Julie Bindel

Bored of generic hot sauce? Try these

There’s more to life than sriracha

  • From Spectator Life

Sick of sriracha? Try Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian chilli sauce that’s easy to make in minutes, by blending red chillies, salt and either vinegar or lime juice together. Or buy a jar ready-made.

If I were to be consigned to a desert island and could take only one spicy condiment it would be molho apimentado from Brazil

Will 2024 be the year of hot sauce? The Guinness Book of Records recently certified the world’s hottest chilli, Pepper X. In case you’re wondering, hot peppers are rated for heat on the Scoville Scale, created by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. It measures the amount of capsaicin (the chemical compound that causes spicy heat) in a pepper and assigns it an SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) rating.

However, my love of the stuff is not about extreme heat, but rather the vast array of flavours that accompany it. From smoky chipotle to fruity scotch bonnets, habaneros, ghost peppers and more, hot sauces are no longer just about intensity; now they are far more focused on nuanced taste. Lee Kum Kee Garlic Chilli Sauce is my favourite, alongside Momofuku Chili Crunch and Extra Spicy.

The range of spicy, chilli-based condiments available in local supermarkets, as well as specialist outlets, is growing by the day. We are in the age of craft condiments. Why not spread your hot sauce wings? The banana ketchup I tried for the first time in St Lucia recently was a revelation. Sweeter than its tomato counterpart, but with a delicious kick from green chilli heat. It works just as well on hotdogs and French fries as it does on jerk chicken and rice.

One I had never heard of until I happened upon a jar in an airport is Haitian mamba peanut butter, spiced up with scotch bonnet chilli and served with noodles, salads, or whatever else you fancy. Then there is FSG Sichuan preserved cooked fungus – basically cooked mushrooms doused in screaming hot chilli oil and Sichuan pepper. I add a dollop of this to soup, noodle dishes, and stir-fried vegetables. The West African answer to Chinese XO is Ghanaian shito, used as a table sauce and added to pretty much everything. Flavoured with dried and fermented fish, it packs a punch.

The accompaniments to north Indian cooking that are widely available from stores in the UK tend to be chutneys, such as mango or lime. But there is a growing market in ketchup to accompany your butter chicken or lamb pasanda. Pico’s Punjabi Ketchup, full of aromatic flavours, is the best. It also works as a dipping sauce with chips, or an alternative spread in a burger bun. And Pico’s Tamarind Chutney is a tangy, sweet and sour Indian street food chutney which can be used in the same way as the traditional brown sauce.

My local Malaysian café does a mean achaar, chunky enough to be mistaken for a vegetable side.  Chopped Indian pickles – made from fruits, vegetables, and spices either cooked in oil, or brined – are the condiments most commonly used to add heat to samosas, curries, and countless other South Asian dishes. Mango, lime, tomato, onion, cauliflower, cucumber and fresh chillies are typical ingredients.

Giardiniera is a tangy, crunchy pickled condiment – a colourful Italian pickle of carrots, cauliflower, peppers, and other vegetables that’s surprisingly easy to make at home, though you can also buy a bottle from any supermarket. Europe offers other decent spicy condiments: erős pista (Hungarian for ‘Strong Steven’) is made primarily from two ingredients – minced paprika peppers and salt. A milder, sweeter variety can be found under the name édés anna (‘Sweet Anna’). It’s good to see that sexist stereotypes are alive and well, even in the condiment business.

Of course there is also the very popular peri-peri from Portugal, which is what gives Nando’s its distinctive flavour. In a Mexican restaurant in NYC, I had chipotle with pineapple hot sauce. It was delightfully sweet and smoky, and medium heat. I smothered it over white fish, and it added fruitiness without drowning the taste.

But if I were to be consigned to a desert island and could take only one spicy condiment it would be molho apimentado from Brazil, for its versatility. Made with onion, green and red bell peppers, tomato, red chilli peppers, garlic, mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and cayenne peppers, blended into a rough paste. This is a condiment you can eat with everything – from grilled meat and seafood to salads to fejoida, the national dish of black beans stewed with bits of pig.

There are versions of all of the above for sale online. Go on, ditch your usual and branch out. But make sure your condiments are hot. The capsaicin in chilli-infused foods triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, hormones that make you happy.