Taste test: Top 10 new-wave Australian hot sauces

Controlling your chillies

Jill Dupleix shows how to manage your chillies, in order to make the heat level perfect for you.

Hot sauce is hot – in all senses of the word. With the rise of barbecue and burger joints, bespoke sauces have come to the fore, driven largely by a frustration at the lack of good local alternatives to the ubiquitous Tabasco. 

But that frustration can be truly laid to rest. There's a whole raft of boutique sauces being made now that capture that perfect blend of heat and flavour. The thing is – it's not all about the heat.

Richard Nelson, of Melbourne Hot Sauce, describes those blindingly hot, eyes-cartoon-bulging, sauces as a "novelty", while the guys from Changz​ say sauces with crazy Scoville [heat] ratings are not for table sauces.

Ryan Brown from Handsome Devils Co wants people to realise the versatility of hot sauce.

"It's not just for pouring over tacos. We would love to see people replacing their boring old tomato sauce with delicious hot sauce," says Brown. "Try chipotle over eggs, avocado and haloumi for breakfast, or savina​ (with coriander, mango and habanero​) as a marinade for fish or free-range chicken."

So, with that in mind, here are some saucy alternatives – rated 1 to 3 for heat – to add to your pantry. Give in to them and fall into that fiery spiral – it's a delicious trip. 

1: Softcore – I can handle it.

2: Midcore – Is it getting hot in here?

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3: Hardcore – "I feel like I ate the sun!" – Cameron, Modern Family

1. De Arbol – Handsome Devils Co

Handsome Devils Co has been around for just over two years now, born out of a desire to make the hot sauces they'd met and loved in Mexico but couldn't find on home soil. They produce small batches of four preservative-free sauces, with ingredients sourced from the Port Macquarie region, and chillies from Mexico. Their De Arbol is a classic big and bold Mexican red sauce with a medium heat and a full-bodied flavour from the lime, tomato and tamarind. Try it in a Bloody Handsome: In a tall glass, add ice, 30ml rye whisky, 15ml of pickle juice, 15ml De Arbol, salt, pepper and clove. Top off with tomato juice and stir. Add a pickle to garnish.

Heat rating: 2; handsomedevilsco.com

2. Chipotle BBQ – Changz Hot Sauce

Who doesn't love a sticky, smoky chipotle BBQ sauce? Joshua Monteiro, Tom Jacobson and James Forge, who run Changz Canteen in Melbourne's Elsternwick, started making their own hot sauces about a year ago, and their popular Chipotle BBQ, prinked with brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and smoked paprika, is everything you could want to douse a burger in. At Changz, everything is done by hand, from the cooking down to the bottling and labelling. They've also created custom sauces for burger restaurants. Look out for their mustards and pickles – coming soon.

Heat rating: 1; changzcanteen.com.au

3. Smoked Jalapeno – Melbourne Hot Sauce

Richard Nelson, a chef with a long history of cooking hot sauce-friendly cuisines like Mexican and Cajun, founded Melbourne Hot Sauce just over two years ago and his Smoked Jalapeno sauce took out the Silver Medal at the 2015 World Hot Sauce Awards in Louisiana. Try it and you'll see why. Made with green jalapenos that are cold smoked over Victorian golden delicious apple wood, plus wild rocket and coriander, it's a truly unique, bright but smoky sauce.

Heat rating: 1; melbournehotsauce.com

4. Inquisition – Jungle Rain

Oh my. Jungle Rain not only sells chilli seeds, it also does a wildly creative range of sauces with names like Fallen Angel (with a Middle Eastern twist) or Mayan Sacrifice, with peach and yellow chilli. Inquisition, however, with its blend of strawberry, passionfruit and super hot chillies, including Trinidad Scorpion and Bhut Jolokia​, is a searingly hot sauce that leaves a fruit-filled aftertaste, like a brutal Fruit Tingle.

Heat rating: 3; junglerain.com.au

5. Chilli Sauce – Eighteen Thousand Islands

Hot sauces make your mind dart immediately to Mexican food, but this one – from the boys who used to have Melbourne CBD's beloved Sataybar – is a classic, bright Indonesian sambal asli (original chilli sauce), perfect for dashing on rice and noodle dishes. It has a fresh, strong heat and pure, uncomplicated flavour.

Heat rating: 1; eighteenthousand.is

6. Cajed Heat – Crowley's Hot Sauce

When Wagga Wagga-based Jason Crowley decided it'd be fun for his toddler son if they planted chilli seeds instead of grass seeds, he had no idea that, just a few years later, he'd be taking out the World Champion title  for  his Chipotle BBQ Sauce at the 2015 World Hot Sauce Awards in Louisiana. Cajed Heat is a medium-to-hot sauce with Cajun spices that give it a lovely earthy flavour.

Heat rating: 2; crowleyshotsauce.com.au

7. Red Habanero, Cayenne and Tomato – Red Clipper Chilli Company

The tomato adds a lovely freshness to this full-bodied sauce, which combines three chillies – a habanero for fruitiness, bird's eye for fire and cayenne for spice – for its heat, although it's not mind-meltingly hot. This super-versatile sauce has a richness and a tingle, and goes especially well on a good steak or as a punchy marinade. Extra points for the appealing old-time bottle and label.

Heat rating: 2; facebook.com/RedClipperChilliSauce

8. Habanero Pomegranate Hot Sauce – Ranch Hand Foods

Like a marriage made in spicy heaven, Ranch Hand is a small, family-owned Australian company run by transplants from the south and southwest of America. They use authentic American recipes and preserving methods, and local farm-fresh Australian produce. The Habanero Pomegranate Hot Sauce is a delicious whirlwind of wild heat, pomegranate sweetness and tropical spices.

Heat rating: 3; ranchhand.com.au

9. Dis Da Mild Wan – Mama Blu's Food Company

Chef Steff Kamener​ has an impressive background working in European restaurants and running Melbourne cafes, but now she's all about the sauces that celebrate the soulfood flavours of her Jamaican and English roots. Her Voodoo Chilli Sauce took out a gold medal at last year's Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards, but Dis Da Mild Wan is a unique one, spiked with pineapple and lemon, for those who want something a little fruity and soft. Use it as a dipping sauce or add it to a vegie stir-fry.

Heat rating: 1; mamablu.com.au

10. Gran Humo Negro – Melbourne Hot Sauce & 40FT Brewing Co

Craft beer and a plate of smoky barbecue drenched in a sticky hot sauce – they were meant to be together. The Gran Humo Negro – a collaboration between Melbourne Hot Sauce and 40FT Brewing Co seals the deal of this beautiful union with a dark and smoky sauce made with chipotle, smoked paprika and chilli porter beer.

Heat rating: 2; melbournehotsauce.com

Where to get it

Most companies retail online, sell at farmer's markets or have distribution in gourmet delis. For more hot sauce, check out Chilli Obsession and The Chilli Chaps.