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What is Pepper Sauce?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pepper sauce, also called hot sauce or chili sauce, is any variety of spicy sauce made with chili peppers. Pepper sauce is common in many chili-growing countries throughout the world. Hot sauce varieties are usually classified by the peppers used and the amount of heat in the sauce, determined by the Scoville Scale.

In North America, pepper sauces vary by region. Mexican hot sauces tend to be less hot and more flavorful than other varieties, often using smoky chipotle peppers as a base. Louisiana-style pepper sauce is usually much hotter, frequently using cayenne or tabasco peppers as the base. Throughout the West Indies, a variety of versions exist, most using the Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper to add heat to the sauce. These flavorful varieties often include unusual ingredients, such as tropical fruit, cloves and limes.

Asian hot sauce is usually used as a dipping sauce or an added ingredient in stir-fry, as opposed to the North American varieties’ prevalence as a condiment. While some varieties, such as the Chinese Duo Jiao, are extremely hot, many Asian pepper sauces tend towards sweetness as opposed to heat. In California, traditional Vietnamese pepper sauce has become a popular topping for french fries. Japanese hot sauces are often blended into soups and noodle dishes, or used as a dipping sauce for dumplings like gyoza.

The reason peppers and pepper sauce tastes hot is because of a chemical component called capsaicin. This naturally-produced chemical is mildly irritating to humans, causing a burning feeling or sensation of heat in the mouth when ingested. The measure of piquancy in a variety of pepper is taken by a method called the Scoville scale.

The scale, and its resulting Scoville heat units, measures heat by determining at what level the heat of a pepper is no longer detectable. By diluting pepper extract with sweetened water until the capsaicin reaction no longer occurs, the Scoville scale creates a rating of how hot the pepper is. Anaheim chilies are rated between 500-2500 units, making them one of the milder chilies, whereas the Naga Jolokia pepper of India is believed to be the hottest pepper in the world, with a rating of 855,000–1,041,427 units.

To make your own hot sauce, chop fresh peppers or rehydrate dried ones and blend with vinegar, garlic, salt and whatever extra ingredients you prefer. Some recipes tell you to simmer the mixture to make a reduction, others recommend just pouring the blended or food processed ingredients into a sterilized glass jar, covering and refrigerating. Take care preparing fresh peppers, as the chemicals in them can cause burning sensations on the skin, and particularly in the eyes. You may wish to wear clean kitchen gloves when handling peppers.

Pepper sauce makes an excellent dipping sauce for appetizers or vegetables. It is traditionally served with Southwestern and Central American cuisine as a condiment. If you are making a stir-fry or noodle dish, try adding a few spoonfuls of chili during the cooking. If you have a very thin liquid sauce, which can be sold as pepper oil, try adding a few drops to popcorn. Using pepper sauce gives a delicious kick to any meal, and as you experiment you will discover your own preferences for heat level, concentration and favorite pepper sauce dishes.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for DelightedCooking. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By submariner — On Jan 06, 2011

@ Comparables- One of the best wing sauces I have ever had is called purple haze. It is a blueberry and Scotch Bonnet sauce that is hellishly hot. The sauce was sweet and smoky, followed by an intense heat. The hot makes you want to put the wings down, but the sweet makes you keep eating.

On another note, one of my favorite dipping sauces is a sweet pepper sauce made with fresh ginger, fresh peppers, and a sweet base. To make the sauce, I simply peel and mince a finger or two of ginger, chop two cloves of garlic, and chop ten red Serrano peppers seeds and all. I then add these ingredients to a food processor and blend with a cup of water, a cup of sugar, a half cup of white vinegar, and a punch of sea salt. Once the red pepper sauce is blended, I pour it in a saucepan, and simmer for a few minutes. Once the sauce is simmered, I thicken the sauce with pre-gelatinized starch until it is the consistency that I am looking for. This sauce is great on chicken, salmon, swordfish, or tuna.

By Comparables — On Jan 04, 2011

If you are trying to make a good hot sauce, I have one that is sweet, hot, and tart. This Habanero pepper sauce blends peaches (blueberries or papaya also work very well), habaneros with seeds, grated ginger, molasses, allspice, cumin, coriander, and brown sugar. The customary white vinegar is added to the sauce to give it that tangy taste. Get your ingredients together in the ratios that suit your taste, and blend until smooth. Simmer your blended sauce for about 10 minutes to meld the flavors. Strain through cheesecloth, and cool. You will have a hot sauce that impresses.

The first flavors to cross your tongue will be the tangy sweetness of the fruit and vinegar followed by a bite that comes on strong and heavy. This is a great sauce to use for fish, sandwiches, chicken, and any other mild meat.

By chong40 — On Jun 14, 2009

I'm looking for the right recipe to make my own hot chili sauce. Any ideas?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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