From Mild to Wild: A Journey Through Different Hot Sauce Varieties

From Mild to Wild: A Journey Through Different Hot Sauce Varieties

Have you ever thought about what goes into the hot sauce you love? The flavor and heat come from the type of pepper. Thousands of chili peppers exist around the world, but only five are domesticated:

  • Capsicum annuum – Originated in South America and includes bell peppers, Jalapenos, and Thai chilis.
  • Capsicum baccatum – Originated in Central and South American and include Aji and Starfish
  • Capsicum chinense – Originated in Central and South America and includes Ghost and Habanero peppers.
  • Capsicum frutescens – Originated in Central and South America and includes Piri-Piri and Tabasco.
  • Capsicum pubescens – Originated in South America and includes Manzano and Rocoto.

However, each of those has a variety of cultivars, and those all have different heat levels. Cultivars have been carefully selected for their flavor, disease resistance, heat level, and yield. If you break down the different domesticated species, you’ll find different taxonomic varieties. A Scotch Bonnet is from capsicum chinense, and a jalapeno is from capsicum annuum.

The chilies used in hot sauce products depend on the type of hot sauce and recipe the company uses, which is why you get so many hot sauce varieties. Join us as we explore what goes into different hot sauces and how to find your favorite heat level.

A Breakdown of the Scoville Scale

Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which is a chemical compound that you feel as heat or spiciness when eating a pepper. That heat is measured using the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale. 

The NIST measures capsaicin using high-performance liquid chromatography, which is a technique where a sample is collected and the capsaicin is identified and separated. It’s then diluted until it’s no longer detectable. The amount of dilution is the measurement given on the Scoville scale, and its measurement is calculated at that point.

Some peppers, such as red bell peppers, are not spicy at all. Others, such as a Carolina Reaper, are extremely high in capsaicin. You feel the burn instantly, and it can be relentless. The scale is as follows and includes a few examples of chili peppers in that range:

Bell peppers are not hot. That’s why they measure 0 SHU. They’re juicy and might seem almost sweet. Orange, red, and yellow peppers tend to be sweeter than green bell peppers. They’re not going to be spicy though. 

Mild Heat:

Mild heat is a touch spicy, but not too bad to most people. It depends on your sensitivity to capsaicin.

  • 100 to 500 SHU – Pimentos, Pepperoncini, Peppadew, Shishito
  • 500 to 1,000 SHU – Anaheim, Cubanelle

Medium Heat:

Medium heat is going to leave a bit more of a burn, but it’s still tolerable to most people. The burn doesn’t tend to last more than a few minutes.

  • 1,000 to 1,500 SHU – Poblano
  • 1,500 to 2,500 SHU – Rocotillo, Ancho
  • 2,500 to 8,000 SHU – Jalapeno, Fresno, Chipotle, Cherry

Hot Heat:

Chilies that are in this range are hotter and burn for a bit longer. As the number increases, the heat is harder to bear. 

  • 5,000 to 10,000 SHU – Hungarian
  • 10,000 to 23,000 SHU – Serrano, Arbol
  • 30,000 to 50,000 SHU – Cayenne, Pequin
  • 50,000 to 100,000 SHU – Thai, Malagueta, Tabasco, Birds Eye
  • 100,000 to 350,000 SHU – Habanero, Scotch Bonnet

Scorching Heat:

When you see videos of people who are crying and sweating from the heat, you’re into the scorching pepper levels. Not everyone can handle this level of capsaicin. If you’re really into heat, these are great choices. 

  • 350,000 to 570,000 SHU – Red Savina Habanero
  • 855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU – Ghost Pepper
  • 1,200,000 to 2,000,000 SHU – Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, Naga Viper
  • 1,500,000 to 2,300,000 SHU – Carolina Reaper, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
  • 3,180,000 SHU – Pepper X 

Pepper X is the latest entry on the Scoville scale. It made it into the Guinness World Records in 2023. It’s a hybrid created by the same person to create the Carolina Reaper.

How Hot Sauce Is Made

Some of the most popular hot sauces are Tabasco, Sriracha, Gochujang, Harissa, Chili Garlic, and Piri Piri. Each has a unique flavor that adds zip to traditional and international dishes. Because there are many hot sauces, the recipes differ, but chili peppers are always at the heart of a sauce.

Hot sauce is made by pureeing chili peppers and mixing the pulp with vinegar and seasonings, if you’re making non-fermented. If you’re making a fermented hot sauce, mix brine, pepper pulp, and vinegar. You can add additional ingredients for flavor. 

If you were making sriracha, it’s a mixture of garlic, red jalapenos, salt, vinegar, and a touch of molasses or brown sugar. The garlic and touch of sweetness add that unique flavor. 

Flavors Beyond the Heat

Hot sauces can have different flavors that go beyond heat. Chipotle peppers are dried smoked jalapenos. Mix Chipotle peppers with a sauce of spices and tomatoes to get Adobo. That smokiness imparts a totally different flavor to a traditional Tabasco sauce. Peppers may be smoky, sweet, nutty, and even resiny and citrusy like the Malagueta.

Some of the flavor comes from ingredients that are added to hot sauces. It can be the type of vinegar that’s used, whether herbs and garlic are infused if there are fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, or raisins in the recipe, and if it’s fermented or not.

When you’re choosing a hot sauce, it’s important to determine what flavor you want. Seafood, lamb, and poultry dishes work with citrus, while smoky chilies and hot sauces are fantastic with burgers and steak. A resiny hot sauce is great with pork, venison, or duck, and a fruity one is ideal with pork and lamb.

Mix a tablespoon of Légal hot sauce with half a cup of olive oil, four cloves of garlic that you mince, a teaspoon of black pepper, and a teaspoon of fresh rosemary that you’ve chopped. Rub that all over a lamb before putting it in the oven. You can add salt if you want, but it’s not necessary. The flavor the hot sauce adds to the lamb is amazing.

Hot sauce is good on its own, but it’s just as good for adding a kick to favorite recipes. And, it doesn’t have to be something savory. Chili peppers go well in sweet dishes, too. 

Do yourself a favor. Make a batch of brownies using your favorite boxed mix and add a teaspoon or two of Légal hot sauce, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and some bittersweet chocolate chips. The brownies go to a whole other level. Serve a brownie with some fresh cherries and whipped cream for a decadent dessert.

Légal Hot Sauce comes in three heats: Mild, Medium, or Hot. Each one is a blend of vinegar, carrots, salt, and Malagueta peppers in different ratios. It’s not hotter than a Habanero or some of the hottest peppers like a Ghost Pepper or Carolina Reaper, so you don’t deal with that uncomfortable heat that stops you from tasting the food it’s on.

With its unique citrus flavor, it’s great with many foods. Make traditional Peri-Peri Chicken or have it with buttered rice. It’s going to add the flavor you crave with just a kick of heat.