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11 essential hot sauces around the world

Kevin Farrell

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Math and love may get top billing when it comes to the great unifiers that steamroll right over differing languages, cultures and borders. But trailing behind at a not too distant third is that other pillar of the human experience: hot sauce.

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It doesn’t matter whether you hail from a country that speaks Spanish or Setswana, chances are, there’s a local beloved hot sauce in town. From the American South to Southeast Asia, here’s how hot sauce is done:

North America

Louisiana-Style Hot Sauce

Most American hot sauce traces its fiery roots back to a confluence of threads coming together in the Mexican-American War. The Spanish, no strangers to a little spice in their foods, had first brought peppers and tomatoes to the American colonies in the 1700s, where both crops found hospitable soil and climates in the South. But it wasn’t until the war with Mexico that many soldiers discovered the omnipresent tabasco pepper, which Mexicans had been utilizing in meals for countless generations. Tabasco peppers returned alongside soldiers to the states, where they exploded in popularity in Louisiana. From the Port of New Orleans, the peppers – and hot sauces being prepared with them – were shipped from the Caribbean all the way to Europe and Africa.

Though Louisiana-style hot sauce (which started with Tabasco) is credited with kicking off the craze, variations from Texas to the Carolinas eventually emerged. And while as recently as 2015 Tabasco sales accounted for 18% of the U.S. hot sauce market, there are quite literally hundreds of different varieties made from countless hot peppers on sale today.

Latin America

Aji (Peru)

Historians have traced chili peppers in South America back more than 6,000 years. Blessed with the highest hot pepper biodiversity of all continents, many of the peppers now cultivated throughout the world trace their roots back to Bolivia and Peru (and Mexico before that).

Peruvian aji amarillo peppers are famous the world over for their bright yellow color, and most famously appear in aji – a creamy yellow-green sauce that you’ve probably slathered all over your roasted bird and yucca if you’ve ever been to a Peruvian chicken joint. In addition to the aji amarillos, the sauce actually gets much of its trademark flavor from green chilies.

Salsa (Mexico)

The chili pepper Mecca of Latin America (and arguably the world) has to be Mexico. The mind-boggling variety of salsas found in Mexican cuisine is expansive enough to warrant many articles, so we're going to have limit ourselves.

Virtually any tortilla-wrapped meal you eat will come with anywhere between one and several types of salsas, most typically at least a red and a green, made from any number of chilies and ingredients like tomatoes, tomatillos and avocados, as well as aromatics like garlic and onion. Various bottled hot sauces also appear throughout the country – most famously Valentina and Cholula, which are similar to Louisiana-style hot sauces.

Caribbean

Scotch Bonnet

The Caribbean is probably most famous for one spice mixture: jerk. The ubiquitous marinade is the only thing many people even know about Caribbean food, and the pepper that gives jerk its signature kick is scotch bonnet. This orange pepper is related to the habanero, and like its more famous cousin, has a scorching bite, but it has a decidedly sweeter flavor. Perhaps even more common than jerk, bright orange scotch bonnet sauce is used to add spice to just about anything on islands across the Caribbean.

Asia

Sriracha (Thailand)

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I’m Mexican and I love food and I’m obsessed with sauces. Any type, any kind, spicy or not! �� And one of the things that I love most about knowing how to cook is that I can prepare my own SAUCES! Do you like to cook? Do believe in the power of a good sauce as much as I do? Go to my blog for this recipe. �������� yo soy mexicana y me fascina comer y estoy enamorada locamente de todas las salsas. De hecho, una de las cosas que más me gusta es saber cocinar es que puedo preparar la salsa que quiera en casa. Con ingredientes limpios sanos y sin conservadores ni nada que me haga daño. correrle a mi página para que veas la receta de estas salsa Sriracha! #sriracha #homemadecooking#homemadesauce . . . . . #basadoenplantas #plantpowered #plantbased #plantpower #houstonblogger #vegano #vegetarian #veganrecipes #thefeedfeedvegan #bareaders #foodandwine#bilingualblog#vegano#recetasveganas#recetasveganas

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Tell someone native to Thailand that the chili peppers so synonymous with their cuisine and culture were actually imported from South America and they may find it hard to believe you. Nevertheless, Asia’s chilies – or chiles or chillis, depending on where you grew up – indeed trace their history back to The Columbian Exchange, the global transfer of culture, cuisine, agriculture, disease, wealth and trade that kicked off when Christopher Columbus landed in the West in the 15th century.

In the good ol’ U.S. of A., Sriracha is probably the most common of all Asian hot sauces. And while it has roots in Thailand, where a slightly runnier but equally delicious variety is widely used – the Huy Fong red bottle with the rooster that conquered the world over is actually a product of America., even if the company's founder traces his roots back to Vietnam. Still, there are endless other Thai companies producing their own version of the spicy stuff today.

Nam Phrik (Thailand)

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Nam Phik Tuna- a chili based, hot sauce typical of Thai cuisine.Main ingredients are chili, garlic, shallot, lime juice and some kind of fish, I made it with Tuna. For serving, garnish with coriander and mint. Best dip for veggies. Nam Phrik Tuna - La sauce piquante à base de piment. La sauce typique de la cuisine thaïlandaise. Les ingredients de base sont les suivants: piments, ails, jus de citron, échalotes et quelques poissons parsemés de menthe et de coriandre. งานน้ำพริกทูน่า ง่ายๆแต่ฟินน เติมข้าวอีก ��#ครัวธัญญ่าเอะอะทำอาหาร #น้ำพริก #น้ำพริกทูน่า #namphrik #lacuisinedetanya #thairecipes #thaifood #dipforveggies #chilisauce #thaicuisine #foodgram #foodphotography #foodporn #foodaholic #foodaddict #instrafood #genevoise #geneva #genève #whatieatathome #healthybutyummy #homemadefood

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Sriracha aside, in Thailand you’re more likely to find Nam Phrik on the table. This chunky, often fermented and usually fiery red or green mixture – which literally means “chili water” – can be found on tables all over the country. Like Mexican salsas, flavor and heat vary wildly, so proceed with caution. Baby steps are your friend here.

Gochujang (Korea)

Korean cuisine has quietly taken the world by storm (thanks, Korean BBQ and David Chang), and gochujang has gone from an under-the-radar house of pain to a household name for many chili enthusiasts.

Consider it the sriracha of Korea; this hot sauce has as much depth of flavor as just about any other, thanks to the use of pungent, funky, fermented soybeans. The spicy, sweet, funky, umami mixture is a true rarity among hot sauces.

Africa/Middle East

Harissa

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Kevin Farrell

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