I love condiments. If Imelda Marcos had too many shoes, I’m not far behind when it comes to spices and hot sauce. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m no slacker when it comes to accumulating sweaters, handbags, and earrings. But if I end up in a 12-step program for impulse buyers, it will likely be centered on my condiment (and possibly my cookie decorating) purchases.
Earlier this week, I made a stir fry and realized that it needed a little kick. Looking for chili garlic sauce, I went rummaging through my condiments. The search made me think about hot sauce ingredients and the various spices that I use for heat when I cook.
Why do I have so many? The siren call of a pretty label or a sale accounts for many in my collection. And if I’m following a recipe that calls for a particular type of hot sauce or spice, I tend to run out and buy it if I don’t have own it already, without thinking about whether another one might be equally as good – or more interesting. I have also been known to “lose” a bottle or jar and buy a second, only to later find the first.
So I decided to catalogue my stash and learn more about them.
Hot Sauce Ingredients
The sauces combine one or more types of pepper with other ingredients. Whether the taste is mostly hot, or has a sour or sweet element, depends on what those other ingredients are and the relative proportions. Here are 3 examples of the different ingredient mixes:
Harissa, a Middle Eastern hot sauce, (Cava brand) contains stewed tomatoes, olive and other vegetable oil, crushed red pepper, kosher salt, garlic, parsley, unspecified spices and citric acid (lemon juice or something similar.)
Louisiana Hot Sauce (Crystal brand) contains just aged red cayenne pepper, distilled vinegar and salt.
Roasted Red Chili Paste (Thai Kitchen brand) contains sugar, garlic, onion, anchovy extract, oil, dried shrimp, chili, tamarind, parsley and fennel. By the way, the term chili pepper includes several different species of plants.
Heat Level of Hot Sauces
The heat level of a hot sauce is largely dependent on the type of pepper used, as measured by the Scoville Scale. Named for its creator, a pharmacist, the scale is subjective, but generally accepted. Bell peppers have no heat on the Scoville Scale. Banana peppers, pimentos (the red peppers stuffed into green olives) and pepperoncini (used in Italian hoagies) have the least amount of heat. Jalapeno (see my guacamole recipe), Anaheim and Tabasco peppers (used in the sauce of that name) have between 3,500 – 8,000 Scoville units, while Habaneros, Scotch Bonnets and Jamaican hot peppers have 100,000-350,000 Scoville units of heat. Here’s a rather comprehensive list of type of peppers and their Scoville scores.
The seed lineage, climate, and other factors affect their heat too. One pepper of any type can be on the low end of the range for that type, while another can be at the top of the range, and that causes variety in the heat of batches of sauce made from the same types of peppers.
If you don’t want to add a liquid to a recipe, you can get heat from a hot spice like hot paprika or cayenne pepper (in powder or flakes) or from a dry spice mixture. You can make your own hot sauce or hot spice mixture too.
There’s a group/association for everything, and hot sauce is no exception. I joined the International Society of Hot Sauce Aficiandos. Maybe I’ll frame my membership certificate.
I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic, to be sure. I’m going to do some more research and experiment with the various sauces and spices. In the meantime, I’m going to find a way to string up these dried chilis I got from my pal Anthony at the farmers’ market last summer.