Delicious hot sauce products have been devoured by humans ever since we started tasting those wonderful chilli peppers, and hot sauces have continued to grow in popularity as more and more people discover just how good they can be. On anything. Some people put hot sauce (or chilli flakes!) on their ice cream because they like the contrast of hot and cold so much.
Historically, the South American Aztecs are thought to be among the first civilizations to befriend the almighty chilli pepper, over 9000 years ago. The Aztecs used peppers as a flavour enhancer in their foods, and for medicinal reasons, and they even utilised them in warfare by using them as an early form of pepper spray!
Originating from the Caribbean and South America, which are the acknowledged birthplaces of the pepper, our favourite fiery delicacy took to the world and found its way to North American and European shores. The Great Hot Sauce Book states that the adventurer and sailor Christopher Columbus took chilli peppers to both North America and to Europe, to assist with the preservation of meats. The Europeans named the chilli fruit “peppers”, because it reminded them of black pepper, which was a popular spice, but apart from the taste sensation, the newly introduced chilli peppers were very different from any other food type that the North Americans or Europeans were familiar with at the time.
In the centuries that followed, peppers were introduced and integrated into western cuisines, as chilli plants began to pop up all over the world. In the 1800’s, advertising for cayenne pepper sauces started to become common, and the first bottled cayenne pepper sauces are thought to of been produced in Massachusetts, USA, in 1807. Among the first pepper sauces to become popular was the brand name Tabasco, which Edmund McIlhenny produced in 1868, in Louisiana, USA, from capsicum frutescens peppers that had come from either Mexico or Central America. Today, the Tabasco brand is a well-known name that is sold in over 180 countries worldwide, and its packaging is produced in 22 different written languages.
By the early 1900’s other types of hot sauce began appearing in the US, such as Franks’ Louisiana Red Hot Sauce, and Crystal Hot Sauce. Other brand names from that era that are still popular today and include Bruce Foods Original Sauce, as well as La Victoria Salsa Brava.
Previously hot sauces were often thought of and related to their geographical origins, due to their ingredients and the regional cooking methods and traditions that were used to create them, but in modern times the provincial distinctions have become less prominent, as producers take their methods to new locations, and the availability of ingredients is less contained by land and sea borders.
During the 1980’s hot sauces were becoming mainstream, and similar to alcoholic wine, hot sauce sommeliers began to appear, like Le Saucier in Boston. Large chilli pepper meetings such as the National Fiery Foods Show in Texas were being held, which allowed for fans of hot sauces and sauce producers to meet up, explore new ideas, exchange varieties of peppers, and compare the many hot sauce varieties that were now becoming commercially available. It was during this time that some hot sauce producers would attempt to create the hottest sauces that had ever been made, while others would focus on the flavours derived from a specific type of pepper, such as the datil pepper.
Today the United States hot sauce industry is worth an estimated $1.1 billion a year, which is a greater amount than that of all other types of condiments combined, and some of the initial hot sauces that were produced in the USA continue to be among the most popular and continue to record a significant number of sales. And all this time newer hot sauces continue to be created. One hot sauce fan - Vic Clinco - has gathered an impressive collection of over 9,000 individual hot sauce bottles, which illustrates the passion for hot sauces that some people have, and also the number of hot sauces that are currently being produced.
Similarly, Australia has also seen a boom of chilli sauce interest, with an explosion of local hot sauce makers currently taking place and an ever-growing availability of their products located in stores nationwide. Brands like Chillies Willies, Cobra Chillies, Dingo Sauce Co, Melbourne Hot Sauce, and Uncle Mungo’s can now be obtained with ease, and new and exciting brands continue to appear to tantalise our taste buds each and every month!
Like alcohol microbreweries for beers, ciders and wines, and farm to table cafes and restaurants, hot sauces are currently enjoying a surge in popularity, with continual growth and interest from the public, and new sauce producers focusing more on local produce and the use of all natural ingredients. Farmers are growing their own peppers for commercial use and trialling the growth of new pepper plant hybrids, and hot sauce makers are altering existing recipes, utilising fresh fruits and organic distilled vinegars. And while the early 2000’s saw hot sauce makers producing sauces with excessive amounts of heat, these days the focus has switched to the enhancement and enjoyment of the delicious chilli pepper flavours.
So, as you can see, hot sauces have come very far over a long period of time, and now is an exciting time to observe and enjoy what developments might come next for us chilli and hot sauce pepper fans right here in Australia and worldwide!