The dry sandwich. Bland soup. A naked chicken wing. These are the pits of gastronomy — a palate’s blind date gone wrong. America’s ancestors have been safeguarding themselves against these woes for many a year with a little thing called hot sauce. The Aztecs loved it (and also proved its importance in the home, punishing their children by forcing them to breathe in the spicy smoke of burning chilis). More recently, our founding fathers were also said to be fans — Washington and Jefferson both cultivated chilis when they weren’t starting countries or chopping shit down. In the modern day, the stateside culture of craft hot sauce has had a slow-burn response to veteran heavyweights like Tabasco and Texas Pete, which sacrifice flavor for heat. Enthusiasts are gazing toward the Pacific Northwest, where artisans are utilizing the quality and abundance of fresh, local ingredients to produce wildly diverse newcomers to our country’s cabinet of hot sauces. These are the five stars.
Gettin’ High Off High Heat
Capsaicin (C18H27NO3) is a chemical compound responsible for the heat in chilis. In addition to its medical benefits — including lowering blood pressure, speeding metabolism, and warding off strokes and heart attacks — anthropologists believe humans developed a liking to spicy food because the “burn” is sometimes followed by euphoric effects with the release of endorphins in the brain. At up to 2,200,000 Scoville units (a measurement of capsaicin concentration), the Carolina Reaper is hailed by The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest pepper; start there if you need a food-based alternative to wingsuiting.
Doolie’s Hot Hot Sauce
Best Dip Hot Sauce: Founder and namesake Doolie Mohamud brews this neon green potion himself. It’s of Somali origin (just like Mohamud), inspired by the sacred recipe book of his grandmother, and pretty damn unique, to hear Mohamud tell it. The color and heat stem from a savory jalapeño and garlic base, sweetly balanced with the inclusion of dried coconut and lemon juice. Mohamud recommends his sauce on a sandwich, but the salsa-like consistency would do equally well with a chip.
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Black Market Cambodian Blend
Best Raw Hot Sauce: Most hot sauces on this side of the world are thrown into a pot and cooked down to intensify their natural flavors. The Cambodian Blend from Black Market, on the other hand, is completely raw, fermented with fish sauce that adds a funky and distinctive umami punch. Blended with ginger and brown sugar, the heavy acidity of lime works best with a starchy vehicle like rice or potatoes.
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NW Elixir Hott Smoke #3
Best Marinade Hot Sauce: This barbecue sauce alternative is made without the refined sugars and gums found in big-name brands. The flavors amplify after the sauce is heated and pair nicely with any variety of animal protein. Its strong, smoky profile won it the annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo and even carries acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson’s stamp of approval.
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Secret Aardvark Habanero
Most Popular Hot Sauce: Contrary to its name, this Portland, Oregon-based sauce is a local favorite, found in restaurants and homes across the wide state of Oregon. The company calls it a “Caribbean/Tex-mex hybrid”, fusing habanero peppers with a viscous white wine vinegar and roasted tomato base. They offer two other sauces as well (Drunken Jerk and Drunken Black Bean) but the original put them on the map. Secret Aardvark’s motto: “Dump it on Everything.” Good advice.
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Hot Winter Hot Sauce
Most Original Hot Sauce: This one-of-a-kind hot sauce began as a Kickstarter project just over a year ago and has already developed into a critically acclaimed brand. The secret is a unique heirloom breed of the Jimmy Nardello pepper, traditionally sweet but bred by founder Shaun Winter into a hotter variety after years of experimentation in the fields. Winter’s thick sauce showcases his proprietary Nardello along with locally produced rice and cider vinegars and cane sugar.
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