What’s the difference between chili sauce and hot sauce

Green Jalapeno, Bhut Jolokia, Habanero
Green Jalapeno, Bhut Jolokia, Habanero

Hot Sauce, Chili Sauce: What’s the Difference?

Hot sauce, chili sauce: two seemingly interchangeable terms that get dallied about without a second thought among Texan BBQ fanatics and connoisseurs of Asian cuisine. You might be holding a traditional green jalapeno sauce in your hot little hands and itching to slather it on your fish tacos, or you’re cradling a big steaming bowl of Sriracha enriched pho. Before you lather the contents of that sauce bottle liberally over your barbecued wings, take a moment to appreciate the difference.

Feel the Burn, Know the Basics

First and foremost, whether it’s a hot sauce or a chili sauce, it almost definitely contains chili peppers in one form or another. Chili peppers are fruits belonging to the capsicum family and there are many colours and varieties to choose from. Chili peppers can be sweet and fruity, smoky, rich, sharp, or fresh and zingy. Some of the most popular peppers are habanero, jalapeno, piri piri, cayenne, and bhut jolokia (also known as ghost pepper).

The bit of the chili pepper that brings on the burn is called capsaicin, a concentrated substance that enjoys its highest concentration in the seed casing and white fleshy ribs of the fruit. More good news: capsaicin has health-inducing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Capsaicin gets extracted from the fruit along with other flavour elements and added to other carrying agents (such as vinegar) to make a traditional “hot sauce”. Hot sauces are thin in texture and quite liquid. Here are some traditional hot sauces you’ve probably heard of: green hot sauce, red hot sauce (great for Buffalo wings), chipotle hot sauce, and Louisiana hot sauce.

A “chili sauce” uses capsaicin too, and was most likely created using similar processes, but it also contains fleshy bits of the chili pepper in addition to other ingredients. Chili sauces are therefore thicker and richer in texture. Sriracha and Thai sweet chili sauce are great examples of popular chili sauces.


Hotter than Noon

So there’s hot, and then there’s HOT. How are you supposed to know whether to expect a mild and pleasant zing or a sweat-soaked KO? Cheeky brand names like “Ass Kickin’”, “Da Bomb” and “Whoop Ass” should help to give you a clue, but you might be looking for something a bit more scientific. Luckily, there’s a handy index called Scoville heat units. They measure the pungency (i.e. the pure spicy heat rating) of a chili pepper. The higher the rating, the more concentrated the capsaicin, and the more you’re likely to cry or possibly suffer from cardiac arrest. The humble jalapeno rates anywhere between 3,500 and 10,000 Scoville units, whereas the deadly Carolina Reaper will have you on your back in no time with more than 2 million Scoville heat units (it’s currently the hottest pepper in the world). To put things in perspective, a law enforcement grade capsicum spray used on the beat would clock around 500,000 – 1 million.

Pairing: Not Just for Wine Geeks

Dousing your pizza with a generic hot sauce might seem like a good idea at the time, but you can do better. Hot and chili sauces have such unique flavour characteristics, you can pair them with your food just as you’d pair wine and cheese, if you’re that way inclined. Give pizza a pleasant kick by choosing a hot sauce that brings out the dough and cheese flavours, such as Cholula Chili Garlic. You can’t go past Franks Famous Red Hot Buffalo Wings sauce for your barbecue endeavours, either. Meant to be.

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