What Is the Difference Between Hot Sauce and Tabasco?

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Cultures around the world have their own versions of hot sauce -- any sauce that contains spicy chili peppers or chili powder. Tabasco, in all its varieties, is one of hundreds of hot sauces available in the U.S., where the market for hot sauce has grown by 150 percent since 2000, according to data gathered by Euromonitor and reported at Quartz.com. More Americans buy hot sauce, including Tabasco, than barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise combined.

Types of Chilies

The defining ingredients in hot sauces are red or green hot peppers, either fresh, cooked or dried. The sauces might contain a single type of pepper or a combination of different types. They range in taste from very hot, to medium to mild, depending on the types of peppers and their varying amounts of capsaicin, the compound in chilies that give them their heat. Degrees of heat, as measured by the Scoville scale, range from very hot jalapenos at 2,500 to 8,000 heat units on the scale, to even hotter habaneros at 350,000 to 580,000, to blisteringly hot bhut jolokia, measured at 1,000,000.

"Original T**abasco"** sauce always contains tabasco chili peppers (Capsicum frutescens), so named for the State of Tabasco in Mexico. These register from 2,500 to 5,000 heat the Scoville scale. The hottest Tabasco, with habaneros, measures 7,000 and the most mild, Tabasco "Sweet and Spicy Pepper Sauce," measures between 100 and 600.

Tip

  • Don't forget the sour cream for Mexican food or sweet Thai iced tea with spicy pad thai. Sugar and dairy products are the most effective substances to cool down your mouth from hot chili peppers, says Andrea Lynn, editor of Chile Pepper magazine.

Secondary Ingredients

Hot sauces can contain a multitude of additional ingredients, such as garlic, sugar or molasses. Bon Appetit.com cataloged hot sauces from all 50 states and found some with mangoes, mandarian oranges, liquor, blueberries and seaweed.

Besides peppers, Tabasco sauce contains only vinegar and salt. Its intense vinegar flavor is typical of all hot sauces that aficionados refer to as Louisiana-style hot sauce.

Tabasco Origins

First manufactured in the 1860s, Tabasco is a registered trademark of the McIlhenny Company on Avery Island in Louisiana. The chairman of the board and CEO at time of publication in July 2015 was the seventh generation of McIlhennys still operating the company in the same location. Tabasco comes from a Mexican-Indian word meaning "place where the soil is humid," according to the company's website.

Choosing a Hot Sauce

The ratio of ingredients in a given hot sauce gives each one a distinctive flavor. Choose a sauce with the taste you like best or use these traditional pairings:

  • Choose Asian Sriracha sauce, with garlic, sugar and vinegar for Thai cuisine.  
  • Select Chinese hoisin sauce, with soybeans, garlic and spices added to chili peppers for Chinese-inspired meat, chicken or fish dishes.
  • Stir in Mexican chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, with dried and smoked jalapeno pepper to taco or enchilada sauce or into a pot of chili.

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