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Best hot sauce 2023: Spice up your life with the most fiery sauces around

Heat up any meal with a dash of spice. These are the best hot sauces around for dipping, marinating and cooking

Hot sauces have never been more popular, with supermarket shelves filled with the best hot sauce from around the world. There are even TV series such as Hot Ones dedicated to sampling some of the hottest sauces around.

Some of the best hot sauces blend both spiciness with rich flavour, which is certainly no mean heat. This versatility can be a real boon and save you forking out on one sauce for marinade and another for daily dipping.

Below, we’ve gathered together our favourite sauces for all occasions, in a range of spicy styles. There are sauces for everyday dips and others for specific meals; some are sweet sensations while others are deep, tangy delights. All the way from Thailand’s renowned sriracha sauce to culinary creations closer to home, we’ve tried to cover the whole gambit of worldly flavours, so scroll on down or stop by our guide if you’re a hot sauce newbie.

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How to choose the best hot sauce for you

Why do people like spicy food?

Simply put, it’s endorphins. We can’t actually taste spice as a flavour, but we do feel pain from it through receptors in our mouths – the ones that are normally responsible for sensing heat. The majority of spicy peppers, such as jalapenos and naga chillies, contain the chemical capsaicin which, when consumed, combines with these pain receptors to cause a reaction not unlike scalding your mouth with a hot drink. Scientists believe that, just like when the body is hurting on other occasions, this chilli pain causes endorphins to be released – the body’s natural pain-killing compounds.

As well as killing pain, endorphins are also known to contribute feelings of pleasure. So, in the same way some people love the pain of long-distance running, many people can grow to associate the peppery pain of capsaicin with a pleasant, endorphin-based rush. This all depends on your tolerance to spice, which you can slowly build up with more exposure to capsaicin-filled foods and products like hot sauce.

How are spiciness levels measured?

Levels of heat are measured as Scoville Heat Units (SHU). This is the level of capsaicin in a product, where a higher Scoville rating means a greater level of spiciness. Some companies may disclose the Scoville scale of its product, especially if it’s above average in heat, though many don’t. Instead, you might see a brand using its own scale, which includes words such as “moderate”, “hot” or “mild” for the sake of convenience.

How hot can it get?

While the fiercest hot sauce ever created registered around the 16 million Scoville mark – similar to the rating of pure capsaicin – this is not a regular nor safe way to consume hot sauce.

Common sauces start at around 400, with the absolute maximum we would recommend – for your internals’ sake – being around 9 million. However, regular hot sauces will stay well below this mark, usually registering in the thousands and hundreds of thousands, rather than millions. For example, a classic hot sauce from Tabasco typically comes in at around 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale.

What types of hot sauce are there?

There are many varieties of hot sauce, with different countries tending to centre in on particular spices and techniques. However, the one thing that ties them together is the use of chillies and peppers. While great variety exists, the broad church of hot sauce can still be split into two main branches: fermented and unfermented.

Fermented hot sauces, as the name implies, are created by fermenting hot chillies and other ingredients in a container. Hot sauce ingredients get decomposed by healthy bacteria and enzymes – often by submerging the mixture in salt brine or by letting healthy bacteria break down other ingredients over time. This produces a more tangy, sour-tasting hot sauce and can help to bring out the flavours of other ingredients. They usually taste a little fresher too and have the added health benefit of containing probiotic bacteria (like yoghurt or kombucha), because of the fermentation process. This is thought to help the body break down food and better absorb nutrients.

On the other side, unfermented hot sauces forgo fermentation and are usually cooked out instead. These are more common in supermarkets, as they are faster and easier to make, while often having higher Scoville levels since the chillies are not broken down.

Asides from these dominant hot sauce types, there are also a wide range of chilli oils and other forms of spicy sauces, such as jams or relish.

How we test hot sauce

To test hot sauce, we first gathered a comprehensive range of choices in order to cover as many palettes as possible. They were measured in terms of spices used and overall spiciness; other ingredients and overall flavour profiles; relative consistency; fermentation (or not) as well as the intended applications of a sauce according to its creators (in other words, the foods it pairs best with).

From there, testing hot sauces goes down just as you might expect: getting that spicy goodness into our mouths. We would taste each sauce individually before then trying it together with its intended use case. If no particular foodstuff was suggested, then we would opt for a meat or vegan meat substitute as the default tasting dish to avoid clouding and potentially mischaracterising a sauce’s flavour with the ingredients and spices of a regular meal.

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The best hot sauce you can buy in 2023

1. James Cochran’s Scotch Bonnet Jam: Best all-rounder hot sauce for any meal

Price: £6.45 | Buy now from Amazon

Chef James Cochran won the BBC show Great British Menu with a goat dish featuring his own Scotch Bonnet Jam and thankfully, you can now buy this delicious creation. While this is a jam in name, it doesn’t initially taste like one given its smooth texture and spicy kick.

However, underlying this is a sweet, tangy flavour of jam you will recognise, giving this an exquisite flavour profile. We found it works well on anything from chargrilled veggies to a cheese toastie. It has real heat too, just hot enough that you’ll be alert but not uncomfortable. Better still, it’s vegan, which is ideal if you’re on a restricted diet (although the creators say it pairs best with fried chicken if you aren’t).

Key details – Size: 310g; Fermented: No; Heat level: Moderate

Buy now from Amazon

2. Heartbeat Pineapple Hot Sauce: Best-tasting hot sauce

Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

In terms of pure flavour, this is one of the best we tested. Fans of the hot sauce challenge–interview show Hot Ones will recognise this brand from previous series, and it has stayed popular for good reason.

The sweet pineapple taste and sharper peppery notes blended well with every meal we tested, both via marinating and as a condiment. Meanwhile, the heat is above average but nothing that will have you desperate for a glass of milk. The only drawback is, for the price, the bottle is a little on the small side – especially given how tasty it is, you might get through it fairly quickly. Still, it’s worth trying for the moreish flavour alone and deciding thereafter whether to continue purchasing.

Key details – Size: 230g; Fermented: Yes; Heat level: Medium to high

Buy now from Amazon

3. LGM Crispy Chilli in Oil: Best chilli oil hot sauce

Price: £8 for two | Buy now from Amazon

Lao Gan Ma is the original crispy chilli oil and for good reason: the company has mastered what a perfect chilli condiment should be. Whether you’re giving a rice dish an extra spicy kick or drizzling it over peanut buttered toast (yes, it is incredibly good), this chilli oil has come up trumps compared to the alternatives we tested.

Taste-wise, it’s a spicy, savoury and somewhat smoky-tasting oil that is surprisingly addictive, with a hint of Szechuan pepper for that mild numbing effect. It’s pretty salty too, meaning it can also act as simple seasoning. But what keeps you coming back is the crispy, crunching texture that beautifully complements the umami flavours. There are great alternatives, such as the joyful blend of peanut, sesame and chilli by White Mausu, but nothing beats the quality of this original tastemaker.

Key details – Size: 210g (per bottle); Fermented: No; Heat level: Medium to high

Buy now from Amazon

4. Maggi Chilli Sauce: Best ketchup-style hot sauce

Price: £2.19 | Buy now from Red Rickshaw

Deliciously balanced between sweet and spicy, Maggi Chilli Sauce takes the best qualities of ketchup and enhances them. The salty, umami flavour is paired with plenty of Malaysian grown chillies and tastes divine even on its own – no wonder it’s a favoured table condiment in countries such as India.

However, unlike your standard Heinz ketchup, Maggi sauce works perfectly well as a base cooking sauce and marinade, too. What’s more, it’s pretty affordable, so you can stock up without guilt. If you love a tomato-based condiment but still want that spicy kick, we heartily recommend this one.

Key details – Size: 310g; Fermented: No; Heat level: Mild to moderate

Buy now from Red Rickshaw

5. Flying Goose Sriracha Hot Green Chilli: Best Sriracha hot sauce

Price: £6 | Buy now from Amazon

If you love your hot sauce, you’ll know all about the classic red Sriracha by now. It’s everywhere you look, and while it’s a delightful dip, if you’re after something a little bit different, you should consider Sriracha Green. Yes, the novelty green chilli hue is fun, but that’s not the only thing that stands out about it. It’s made using sun-ripened Thai green chillies and other fresh ingredients such as that all-important garlic, giving it a more flavoursome, tangy taste than the original.

Out of all the Sriracha brands, Flying Goose is the standout favourite for taste. This one is at a similar spice level as red Sriracha, but if you wanted a bigger challenge try Flying Goose’s Sriracha Blackout, which registers at a whopping 8,000 Scoville: that’s serious heat.

Key details – Size: 455ml; Fermented: Yes; Heat level: Moderate

Buy now from Amazon

6. Casa Firelli Italian sauce: Best hot sauce for pizza

Price: £2 | Buy now from Ocado

There’s something about the specific flavour profile of this Italian sauce that works really well with pizza crusts. It pairs well with eggs, prawns and pasta too, but the balsamic and apple vinegar tang, as well as the depth of flavour from ingredients such as dried porcini mushrooms and lemon juice, make it a sauce that works best when added to a relatively blank canvas.

More complex flavoured meals probably won’t do this sauce justice. Though it does offer a decent punch of Calabrian chilli heat however you use it. And, for fans of beautiful bottle design, it comes packed in distinct, funnelled glassware. If you’re a full-time pizzaiolo or just a pizza enthusiast (aren’t we all?), this is the hot sauce for you.

Key details – Size: 148ml; Fermented: Yes; Heat level: Moderate

Buy now from Ocado

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