Tip of the iceberg ... Hot sauces.
Tip of the iceberg ... Hot sauces. Photo: Kate Gibbs

Kate Gibbs

Make room tomato sauce, another red liquid in a bottle is vying for position as a pantry staple.

Hot sauce's attraction lies in its unique ability to enliven foods. Appearing on restaurant tables around the country, spicing up tacos and oysters, pho and ramen, hot sauces are the new cool kid in town.

Here's the Good Food guide to some of the best.

Caribbean Hot Sauce by El Yucateco – salsa picante de chilli habanero

$8.95 for 120ml
Heat factor: 4
Origins: Mexico

The ketchup-thick sauce is 5400 Scoville heat units, so it's more than moderately hot. There's a sharp vinegary kick, it's both thickened and sweetened with carrots, but it's the lingering heat that stays with you.

Available: Good delicatessens

Tapatio Salsa Picante Hot Sauce

$4.95 for 148ml
Heat factor: 2
Origins: California, United States

This rich sauce is heavy with ground spices, and has a mild chilli kick, with a cumin, peppery aftertaste. It calls for pulled meats and quesadillas, melted cheese and guacamole, on which it could be boldly splashed.

It's made in California and we're told it's an American institution, popular with US troops posted overseas. Worryingly, this one doesn't have a definite expiration date. But we think you'll finish it long before you need to worry about that.

Available: Good delicatessens

Pickapeppa Sauce by The Pickapeppa Co. Ltd.

$7.95 for 140ml
Heat factor: 1
Origins: Jamaica

This is a kind of sophisticated, adopted child of HP sauce and Worcestershire Sauce, but with more complex flavour, and its own clove-heavy personality shining through. The Jamaican sauce is aged in oak barrels, where the all-natural ingredients are left to deepen in flavour. It's heavy with black pepper, cloves and thyme. Raisins add a slightly sweet element. Put this in a cheese sandwich and with grilled, barbecued red meats, or pork. We'll be adopting this one ourselves.

Available: Good delicatessens

Louisiana's Pure Crystal Hot Sauce

$3.95 for 177ml
Heat factor: 2
Origins: New Orleans, Louisiana

This clean, tart and vinegary sauce is made from aged red cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar and salt. It has all the flavour of another hot sauce that originated in Louisiana, Tabasco, but with a little less heat and a little more vinegar.

This one would cut through fat well, and pairs well with Louisiana flavours such as oysters, fried chicken or fish. We're left craving gumbo.

Available: Good delicatessens

Red Clipper Red Habanero Cayenne and Tomato

$12.95 for 200ml
Heat: 4
Origins: Australia

A chunky sauce that pours like a thinned-out salsa, complete with whole chilli seeds and chopped chilli. It's medium-hot and immediately lights a little fire at the back of the throat. The tomato-based sauce tastes of habanero chilli and spicy cayenne. It's like a bloody Mary in a sauce. There's a lovely fruitiness, and it's packed with fresh bird's-eye-chilli flavour.

We love its all-natural ingredients, and the bottle is table-acceptable. Fire up a barbecue, gets some charred rare steaks going and serve a puddle of this on the side.

Available: Good delicatessens

Tabasco, McIlhenny Co. Pepper Sauce

$3.76 for 59ml
Heat factor: 3
Origins: Louisiana

The most famous hot sauce in the world, sold in more than 165 countries and labelled in 22 languages and dialects, Tabasco is the stalwart fiery accompaniment. It comes in green jalapeno, chipotle, buffalo-style and habanero, but the original is known for its versatile vinegary tang and chilli burn.

Just a few drops of the 144-year-old sauce lifts a Bloody Mary, a bacon sandwich, or some fried eggs.

Available: Most supermarkets, delicatessens

Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce (Tuong Ot Sriracha) by Huy Fong Foods

$8.40 for 750ml
Heat factor: 3
Origins: Asian-style, made in California

This sauce, bearing a label on which a strutting rooster gleams white, is balanced and versatile. It livens up other sauces, even hollandaise or mayonnaise, and is squirted on many Japanese ramen about town.

The green-capped bottle can sit confidently beside Vietnamese pho, be drawn on hot dogs, and give burgers a moderate heat that lingers.

The sauce is David Tran's (a Vietnamese immigrant to America) take on Asian chilli sauce, and the Huy Fong was the freighter on which he arrived. He now turns out 20 million bottles a year. The smooth sauce is not overly acidic and consists mainly of chilli, sugar, salt and garlic. There are many competitor srirachas, but we think this rooster rules the coop.

Available: Good Asian supermarkets

Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce

$11.95 for 354ml
Heat factor: 2
Origins: New Jersey, United States

Swing open the kitchen doors of any place serving Buffalo hot wings in the United States, politely wrestle out the chef's secret ingredient, and you'll probably get the answer "Frank's".

This thin, vinegary and mild sauce (it also comes in extra hot) was apparently used in the first-ever Buffalo wings recipe, served in New York. If you dare reach past chicken wings, it works with fresh oysters, fish, and on anything you fancy a mild, cayenne-heavy Tabasco.

Available: Good delicatessens

Cholula Hot Sauce

$9.95 for 150ml
Heat: 1
Origins: Mexico

This Mexican hot sauce is more about the spice than the heat. It's a splashable bottle of cumin, paprika and cayenne, with a hint of vinegar, which calls for a night of taco shells and minced beef browned with onions.

The sauce also comes in chilli lime and chipotle flavours, and in each there is a gentle balance of piquin and arbol chilli peppers. We love the absence of artificial flavours and preservatives.

Available: Delicatessens, supermarkets

 

Heat scale:

1 – handle the heat

2 – it's getting hot in here

3 – pass me the water

4 – whooooarrr

5 – pass me the fire hydrant

Make room tomato sauce, another red liquid in a bottle is vying for position as a pantry staple.