; darker red than some of the others

Cholula - Not super spicy; lots of chili and vinegar flavor; thin; I want more of it

(At this point I noted that my nose had started running)

Frank's Red Hot- Tastes like vinegar and celery salt; good chili flavor; thin; heat doesn't linger

The Original Louisiana Hot Sauce - Says "one drop does it," but it's not that hot; thin; slightly more dynamic than tabasco; very vinegary

Texas Pete - Tastes most like pickled jalapeños; medium heat; thin

Cajun Chef - Not super spicy; more vinegar than chili flavor; thin

Crystal - Ideally spicy; vinegary; thin, but not watery

After downing all the milk and a whole sleeve of crackers, I've come to a conclusion: In general, the hot sauces are, well, too hot. I know, I know, you're thinking "Duh, that's the point." But I appreciate hot sauce that packs the heat and flavor. I want the taste of the chili pequins to come through a bit instead of tasting nothing because my tongue immediately gets scalded.

To that end, I discovered that Frank's would be best in a Bloody Mary, because it already tastes so much like garlic and celery salt.

Texas Pete is what I'd slather all over my wings, because it has that great pickled jalapeño taste that makes me think of bar food.

I'd dump Crystal into my gumbo to heat it up because it's just the right balance of heat and cayenne flavor.

And my favorite?

I've gotta go with the Valentina as the all-around best hot sauce. It's thick enough that it won't run all over the place if you drizzle it on a taco. It tastes like roasted chilies rather than simply heat. It's spicy, but not too spicy. And it's cheap--a little more than $2 for 12.5 ounces.



Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
25 comments
KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

To everyone commenting about iBurn: I've been there, and it's lovely. The hot sauce I use at home is from there. But this was intended to rate hot sauces available at the average grocery store and things you'd find on tables at restaurants all over the country (as it states in the introduction). It's a shame the owners of iBurn have to be nasty in their commenting and on their personal Twitter accounts toward a blog that has been supportive of their wonderful store in the past and regarding a post about which they clearly missed the point. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2013/10/iburn_the_best_little_hot_sauc.php

HotSauceKevin
HotSauceKevin

How are you going to determine what is the best hot sauce when you only have less than .0001% of a sampling of all the products on the market?  You left off all the Houston based sauce makers of which every one of of them is better than all of the products you used in your article.  Maybe you should try again and this time get away from the gas station mass produced cheap hot sauces and try some artisan, real hot sauces.  


Try these Houston sauce makers:

High Octane Sauce Company...  87 Octane and 93 Octane for starters

Cin Chili Co.  . Most any of them

Big Daddy's Ass Burn  .. Hell goin' in, Hell goin' out, Flaming Lips, etc

Bravado Spice Company ...either flavor


to name a few.


Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

Torchy's Diablo sauce is pretty darn good.

CulinaryPyros
CulinaryPyros

I wish some TEXAS made sauces would have been included in the Ultimate Taste Test!!!

Brazos
Brazos

The hot sauce that the Egg & I sells is very good. Better then their food :)

natalia_webb
natalia_webb

I LOVE iburn! James and Amy are extremely helpful and will lead you to the perfect sauce for your palette. We have an entire shelf in the fridge dedicated to iburn, especially anything made by CaJohn! Also, ghost pepper flakes for pizza are a MUST! No other store can compare to their selection or prices.

JamesWreck
JamesWreck

Please remove "Ultimate" from the title. A hot sauce taste test can't be considered ultimate unless you visit iBurn (Houston's only hot sauce shop).
Different hot sauces in stock:
HEB - 15 or 20

iBurn - 520

James Wreck
James Wreck

Check out our site. Shipping to Louisiana is cheap.

James Wreck
James Wreck

Please remove "Ultimate" from the title. A hot sauce taste test can't be considered ultimate unless you visit iBurn. Different hot sauces in stock: H-E-B - 15 or 20 iBurn - 520

Amanda Cox
Amanda Cox

I think you need iBurn & James Wreck to consult

Ivan Jimenez
Ivan Jimenez

tapped my uncle on the shoulder and called it Tapatio .... wheres it at

Claudio Lerma
Claudio Lerma

Ura Nahar, Valentina was their favorite one!

Alex Botti
Alex Botti

Boring my arse. Tabasco is the only hot sauce in my fridge.

ellieloveman
ellieloveman

With all due respect, this is an article about mild pepper-based sauces, not hot sauces. Definitely take a visit to iBurn for a more accurate tasting sample - they can give you great recommendations! Although they taste great and are nice for adding depth to chili and the like, no chilehead would take the above list seriously. 

erichenao
erichenao topcommenter

I sent this to a hot sauce friend and she said you really need to go to http://www.iburn.com/ . It's in Bellaire and they really know their stuff.

bobbydigi
bobbydigi

What it sounds like you want is Marie Sharps mild habanero. Available at Specs Midtown.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@HotSauceKevin 

I think KS was trying to review the ones you might find at your local grocery store.

HotSauceKevin
HotSauceKevin

you are missing out on a whole world of killer products then.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

Why put it in the fridge?  Boring vinegar sauce should survive just fine at room temperature.

natalia_webb
natalia_webb

Your friend is absolutely right! We have an entire shelf in our fridge dedicated to what we buy there! I suggest trying anything made by CaJohn!

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...