Basically, a hot sauce is any sauce that contains chili pepper - regardless of consistency, structure or viscosity.
If you dig a bit deeper, you will discover a whole new world of local and global hot sauce varieties and recipes. Some of them have been adapted and refined from generation to generation, while others are expressions of regional food traditions and food cultures. Hot sauce comes in endless varieties, flavours and strengths, and all over the globe hot sauce is a highly valued extra flavour enhancer - a condiment - the icing on the cake or “That’s exactly what I needed!”
The first commercial hot sauces in the United States date as far back as the early 19th century. The oldest existing manufacturer was founded in 1868 and is - you guessed it! - Tabasco. The idea was then, and still is, that hot sauce should be used as a condiment on a par with salt and pepper.
In the last 10 years, the number of hot sauce producers has snowballed, and it can be safely said that the use of hot sauce has led to a minor food revolution. What was intended as a much-needed spice to enhance a boring, monotonous meal in the 19th century has now become a desire to add even more flavour and even more taste sensations to our food.
Condiment: A spice or sauce on the dinner table, more specifically a spice, served separately from the food and then added to it according to the taste of the diner. (Wikipedia)
Here are some examples of what hot sauce can be:
Hot Pepper sauce or Hot Sauce
This style is often a vinegar-based ‘pourable’ sauce containing heat-treated or fermented, puréed chilies in all wind forces. Some go directly into bottles, while others are stored for several years: for example, in oak casks. Hot sauce is mainly used as a condiment like salt and pepper, but is also used as an ingredient in all kinds of cooking. Traditional hot sauce production has spread across the globe and is being produced in Stavanger, Hawaii, New York and Malawi. Especially in the last 10 years, the development of hot sauce and the amount of varieties have snowballed - as the range of prices has too! Try, for example, Chili Klaus’s The Anchor.
A classic variety that consists of Jalapeño, Cayenne powder or Tabasco chilis. It is often fermented and always sieved to thin and refine the hot sauce. Examples include Flagship from Midsummer.
A stronger hot sauce based, for example, on Habanero or Scotch Bonnet chilis. Thicker than the traditional ‘Louisiana Style’ sauce and often sweetened with fruits or seasoned with mustard. A freer and more tropical approach to hot sauce. Dirty Dick’s have made a wonderful Caribbean hot sauce, which you can find here.
A thinner, Asian variety. The best-known is Sriracha (the one in the red, squeezable, plastic bottle), which is based on red Serrano chilies.
Many different tastes and strengths. Made from classic, Mexican chipotle chilies (smoked Jalapeños/Moritas) - a mild alternative to the slightly stronger Piguin chilies from the Mexican federal state of Tabasco.
Picante (‘piquant’) sauce
A sauce made from blended tomatoes, chopped onions, garlic, vinegar, typically Jalapeños/Morita, but not coriander. Often used as an ingredient in other sauces or as a dip.
Sambal Oelek [Sambal = sauce] A chili sauce/paste from Indonesia. I tasted it in Bali, where it was made by a local chef. A Sambal oelek can use Cabe Rawit or (Birds Eye) chilies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and palm sugar. Sambal is also popular in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore and spread to the Netherlands along the way. Sambal is often described as an Indonesian relish, but is found in a myriad of varieties in Asia.
Salsas [Salsa = sauce]
Salsas are thicker than picante sauces and contain far more spices/herbs: for example, coriander, basil and cane sugar. They are often freshly made for the occasion, but are also available tinned and preserved. Salsas come in innumerable local and global versions.
A sauce that is boiled and then puréed, made from chilis and onions in a sweet tomato base. Used on - you guessed it! - tacos.
A ‘real’ sauce made from oil and flour, seasoned with chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, salt and chicken or vegetable stock.
Often a tomato/ketchup base, to which vinegar, chili, spices and sugar are added. I’m sure you’re familiar with it from barbecues. The combination of sweet, strong and BBQ umami is perfect on a summer’s evening. Try, for example, Chili Klaus BBQ
A soy- or fish stock-based sauce with sambal ingredients or chili paste. It comes in a myriad of variations, depending on the country and its traditions. It is really a hot sauce sub-category, since many makers don’t include chili in their sauce.