We all have that one friend in the group who is the Beyoncé. No, not that they’re an international pop phenomenon and fashion icon, but like Queen Bey, they carry hot sauce in their bag. They love hot sauce to the point of obsession. Even when you make them a finely seasoned dinner, complete with bourbon smoked paprika and white truffle salt, they have the audacity to ask for some gourmet hot sauce. You sigh and begrudgingly hand over a bottle of sriracha from the fridge. Some just like it hot.
Scientists are at a loss as to why some people enjoy hot sauce so much. Capsaisin, the chemical behind hotness, actually makes your brain think your tongue is on fire. On fire. This penchant for pain is nothing new… there’s evidence that people have been growing hot peppers for millennia. And it’s definitely on trend in America. It’s estimated that over half of American households have a minimum of one bottle of hot sauce, and production has been growing by double digits annually over the last couple years.
So it’s time to hit the sauce. At Mouth, we’ve tasted hundreds of homemade hot sauces—with glasses of milk at the ready to ease the burn—in an effort to curate the best gourmet hot sauce gift set. Take a ride on the Scoville scale (the scale created by American pharmacist and pepper enthusiast Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to measure hotness), from hottest to mildest, with our best hot sauces in America. Small-batch America, that is.
#1 on our Scoville Scale: Hamajang Ghost Pepper Gourmet Hot Sauce
Fun fact: In 2007, Guinness World Records certified the ghost pepper as the world’s hottest chilli pepper. It measures a casual 1 million Scoville units. To convert that into something more tangible, imagine something 400 times hotter than Tabasco.
While the ghost pepper has since been overthrown by the Carolina Reaper (1.5 million Scovilles!), it’s still insanely hot. Adoboloco’s Tim Parsons makes this homemade hot sauce from 60% ghost peppers, supplemented by 40% fresh habaneros. Apple cider vinegar is the liquid that draws out the capsaisin heat. It’s deceivingly mild at first (from the habaneros), but an intense and lingering burn soon takes over and sticks around long after you’ve swallowed. (That’s the ghost pepper creeping up on you.) Proceed with caution.
Tim and his wife Summer still grow the majority of their peppers in Maui, partnering with a couple neighboring farms. Their sauces are made in small batches, 6 gallons and up to 224 gallons, dependent on the year’s harvest.
#2 on our Scoville Scale: Habanero + Aji Pepper Gourmet Hot Sauce
Before the discovery of the ghost pepper, habanero was king. Coming in at a half million Scovilles, it’s not for the faint of heart. Use of the pepper traces back to the Mayan and Aztec civilizations of Central America, where they used the peppers in traditional mole sauce. There is also evidence to suggest that the Mayans hung the pepper from the ridges of canoes… to repel sharks. Since humans are the only animal known to willingly eat chiles (well, except for a rare Chinese tree shrew), habaneros are a natural repellant.
And it would be hard to repel us from this gourmet hot sauce by San Antonio’s Humble House! The base is a pepper paste concentrate of habanero and aji amarillo, but unlike Abodoloco, the peppers are cut with sweetness from golden raisins, dried mango and dried papaya. It makes for a rich, Latin-inspired flavor journey. Perfect for taco Tuesday, taco Wednesday, taco Thursday...
#3 on our Scoville Scale: Green Chile Hot Sauce
This is first small-batch homemade hot sauce in our roundup that combines pepper heat with real fire heat. Denver’s The Real Dill originally created this gourmet hot sauce by accident when they had leftover Pueblo green chiles and jalapeños from their primary business of pickling. And though the sauce features those chiles (which are far milder than the ghost pepper or the habanero), somehow the spice level is nearly the same as Humble House’s sauce. It starts out with rich, roasted, smoky flavor, but it quickly transforms into a tingling sensation that stays with you.
What really makes this hot sauce standout among other brews is the liquid base of Baere-liner Weisse German sour beer, also sourced in Denver. That explains the funky, slightly malty flavor that rides with the spice. Bottoms up!
#4 on our Scoville Scale: Original Organic Sriracha
Although it only comes in at a measly 1,500 on the Scoville scale, we would be extremely remiss not to include the nearly ubiquitous sriracha. The bottle, with a green spout and emblazoned with a rooster that is more reminiscent of Daenarys Targaryen’s dragons, can be found in most any supermarket now. There are sriracha uncured bacon, sriracha beef jerky, sriracha Lay’s potato chips, sriracha candy canes… the list of weird sriracha products is endless.
Like many of our products, sriracha first started in small batches in a tiny home kitchen, the kitchen of Ms. Thanom Chakkapak in Si Racha, Thailand (thus, the name). She grew her three-month-fermented, all-natural homemade hot sauce into the best-selling condiment in Thailand. A Vietnamese immigrant, David Tran, helped the hot sauce hop the Pacific in 1983, selling the bottle we recognize with the distinctive rooster (Tran’s zodiac sign). The foodie explosion didn’t really hit until 2009, when Bon Appétit named the rooster sauce “ingredient of the year.”
So how does our organic rooster sauce with a black top measure up to Tran’s green-topped original? In many ways, Kitchen Garden’s Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox are truer to Ms. Cakkapak’s original. The two grow all of the sriracha hot sauce ingredients on their 50-acre organic farm in Sunderland, MA, and they ferment and bottle it in-house, sans preservatives. Let’s just say, one lick of this farm-fresh take will have you buying a different rooster.
#5 on our Scoville Scale: Green Chili Sriracha
Is sriracha still sriracha if it’s green? Jolene Collins of Denver’s Love Hard says yes. Just as sriracha was blowing up in the States, Jolene started paying attention to what she put in her body. Turned out the red sauce she squirted on everything was filled with refined sugar and preservatives, so she set out to make something better.
This green sriracha gourmet hot sauce is made of local jalapeños, Anaheims and poblanos cooked and fermented whole (in other words, seeds, ribs, crown tops and all). Sparing additions of garlic, sea salt, coconut palm sugar, and vinegar helps the medium heat come through loud and clear, on our tongues and sinuses. It’s got us feeling green… in a good way.
Off the Charts on the Scoville Scale: A Complete Hot Sauce Gift Set
If you (or some hotty you like) simply can’t get enough spice in their life, it’s time to tip the Scoville scale and go for the gusto. We dare you to get the Hot Hot Hot Sauce gift set, which comes equipped with the best gourmet hot sauces we’ve mentioned here (and many more we haven’t). Your tongue will tingle, your sinuses will run and your eyes will tear. Just have milk and tissues nearby.
Oh, and for those hot mamas out there, we have a specially curated selection of flaming hot Mother’s Day gifts.
Let’s just say, after your tongue tastes these Scoville-packed gourmet hot sauces, you’ll fall right in formation with Queen Bey. We might even go so far to say that you’ll be carrying them around in your bag, too.