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Ask Dr. Gourmet

What is 'hot sauce'?

I am from New Zealand and I am not sure what "Hot Sauce" is. Can you give me some idea what is in it or some brands that may be available in our specialty shops? I would love to try the recipes containing it.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

a bottle of hot sauce on its side with sauce spilling out of it

In Dr. Gourmet recipes I use the generic term "Hot Sauce" because we try to avoid using brand names whenever we can. The most popular hot sauce in America is Tabasco®, a product made here in Louisiana. There are a number of alternative names for hot sauce, including "chili sauce" and "cayenne pepper sauce." There are hundreds of sauces made around the world, with the fundamental ingredient being cayenne (or other red) pepper.

The type that you use is entirely dependent on your ability to stand the heat in the kitchen (so to speak).

The heat of hot sauce and chilis is measured in Scoville units, a scale that was invented by Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912. His based this on the number of parts of sugar water that it would take to dilute the extract of chilies to the point that there is a barely detectable burn. While this seems a bit obsessive for my taste, pretty much anything over 5,000 scoville units is hot (let alone the sauces that advertise themselves as being 10, 20 or 100 times that hot).

As I mentioned, Dr. Gourmet recipes most often use Tabasco because this is the most widely available sauce in the U.S.. Tabasco sauce is rated at 5,000 S.U., equivalent to the heat of a habanero chili.

One website that I know of offers over a thousand different types:

And here's a chili sauce made in New Zealand called Kaitaia Fire.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet