The world’s best hot sauces according to a sauce finder, a sauce whisperer and a sauce guinea pig

Welcome the burn.

So far, I’ve watched four YouTube videos of people doing the Paqui One Chip Challenge.

I don’t know why, because the setup, format and reactions are all basically the same. Or similar.

Same with those that feature spicy foods, and foods smothered in hot sauce.

Or wait… maybe I do. 😊

“I love them within reason,” says Steve Carr, co-founder and “sauce finder” of FIYAH! Heat Store.

FIYAH! Heat Store
Bask in their hot glow

“Some are ridiculous with the hottest ever ever ever sauce. But ones that have flavour and grow with a skill or talent – (like) hot chilli eating, for example – need practice.”

“To me they are good for raising awareness and can be pretty comical,” adds Tim Sedo, his fellow FIYAH! co-founder and “sauce whisperer”.

“In the end, though, I want hot sauce to be a part of people’s diets and respected as a culinary thing, and not just a novelty gag.”

Ben Lee, the third FIYAH! co-founder and “sauce guinea pig”, agrees. “It’s fun to watch, but I’d much rather see people learn about the sauces (how, why and when to use them) than just for banter and burning each other with spicy flavours.

“A lot goes into making a hot sauce and so they should be savoured, not just be a gag,” he maintains.

“Though watching people try some of the hot sauces we have has become a favourite pastime!”

They have lots

Of hot sauces, we mean. FIYAH! Heat Store is an online shop in Hong Kong that specialises in hot sauces sourced from all over the world. They have hot sauces available in different heat and flavour ranges to suit every palate, threshold and preference.

hot sauces
Line 'em up

They’re part of a growing and vocal group of people who absolutely love hot sauces. Because there has been an increase in the consumption of spicy foods, and the use and creation of hot sauces and condiments, in recent years.

At least I think so. There’s also been a huge amount of attention paid towards these items. (I guess it’s because I have been watching too much YouTube, and feel like I see these things almost everywhere.)

“I feel like we are at the start of where craft beer and coffee was a few years ago – all very much underground and have grown with the discovery of methods, varieties and flavours,” Steve points out.

So it’s not just me then? 😁

“Nope, not you,” answers Ben. “I think within the past decade or so there’s been a big shift towards supporting local businesses, which with greater access to selling online has enabled lots of people to start selling their homemade sauces.

“With this shift, it’s only natural that everyone has become more aware of craft produce,” he explains. “Like Steve mentioned, it’s been underground for a while but the discovery has significantly increased – we’re only at the start.”

Our tolerance for heat, too. “I think overall people’s tastebuds are growing more global, and that our palates are getting used to higher heat levels,” observes Tim. “Remember how ‘hot’ sriracha was the first time you tried it? Now it just feels like delicious ketchup!

“At the macro level, the hot sauce scene feels similar to where craft beer was about 10 years ago; it’s pushing forward new and bold flavours backed by more compelling brands and experiences,” he echoes.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved and change the way people think about the category. Hot sauce for the people!”

Hear, hear

It’s true, though: I, for one, have never visited or had a meal with someone who doesn’t have at least one bottle or brand of hot sauce in their kitchen. Which goes to show just how popular, useful and essential the hot sauce is (or has come to be) – some of us probably can’t cook or eat without it.

It’s cool to discover old and new hot sauces, and have a couple on hand to add more flavour. But what if it’s your job to go through all of the hot sauces currently in existence, try to gather them all in one place, and curate them so customers will know what to get?

Well, it’s a task that Steve, Ben and Tim are more than happy to fulfil. 👍

So what does it take to run a hot sauce shop – and what would convince them to reach for a particular hot sauce? What’s weird and wacky? Why is hot sauce more than just the level of heat it provides? We break it all down right here (and give you a few good ideas in the process as well). 😊

The challenge of choosing, selling, trying, tasting and testing hot sauces from around the world

Steve: “Yeah – we have tested well over 200 sauces, and some are super hot and were quite a shock to the system. But as we try, we start to get the flavours and the styles. Only one has caused issues!”

Tim: “We test and fully endorse everything that we stock, and have almost-weekly tasting sessions to try new sauces. This is a huge part of the fun and has led to an ever-evolving assortment of what we believe to be some of the world’s best hot sauces. No bogus sauces – everything is FIYAH!-approved!”

Ben: “We love our hot sauces and know everyone else will, too, because we’ve tried them all. It’s tough work but someone’s got to do it.” 🙂

The challenge of finding hot sauces for FIYAH!

Steve: “I spend most of my time looking for new sauces or old ones that people haven’t heard of. The biggest challenge is finding ones that are nice for me but also good for others. Not everyone has the same palate – what I may find horrible, another person may have their mind blown!”

Tim: “So many sauces, so little time.”

hot sauces
We need more room, please

Unlikely places they’ve found hot sauces

Steve: “New Zealand has one major brand but finding other super local ones. Swaziland also! Just discovered new hot sauces in France and the Netherlands!”

Tim: “Canada. As a Canadian myself, I had no idea that some of the best sauces in the world come from the Great White North! Dawson’s and Heartbeat are delicious!”

Ben: “In this day and age, with global connections and flavours, I’m not really surprised everywhere has their own version. I’ve just been surprised by how many there are out there, from all corners of the globe, which has been great to see.”

Myths and misconceptions about hot sauces that they’ve come across

Steve: “Most people don’t realise a hot sauce isn’t just hot but a range of complex flavours and styles. From sauces like Tabasco to a sauce based around yuzu – there is a huge difference and range. Most of the time, people need to try and then they get the variety.”

Tim: “The myths are pretty easy to dispel. The whole scene has moved so far beyond just heat for heat’s sake (although there is a place for this, too). One taste of something perfectly balanced, nuanced and, well, hot, and people figure it out pretty quickly that something interesting is happening in this small nook of the culinary space.”

Ben: “‘It’s all about the heat.’ Yes, heat is a key ingredient in hot sauces, but there are so many different types of chillis or burns that every sauce is different. It’s not just about how hot it is. Not only that, but everyone reacts differently to different chilli, which is what I find most interesting. Just because one hot sauce for you is super super hot, doesn’t mean another one will be. That’s why you have to try them all!”

The ingredients and “formulations” in hot sauces that surprised, amazed and shocked them

Steve: “Blueberry-based hot sauces with some of the hottest chillis on the planet. Mind-blowing and one of the best-tasting things I have ever had!”

Tim: “I am not the biggest fan of fruit-based sauces, but when there is a fruit-forward sauce that also has a serious savoury and heat element, I am in love. A great example of this is the Spicy Sweet from Pisqueya, with its beautiful fragrant passionfruit notes backed by a strong savoury structure and a solid heat kick. Delicious. I also love our more funky ferment-based sauces, where you can really taste the ferment. Heartbeat from Canada are masters of this.”

Ben: “Mango! I love mangoes but did not anticipate them to work well in hot sauce.”

Now we get to the juicy bits:

Their top 5 picks for the hot sauce beginner

From Steve:

#1 Secret Aardvark’s Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce

“Simply put, one of the best sauces we have and a classic. Super tasty. Mild/medium on the heat levels. Goes on everything and anything!”

Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce

#2 Humble House’s Ancho & Morita Hot Sauce

“More a tangy barbecue hot sauce. Just perfection. Used in marinades from rice to tacos to burgers.”

#3 Flagrant Hot Sauce

“Made in Hong Kong using Japanese ingredients. Just one of the best sauces out there. Perfect replacement for Tabasco!”

#4 Shaquanda’s Spicier Smoke

“Made in Brooklyn – and the sauce your life has been missing. Smoky. Berries. Heat. Heaven…”

Tim: “I’d recommend a range across mashes, ferments, oils or crisps, and cooked sauces to understand the nuances between different hot sauce production methods (sort of like a pilsner, stout and IPA taster for someone new to beer). After that I would break it down by big chilli families – jalapeno, habanero, bird’s eye, pot peppers, scorpion, ghost, reaper, etc. From the FIYAH! range moving from mild to hot, I’d suggest…”

#1 Flagrant Hot Sauce

“Good on everything, not too hot, perfectly balanced.”

#2 Shaquanda’s Mx. Green Sass

“Perfectly bright, good-on-everything sauce.”

#3 Dawson’s Cremini Habanero

“Good heat, chef-y flavour.”

#4 Mellow Habanero’s Extra

“Perfectly distilled habanero flavour with a good heat kick. Nerdy habanero perfection.”

#5 Adoboloco’s KoloheKid Hot Sauce

“Hot and delicious.”

Adoboloco KoloheKid Hot Sauce
Need we say more?

Their top picks for a hot sauce fan/expert/master/professional like themselves

From Steve:

#1 Anything by Torchbearer

“Super tasty hot hot sauces, and the far-end-of-the-spectrum ones are amazing. Just heat and flavour.”

#2 Da’ Bomb’s Beyond Insanity Hot Sauce

“Pure heat with an interesting flavour. Definitely hurts. Ten minutes of pain and somehow I like this. Just the reaction the body has sends endorphins through the system!”

#3 Adoboloco’s Hamajang

“Best sauce on the site in my opinion. Super smoky and super hot. Really good sauce and the company is awesome!”

#4 Hellfire’s Fear This!

“A great sauce – very hot. Doesn’t linger for long but just flavour and a top level of heat.”

#5 High River Sauces’ Rogue

“Blood orange with a real mix of different super hot chillis. Just a really interesting blend.”

Tim: “I would lean into the fermented or mash sauces. There really is no place to hide for the producer if the production isn’t right. To go back to the beer analogy, if the batch is sh*t, just add a bunch of hops and call it an IPA; but if you mess up a pilsner everybody will know, because the ingredients are so simple and pure. So ferments and mashes all the way!”

On what makes a hot sauce a favourite

(Check out their personal list of must-have sauces here: Steve, Tim and Ben.)

Steve: “For me, I really enjoy a blend of heat and flavour, but more on the heat side – something that I know is hot but the flavour almost balances it out. Some of the others are packed with flavour to the point you don’t get the ‘hot’.”

Tim: “I lean towards the more chef-y flavours over the heat. I want something that is really unique and surprising. I am less interested in the versatility of a sauce and appreciate those angular sauces that you really can’t place what is going on or even what it would pair with. Aka Miso from Bravado Spice Co is a good example of this.”

Ben: “I’m not all about the heat. While I’ve come to enjoy the hotter sauces, I’ve generally leaned towards those that are a bit more flavoursome and so on the lower end (for some people). Shaquanda’s does great hot sauces as do Heartbeat – both hot but not blaringly so!”

The hot sauces they’d likely give away as gifts

From Steve:

#1 Flagrant Hot Sauce

Flagrant Hot Sauce
Flagrant is quite the popular one

#2 Any of the Mellow Habanero sauces from Japan

#3 Da’ Bomb

“In case I wanted to f%$# them up.”

Tim: “Flagrant. I am a super fan of this sauce. Delicious, well-balanced and interesting. Also the guys who make it are rad dudes and it’s from Hong Kong. Love gifting this sauce.”

Ben: “They all make great gifts. Each one has its own story so you’ll be supporting local communities or makers when you gift them, which is what I think makes a good gift!”

The hot sauces we’ll find stocked or stowed away in their bag, on their desk, in their kitchen (because, you know, just in case)

Steve: “Flagrant, Tabasco Scorpion Sauce (hottest they have ever made), and Aka Miso.”

Tim: “I’m not a snob – classic sriracha is still one of my go-to’s. I am loving Dawson’s XXX Ghost Pepper Mash and Adoboloco’s Hamajang for pure delicious heat.”

Ben: “Shaquanda’s! Love their sauces.”

The weirdest hot-sauce-and-food pairing they’ve ever tried

Steve: “Weirdest – Hellfire’s Blueberry Hell with vanilla ice cream. Pure sex. Super tasty and a weird balance. I have 200 in the kitchen so I grab what is at the front.”

Tim: “Nothing is weird in the world of hot sauces. I put hot sauce on everything. A bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter smothered in sriracha is one of my faves. Vanilla ice cream with Heartbeat’s Blueberry Habanero… delicious.”

Ben: “Steve wins this one! I still like to complement my eggs in the morning or dinners at night with some hot sauce.”

If the heat becomes too much, the foods and/or drinks they go for that will hopefully lessen its impact

Steve: “Pray. Pray. Pray. The best thing to do is worry about your stomach rather than the mouth. Get something in there before you eat hot stuff and plenty of liquid after. But your mouth will just hurt.”

Tim: “Something with fat content and some viscosity. Water and beer just spread the pain around. Try yoghurt cottage cheese.”

Ben: “Knowing that it will end. Just give it time. Most of the hottest don’t last more than 15 minutes so grin and bear it, really. But if it really gets too much, yoghurt or milk works.”

And when you do get to the end? Try another one. You know you want to (especially after all this talk about hot sauce). 😉 Because if you buy your stash from FIYAH!, then there’s bound to be more. The growing number of YouTube videos of spicy foods, challenges and hot sauce taste tests is proof. 😊

Find FIYAH! Heat Store on Facebook and Instagram. Shop here.

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