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Around the World in Hot Sauce: An Illustrated Tour of 18 Varieties


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So many variations on the theme!

There are countless species of chilies, but just a few, all members the Capsicum genus, account for most hot sauces. Bell peppers, cayenne, and jalapeño are all variants of C. annuum; hotter habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers belong to C. chinense; and C. frutescens includes tabasco and peri peri.

A pepper's heat is generally measured using Scoville units (SHU), a scale originally based on diluting peppers with sugar water and noting how much or little dilution is needed to make the heat just-noticeable to the human palate. For reference, Tabasco sauce (about 95% water) clocks in at about 2,500 to 5,000 SHU, while a tabasco pepper measures about 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. Police-grade pepper spray ranges from 500,000 to 5 million SHU, and pure capsaicin, the chemical that provides heat in all peppers, is about 16 million SHU.

Other ingredients—salt, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and countless others—of course affects the flavor and texture. And processing methods vary considerably. Some hot sauces are totally raw. Others are cooked, some are infusions, and still others are fermented.

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