Our love of chilli peppers is in equal parts ridiculous and sublime. We’re the only animal to eat this literally pain-inducing food, but we’ve been at it for thousands of years – from the ancient Inca who regarded it as holy, to today’s competitive eaters who devour it for sport (and our entertainment).
Whether as an ingredient or a dip, chili sauces are central to several cuisines. What would Mexican food be without chipotle? Who can imagine Thai food without sriracha? British cuisine, too, is feeling the burn, as new producers experiment with innovative recipes and selectively bred chili varieties.
The health benefits are not to be sniffed at either. In many cases, it can improves digestive health and metabolism, vanquish migraines, fight off colds, and may even help you live longer. There’s method in the masochism.
Considering this world of options, which sauce should you buy? To help you make that choice, we’ve tested sauces with wildly differing tastes and heat levels, from mild and fruity to the sort of sauce that will turn you into a live-action version of the fire emoji.
Pour yourself a glass of heat-numbing milk, and let’s begin…
Dorset Chilli Shop – Antidote Slow Cooked Red Pepper, Reaper and Scorpion Chilli Sauce
Best for: more than just a sweaty face
Heat rating: 9/10
This perversely moreish sauce is a great choice to cook with – provided you can persuade your dinner guests to sign a waiver first.
We say this because Antidote contains the world’s hottest pepper, the California Reaper, which packs about 400 times as much punch as the humble jalapeño. This fierce pepper makes up 4.2 per cent of the sauce, while scorpion chili contributes another 2.4 per cent. No wonder several of our testers remarked on a lingering burn to the back of the throat, and even a touch of faintness. This one is definitely not for wallflowers.
That said, most of what’s in the bottle is made up of red pepper, onion, cider vinegar and spices, which combine to create a rich taste that would make a fine addition to a stew or chilli con carne.
Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings sauce
Best for: slathering chicken - wings, thighs and burgers
Heat rating: 7/10
From the Niagara Falls border town of Buffalo, NY, the eponymous sauce is one of our favourite condiments of all time, and Frank’s has the finest version. Dancing with low-heat cayenne, the sauce is endlessly versatile, with flavour coming from an even balance of the aforementioned peppers as well as vinegar, salt, garlic and paprika. It’s finger-sucking delicious, which is probably why it does so well on wings, and makes an unforgettable addition to a humble fried chicken burger.
Frank’s makes two versions and while the original (£1.49) is a perfectly good use of fridge space, the thicker-bodied Wings edition is undoutedly the star attraction here. If you spy it on offer, stock up - you can never have too much of this stellar sauce.
Cholula hot sauce original
Best for: everything, even cereal
Heat rating: 3/10
Another Mexican fave, this hot sauce is prolific both in its origin country and on our fair shores here in the UK. Made with arbol and piquin peppers, the citrusy heat works well to bring out the flavours of myriad dishes, from weeknight spag bol to BBQ bites hot off the grill.
The mild flavour has won it legions of fans who would fight for the last drops, and there are wonderful sister varieties to try in addition to the original. If you've had this and want a taste of something different, we recommend the Lime - a fabulous partner to chilli.
Sauce Shop Habanero Hot Sauce
Best for: the reckless
Heat rating: 9/10
Yikes! You would do well to exercise caution and care with Sauce Shop’s fearsome Habanero Hot Sauce, which is packed with enough of the pepper’s spicy notes to keep your tastebuds tingling for hours on end. Originally from the Amazon and widely used in Mexican cuisine, habanero peppers are loved for their intense heat as well as floral fruitness, but the latter is subdued here thanks to a three month aging process to ramp up the heat. Drip this (carefully!) into soups, stews and stir-fries to enjoy it best.
Valentina Salsa Picante Hot Sauce
Best for: drizzling over fajitas and tacos
Heat rating: 8/10
Made in Guadalajara, you’ll find this glass bottle of hot sauce in taquerias all over Mexico; it’s one of the most-reached for sauces in the country. Die-hard fans have brought back tales of its rich flavour to the UK’s shores, and you’ll find it in niche specialist stores like MexGrocer. There’s a regular variety, but we like the taste of the black label Salsa Picante, a couple of levels up in heat and made with dried arbol chilli peppers.
A first sniff reveals an earthy smokiness that translates to heat on the tongue; it’s hot but not uncomfortably so, the smoke subsiding to an afternote of lemon. We tried it over nachos, where mixed with guac, sour cream and cheese, it blossoms beautifully.
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Prairie Fire Caribbean Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce 150ml
Best for: pouring over Jerk chicken
Heat raing: 7/10
The taste of the Caribbean in a bottle, Prairie Fire’s hot sauce is a revelation to anyone who may have shied away from the intense Scotch Bonnet in the past. It’s here in a generous amount but balanced with an addictive fruity sweetness that will have you reaching for the slim glass bottle the second the heat subsides. It reminded us of Encona’s original hot pepper sauce (£1.55) but a much more pleasant version, and still edible even if you’ve accidentally overpilled the rich red sauce. Naturally, it pairs superbly with Jerk chicken, but we’d use it on grilled corn and rice dishes too.
Tabasco Mild Green Pepper Sauce 57ml
Best for: everyday, every-meal heat
Heat raing: 3/10
A great hot sauce doesn’t have to have your tears streaming down your cheeks to be considered one of the greats. A milder flavour can be more complex, like Tabasco’s mild green pepper sauce. An ES Best favourite, the emerald-green jalapeno is the star of the show here, and the gentle pepper enhances everything from pizza and pasta to a grilled cheese with such aplomb we’ve been known to decant it so we can take it with us everywhere. There’s a lemony kick which combined with the vinegary tones, makes it a cheerleader for flavour whatever’s on your plate.
Casa Firelli Hot Sauce
Best for: the fearful
Heat rating: 2/10
Despite having ‘fire’ in its name (and a man with his head aflame as a logo), this sauce is more about gentle smoky heat rather than a raging inferno. While many hot sauces hail from exotic corners of the world, this one was produced in Parma, Italy - which may go some way to explaining the dialled down spice element. Think of a barbecue sauce with gentle kick, and you’re on the right track.
For seasoned pros, the Calabrian chillies may not register, but the rich smokey notes will do well on jacket potatoes and Bloody Mary’s, or on pizza, for which it was designed. Add it to the condiment tray at your next BBQ.
Bull's-Eye Red Hot Chilli Sauce
Best for: American style BBQ
Heat rating: 5/10
Tested on a Southwestern chicken burger, this smokey sauce from Bull's-Eye is actually a barbecue sauce so concentrated with gorgeous chilli flavour you can treat it like a hot sauce and no one will be the wiser, although we doubt the bottle will remain full for long.
Wallops of smokey scotch bonnet are balanced against hints of onion and just a touch of ginger—we caught several testers finger-scraping the last traces from their plates.
If you're a vegetarian try a few dashes on grilled corn—you'll never go back.
The Smokey Carter – Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce
Best for: sweet and spicy wings
Heat rating: 6/10
Our testers rated this glorious scotch bonnet sauce from Mancunian maker The Smokey Carter as the best-tasting of the bunch.
It works especially well as a marinade for meat or veg, with a honey-sweet, tropical favour that gives way to a slightly bitter aftertaste and a lasting heat that veritably needles away at the tongue.
The scotch bonnet is surely one of the world’s tastiest peppers – and The Smokey Carter has done it proud.
On a somewhat milder note, we highly recommend trying The Smokey Carter’s Two Carolina BBQ Sauce too – it’s utterly divine.
Tan Rosie’s Garlic & Pepper Sauce (Hot)
Best for: Caribbean heat
Heat rating: 8/10
The most memorable (scarring?) characteristic of Tan Rosie’s Garlic & Pepper Sauce is its severe and long-lasting burn. It was without a doubt one of the hottest hot sauces we tasted, making it a must-taste for heat freaks.
At this end of the spice scale, it gets a little harder to isolate flavours amidst the ferocious heat, though we could just about discern a sour, metallic, garlicky taste that would work a charm on Sports Bar-style wings. Tan Rosie’s garlic and pepper sauce gets its considerable kick from the scotch bonnet pepper – so named for its resemblance to the tam o’ shanter hat.
Bonnie Sauce Co. Smoky Chipotle 275ml
âBest for: chip ’n’ dip marathons
Heat rating: 4/10
Bonnie Sauce Co. have made a chipotle sauce to cherish here, with a delightful and distinctive flavour in which vinegar and smoked jalapeño stand to the fore. It has a similar colour and consistency to burger sauce, and could well be used in its place (though the two have very different flavours).
We found this sauce to have a really pleasant amount of kick; hot enough to pack a punch, but mild enough to be eaten in considerable quantities. Good job, because you’ll want to eat this by the dessert spoonful.
Sauce Shop Sriracha
Best for: brightening up breakfast, lunch and dinner
Heat rating: 4/10
Sauce Shop’s excellent take on a classic hot sauce may not be as innovative as some of our other contenders, but it is nonetheless well worth a berth in your kitchen cupboard. It has a pleasant, slightly sticky, ketchup-like texture, which helps it stay concentrated and potent, whatever you’re eating it with.
One taste and you’ll get the feeling you’re about to enjoy a delicious Thai meal – as well you may be. That being said, it also works a treat on salami pizza, and is a nothing-short-of-revelatory addition to scrambled eggs on toast.
Sriracha is one of the world’s best-loved hot sauces for good reason – and The Sauce Shop have done it proud.
Dave’s Gourmet Ghost Pepper Naga Jolokia Hot Sauce
Best for: sheer heat (and probably also for stripping paint)
Heat rating: 10/10
The hottest of hot sauces containing a frankly shocking concentration of ghost pepper and hot pepper extract. “My legs feel like jelly,” said one tester; “PAIN!” whimpered another; and that about sums it up. Dave’s Gourmet has created a sauce of profound and harrowing spiciness. If you love hot chilli, you’ll adore it.
In terms of flavour, this sauce doesn’t measure up to somewhat milder options like the Dorset Chilli Shop’s Antidote or The Smokey Carter’s scotch bonnet sauce. However, if you’re cooking a meal that’s already packed with tasty ingredients and you are hell-bent on adding some extreme heat, look no further.
Original Juan Pain is Good Jamaican Style
Best for: mouth-watering marinades
Heat rating: 8/10
Phwoar. It’s probably in the name. Original Juan’s Jamaican Style hot sauce is a seriously spicy condiment that harnesses the power of the habanero pepper to set masochistic mouths on fire. It’ll keep your taste buds alight too, with a lovely pineapple flavour that cuts through the heat beautifully.
This was comfortably one of the most enjoyable hot sauces we tested, offering a masterful combination of heat and flavour that will appeal particularly to lovers of Caribbean cuisine. We recommend using it to make a mouth-watering marinade.
Combining mouth-watering taste with formidable heat, the Dorset Chilli Shop’s Antidote is our clear winner (though thrill-seekers should note that it’s not quite as hot as Dave’s Ghost Pepper Naga Jolokia sauce).