picture of homemade chili sauce - small batch hot sauce crafted with artisinal chili peppers

Where And When Hot Sauce Was Invented

Hot sauce, some people love it, others love to hate it. Hot sauce comes in different forms all over the world and it's an important condiment in some cultures. 

Whether you're into hot sauce or not at all, it makes one wonder who's the brave soul that invented hot sauce in the first place. If you’d like to know the history of hot sauce, where and when it originated and all the amazing facts about hot sauce, this one’s for you!

How Hot Sauce is Made

The recipe for hot sauce varies greatly from country to country but at its most basic, hot sauce is made from three ingredients: chili peppers, vinegar, and salt or sugar. Usually, hot sauce is made by simmering the chilies (fresh or dried) in a base of vinegar. Then, it's seasoned with sugar or salt. Sometimes, tomatoes are added to thicken the sauce, balance the flavors and enhance the color.

In the US, tabasco sauce is the quintessential hot sauce of many. This sauce is made from tabasco peppers (capsicum frutescens). In Mexico, dried local green chilis like jalapeño or serrano are used to make hot sauce while in Asia, bird's eye chili is the pepper of choice for their version of the hot sauce. Ghost chili is often used to whip up super-spicy chili sauce. 

What Makes Hot Sauce Spicy?

Hot sauce is spicy because it is loaded with capsaicin. Capsaicin gives that familiar burning sensation on the tongue because its molecules fit the receptors of the tongue perfectly. When you eat food with capsaicin, the receptors are stimulated and the brain interprets the sensation as literal burning of the mouth. Don’t worry, your tissues won’t be damaged by the hot sauce’s heat -- that’s just how the brain works!

The heat of hot sauces are measured by the Scoville scale. The Scoville scale measures the heat of hot sauces based on the concentration of capsaicin. This scale was created in 1912 by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. Based on the Scoville scale, there are 5 levels of "pungency" or heat:

Very high heat: Above 80,000

High heat: 25,000 to 70,000

Moderate heat: 3,000 to 25,000

Mild heat:  700 to 3,000

No heat: 0 to 700

The Scoville scale units indicate the number of times a product has to be diluted with an equal amount of volume of water until the burning sensation subsides. 

Sweet bell peppers aka capsicum chili peppers have a low pungency rate, about 100 or less in the Scoville scale. Habanero chili on the other hand, has a rating of 100,000–350,000 in the Scoville scale. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion has a rating of 750,000–1,500,000, just one rating shy of being rated as law-enforcement grade pepper spray (1,500,000–3,000,000+ Scoville heat units). 

Carolina Reaper or simply known as the "Reaper" is the Guiness World Record holder for the hottest chili pepper in the world. It has two million heat units on the Scoville scale. Pure capsaicin has 16,000,000 heat units on the Scoville scale. 

The Most Popular Hot Sauces Around the World

#1 = Very Muy Rico Hot Sauce :)

  • Tabasco Sauce 
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Salsa Picante
  • Sambal
  • Gochujang
  • Chili oil
  • Harissa
  • Aji

In the west, hot sauce often comes in a thick liquid or paste form. In Asia, hot sauce comes in paste like the Gochujang, thick liquid like Sriracha, or in oil form. 

The Origin of Hot Sauce

There are conflicting infos as far as the origin of hot sauce goes. Some historians say that hot sauce goes as far back as the Mayan times while others say the Europeans came up with the recipe for the sauce. The origins of hot sauce may be murky, but evidence of it were found in ancient ruins, even shipwrecks. 

7000 BC: The Aztecs of South Mexico have used chilies as far back as 7000 BC. Back then, chili was used to season local dishes while also applied for medicinal purposes. 

16th century Europe: Some experts believe that it was in the 16th century when Spain and Portugal conquistadors started spreading chili pepper cultivation across Europe, Africa, and Asia for culinary purposes. 

Hot Sauce History in America

Historians believe that Columbus likely introduced chili peppers to Europe and India, where the sauce became a staple in local cuisines to this day. In the US, hot sauce first appeared commercially in 1807 in Massachusetts, where bottles of “cayenne sauces” were found. During this time, most Americans use ketchup. 

There are surviving bottles of early cayenne sauces but much of what we know about these products came from newspaper ads of that era. These sauces are often homemade. 

In the mid-1800s, a New York based company called J. McCollick & Company started producing chili sauce made from bird pepper. Interestingly, it was around this time when the first recorded crop of tabasco chiles was recorded. Colonel Maunsell White, a prominent banker and legislator in Louisiana, started growing chiles on his Deer Range Plantation and eventually built his own hot sauce brand. 

In 1859, Colonel Maunsell White launched his tabasco sauce, the first of its kind. He also gave chilies and his sauce recipe to a friend, businessman and manufacturer Edmund McIlhenny who eventually built his own chili sauce brand. He would be known as the first to mass produce hot sauce in the US, aptly called “Tabasco Sauce.”

The immense success of Tabasco Sauce turned the brand into a cultural phenomenon. By the 20th century, aspiring entrepreneurs would try to replicate McIlhenny’s success in the hot sauce business. 

Hot sauce became a busy industry in the mid to late 20th century but no brand was able to achieve the same level of popularity and success as McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce. But after the Great Depression, La Victoria came up with a range of new hot sauces for tacos and enchiladas. These sauces were the first of their kind and became a hit among locals. 

In the late 1940s, David Pace of Pace Foods came up with Picante sauce. These new hot sauces re-started the industry and new brands started coming up with innovative hot sauces using different kinds of chilis. 

The Obsession with Hot Sauce Then and Now

New chili combinations started America’s obsession with hot sauce. By the early 1990s, hot sauce became more popular than ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. So popular that hot sauce competitions were held all over the country. One of the most prestigious of these competitions is the Scovie Awards. Hot sauce makers from all over the US would compete for flavor and heat. 

Today, hot sauce is more than a condiment, it has become a lifestyle. Hot sauce brands from all over the world are always looking for the wildest, most creative chili combinations to elevate the flavor and the heat of America’s favorite dishes! It’s not surprising that the hot sauce industry has been booming since the 90s up to the present. 

I've been obsessed with hot sauce since I can remember dousing my pizza with Frank's Hot Sauce as a kid! Sriracha hit when I was in college at Ball State University and that was my jam for awhile. Those ramen noodles taste so good with sriracha! 

Nowadays the hot sauce game is off the chain! We have Hot Ones dominating Youtube and helping to highlight some of the amazing sauces out there on the market. It kind of feels like craft hot sauce is today where craft beer was 10-20 years ago. And let me tell you, we are here for the ride!

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How much do you love hot sauce? What hot sauce brand do we need to try? We are always looking for new flavors! Sound off in the comment section!

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