Lurking behind the cabinet doors of most American homes is a bottle of hot sauce, just waiting to make your lips burn, your eyes water, and your tastebuds scream. Whether you drench your scrambled eggs in a tangy favorite, or you dab chicken wings in tongue melting magma, you’re in good company. According to Statista, the US hot sauce industry is enjoying a ten-year increased sales streak.
The NPD Group reported that hot sauce shipments from food distributors to restaurants have increased by double digits over the past few years, even though more than half of Americans already have a bottle at home. Shows like First We Feast’s Hot Ones are viewed by millions of people, and hundreds of small-batch, high-heat hot sauce companies are flaring up across the country. Why are Americans so obsessed with hot sauce? The question doesn’t have a one-word answer, instead there are numerous factors that are driving Americans to put down the mustard and pick up some hot sauce.
America is a rich blend of cultures and unique cooking traditions that each bring new flavors to the table. It’s no wonder we call it a melting pot. With each generation, the US grows more diverse, and that fact is part of the reason for the explosive growth of hot sauce sales in the country. Denver Knicks, author of Hot Sauce Nation: America’s Burning Obsession, states “In large part, the reason for the hot sauce boom is immigration, [immigrants] have changed our country and also us.” This diversity of cultures and cuisine brought heat to the American palette and led to the rising consumption of hot sauce everywhere. But hot peppers have been in the Americas for centuries. In fact, Christopher Columbus is to blame for the fact we call them “chili peppers,” even though chilis have nothing to do with pepper, according to The Daily Beast.
Another factor that’s making hot sauce a hot commodity is that more people are cooking at home. As people start to experiment in the kitchen, they begin to branch out and try new flavors from different cultures, and that often requires a variety of heat levels, chili types, and hot sauces. It’s important to note that if you eat something that’s too spicy, water will only spread the hot stuff, capsicum, around your mouth. When the heat gets too hot, you should look for something with plenty of sugar, like whole milk, or something acidic, like a margarita, to soothe the burn. Whether you like mild heat, hot lava levels of spicy, or something in between, there’s a hot sauce out there to suit your palate. Between the old classics and the young innovators, one of the biggest reasons hot sauces are flourishing is because there are more brands on the market today than ever before.
The granddaddy of hot sauces, Tabasco was first brewed and bottled in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny on Avery Island, Louisiana. As a true Louisiana spice enthusiast, he hoped to add flavor and excitement to the bland, boring diet of the Reconstruction South. McIlhenny received capsicum frutescens peppers, sowed them on Avery Island, and measured their color with a little red stick, “le petite bâton rouge,” to ensure the peppers were picked at their peak ripeness. He then mashed the peppers, mixed them with vinegar and other spices, bottled them in small cologne-style bottles, and sold them along the United States’ southern coast.
Today, McIlhenny’s descendants still own Tabasco and continue to live on Avery Island. The same fields he sowed the first pepper seeds, still grow the peppers for his famous hot sauce, and the fieldhands measure ripeness with “le petite bâton rouge.” Now, McIlhenny’s iconic hot sauce is spicing up food in every corner of the globe. With a focus on tradition, this 152-year-old company is also making massive strides towards sustainability. As they say, “throughout our history here, the land has been good to us, and in turn we are committed to being good to the land.” Since 2010, Tabasco has reduced their water usage by 11%, improved recycling by 88%, and stay committed to constant advancement towards sustainability.
The West Coast’s favorite hot sauce, Tapatio, was started by Mr. Jose-Luis Saavedra, Sr. in 1971. Saavedra worked a day job to make ends meet, but at night he stayed up late in his 750 square-foot workspace creating Tapatio Hot Sauce. This rich sauce is more chili based than Tabasco and slightly less spicy, but its unique blend of peppers delivers a fresh, spicy kick to almost any food. “Tapatio” is the name for someone from downtown Guadalajara, Mexico, the same place Saavedra and his family emigrated from. Tapatio Hot Sauce, or Salsa Picante, is now produced in a 30,000 square-foot, custom-built factory in southern California, and it is still owned and operated by Saavedra’s family who will never forget the company’s humble beginnings.
Frank’s Red Hot
In 1918 Adam Estilette and Jacob Frank partnered up to concoct a balanced hot sauce using a blend of cayenne peppers. Two years later, they sealed their first bottle of Frank’s Red Hot in New Iberia, Louisiana. The sauce quickly became a favorite among their dedicated customers, but Frank’s Red Hot gained national recognition when Anchor Bar & Grill in Buffalo, NY used their sauce in the first ever batch of Buffalo wings. Since then, Frank’s Red Hot has been the go-to for many American’s looking for a savory, spicy sauce to take their food up a few notches. Frank’s is a favorite of the Midwest, but after 100 years of business, there are Frank’s fans across the country.
David Tran left communist Vietnam on a Taiwanese freighter for the United States in 1979. The boat, named Huey Fong brought Tran to Los Angeles, California, and later served as the inspiration for his hot sauce company Huy Fong Foods, Inc. After being taken in as a refuge, Tran began concocting and bottling Sriracha hot sauce to sell to L.A.’s local asian restaurants, and sometimes he drove his little blue Chevy van as far as San Diego. Now Tran operates out of a 650,000 square foot facility, and his iconic Sriracha sauce is a staple in American households. The new warehouse was designed with total efficiency in mind, and Huy Fong Food Inc.’s new facility saves over 1.4 million Kwh of electricity every year.
HOT YOUNG THINGS
Red Clay Hot Sauce
Chef Geoff Rhyne grew up in the fields of Georgia with his Granddaddy Jack and Grandma Mary. It was in Georgia’s red clay, that Rhyne’s respect for hard work and fresh food took root. This work ethic and passion led him to create his signature sauce while working in a Charleston, South Carolina oyster bar. The sauce emphasized flavor not flame, and it was so popular, that his patrons would steal it right off the plate. In 2020, Chef Rhyne’s sauce will be cold-pressed, fermented, and bottled in a tiny South Carolina town with ingredients from nearby farmers in a no-waste facility. Red Clay distributes across the country, so you don’t have to steal his Red Clay Hot Sauce to enjoy it at home. Red Clay now offers 8 varieties of hot sauce flavors and uses 100% Georgian wildflower honey in their new line of sweet and spicy hot honeys. CEO Molly Feinning shared, “We’re the only 100% raw hot honey on the market, and hot honey is an exciting, delicious and fast-growing food category.” With their restaurant customers closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Red Clay gifted bottles of their legendary hot sauce to moms nationwide as a way to serve their community on Mother’s Day.
Marcus McCauley is a Colorado farmer and chef that wants to bring life back to food through natural fermentation. This led him to create his Picaflor Live-Culture hot sauce with peppers grown organically on the family farm and fermented, so the sauce has a vibrant, living heat. The fermentation process is similar to the one used for kimchi, and this sauce feels like it’s fighting back because it’s alive and kicking with good probiotics that improve gut health and support a healthy immune system. By watering crops with snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains and making chili flakes with leftovers from hot sauce production, McCauley shows his dedication to sustainable farming and food production. Picaflor Live-Culture is holistically grown and packs a whole lot of flavor, so you can feel the burn of this living hot sauce.
Yellowbird Hot Sauce
Homegrown in Austin, Texas, Yellowbird Hot Sauce uses only the 00% organic ingredients and the freshest fruits and veggies in their five flavors of hot sauce and clean condiments. With unique flavor profiles from the sweet and spicy Blue Agave Sriracha to the smoky, mouth melting Ghost Pepper sauce, Yellowbird is unrelenting in their dedication to quality and flavor above everything else. It’s no surprise that hot sauce connoisseurs are taking notice–Sean Evans, host of First We Feast’s Hot Ones, placed their Habeñero hot sauce in his top 5 favorite sauces. Yellowbird’s spicy condiments will turn up the heat of almost any dish, and their squeeze bottles will have you drenching your food in fiery flavor.
Nestled in the North Carolina town of Pittsboro, Fiddlehead Farms is an award-winning micro-jammery that is diving into the world of hot sauce. Fiddlehead Farms was started in 2007 with the desire to feed their own family well and treat the earth with respect. That means they work with farmers they know, handcraft in small batches, and even grow all of the peppers they use in their hot sauces themselves. With ghost peppers, trinidad scorpions, and carolina reapers in their Extremely Fire Sauce, that’s a lot of peppers sustainably grown on their own farm. Fiddlehead Farms hot sauces’ have no fillers or artificial ingredients, just peppers, salt, and vinegar, so the unique, searing flavors shine through.
Homesweet Homegrown Hot Sauce
In 2012, Robyn Jasko accidentally planted too many hot peppers in her test garden, and when she came back from her cross-country book tour, she found hundreds of pounds of peppers just waiting to become hot sauce. This wonderful mistake led to the creation of Homesweet Homegrown Hot Sauces and their spicy variety of natural, vegan, non-GMO, hot sauces. With a range of heat and flavors for every pallet, they grow all their own peppers on their farm in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and each bottle sold helps convert nearby GMO-cornfields back into organic pepper fields. Starting in September of 2020, Homesweet Homegrown Hot Sauce is shipping boxes of their peppers across the country in a hot take on the traditional Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) system, so now you can enjoy their sauce and the fruits of their labors in your own home.