National Hot Sauce Day – comparing hot sauces

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There are thousands of varieties of hot sauce
There are thousands of varieties of hot sauce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I became a fan of hot sauce late in life and am still a complete lightweight. But I got introduced a few years ago when I read a fascinating book called The Raw and the Cooked, by and about gourmand author Jim Harrison, who carried his own bottles of hot sauce with him everywhere he went.

I loved the book so much—and was so impressed with his passion for food and his ability to express it—I thought I’d try imitating the guy’s habit. Tried using some of his favorite, the original Cholula brand, at a Mexican restaurant and wasn’t thrilled. I figured maybe I’d like a different flavor, so I bought a bottle of Cholula chipotle-flavored hot sauce. It’s still sitting half-used on my shelf after several years. Just didn’t like the flavor or the way it so markedly changed the taste of my dish.
Then I learned from a Bon Appetit recipe for Bloody Marys about another type of hot sauce known as sriracha. Found it at the store, liked what I tasted. Looked for more ideas for using it—found dozens posted online by heavy duty fans of the stuff. And then I tried a recipe that has made this bright red sauce that comes in a Christmas-green-nozzle-top bottle a staple in my kitchen.

Here’s the recipe: Buy some sriracha. Put some sour cream in a dish. Start stirring in sriracha until the cream turns a lovely light orange-ish color—the darker the color, the spicier the dip. Now dip something in it—sliced cucumbers, steamed green beans or cauliflower, celery sticks, Doritos, potato chips, almost anything your heart desires. If you like spicy, there’s no way you won’t agree this is a heavenly way to dip. I’ve since switched to using 2% Greek yogurt for the sour cream and now feel quite virtuous that I’m taking in protein, calcium and “live yogurt cultures” at the same time I’m chowing down joyfully for my tastebuds. Mix with salsa for a nice switch. Use it on sandwiches or dip plain chicken in it. In case you prefer more sophisticated uses, here are some other popular ways to use sriracha.

 Now, the news is I’ve found another one I like a lot. It’s called Tabanero hot sauce (the name is a combination of habanero, as in peppers, and Tabasco, the little spot in Mexico that grows peppers so well). But this is definitely NOT your grandmother’s Tabasco sauce. Its recipe sounds more like a real sauce—with carrots and onions, key lime juice, agave nectar, as well as habanero peppers, garlic salt, grapefruit seed extract and salt—labeled as all natural ingredients. I tried the medium-to-hot variety and it wasn’t too spicy for me. I was actually dipping my finger in it and tasting it all by itself. It has a clean, fresh taste and tastes like food.
And guess what? There’s no vinegar in it. I’ve just conducted a completely unscientific taste test with Tabanero, Cholula and sriracha. I now realize that part of why I don’t like the Cholula is the heavy vinegary taste—even though I like the taste of vinegar on its own. And lo and behold, the ingredients in Tabasco, too, are precisely: vinegar, red peppers and salt. Sriracha does have some vinegar, but it’s listed as the fifth ingredient and doesn’t overwhelm the chili flavor.
Okay, there is room in my heart and in my kitchen for two favorite hot sauces. I will probably never buy another bottle of Cholula (though it comes in many flavors and is very popular with Mexican food) or Tabasco (sorry, guys). Tabanero will be my new go-to sauce for Bloody Marys, but it might also get a turn in the yogurt dip once in a while. I’ll probably alternate Tabanero and sriracha for spicing up regular dishes that need a kick.
You can find sriracha hot chili sauce in most grocery stores and even in Targets with grocery areas. Get your bottle of Tabanero hot sauce ASAP—at this moment there are no retail outlets in Chicago (did you know there are such things as specialty hot sauce stores??), but you can order online. Then spice it up for National Hot Sauce Day–and keep your mouth and heart warmed up the rest of the year.

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