For the last few years, sriracha has reigned supreme on America’s kitchen tables. The pungent, peppery chili sauce from Thailand—particularly Huy Fong’s ubiquitous green-capped bottle—has become the go-to condiment for heat-seekers far and wide. But not all hot sauces are created equal.
From China and Korea to the Philippines and Malaysia, each of these Asian countries deliver their own hot sauce that adventurous hot-heads can get behind. Looking for a flavor explosion? Seek out these hot numbers in specialty Asian markets and stores like Whole Foods.
Often considered sriracha’s sister, sambal oelek is a chunky offering found throughout Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian kitchens. “Oelek” refers to the mortar-and-pestle method of making the paste, made from a variety of ground peppers. Sambal oelek packs more heat than sriracha, courtesy the pepper seeds that float throughout. Some versions use a bit of sugar, but also lime, salt and garlic. A little goes a long way: add a spoonful or two to deepen the flavors of soups, stews and sauces.
Heat Scale: 4 of 5
Developed in 1908 to please British colonial expats living in Penang, Lingham’s Chilli Sauce (Hot Sauce in the U.S.) is at once sweet and spicy. Developed by an Indian man with the last name Lingham, the sauce boomed in popularity during the ‘50s and is now found worldwide. Made from a secret recipe of red peppers, sugar and vinegar, it is versatile. Use it in dipping spring rolls, but also as a marinade for poultry, meat and fish. Mix it in cocktail sauce or aioli for a fiery kick.
Heat Scale: 3 of 5
Look out, Rooster sauce: Gochujang is coming for your crown. Hailing from Korea, the super-thick paste acts less as a condiment and more as a flavor component for the mad scientist sauces you whip up at home. Unlike good ole Huy Fong, you’ll find a variety of gochujang on shelves, each with slightly different flavor profiles. You can, however, count on a few things: the smoky, almost funky heat (courtesy red chilies and fermented soy beans) backed by a slight sweetness from added sugar. Gochujang’s savory umami notes work best in tandem with rice vinegar, soy sauce or sesame oil. Try all three in veggie-heavy stir-fries or as a barbecue sauce.
Heat Scale: 3.5 of 5
This garlicky sauce penetrates even the most pungent of dishes. Like gochujang, this paste incorporates fermented soybeans and chopped dried chilies, but delivers less savory flavors. Instead, garlic comes to the fore, adding a sharper hit of heat upfront, with a touch of saltiness. Mix this bad boy up in spicy, cold sesame noodles, or use it to marinate tofu or tempeh.
Heat Scale: 3 of 5
It may sound weird, but Jufran is effectively banana ketchup—but Heinz 57 it ain’t. Bright-red and made from bananas, garlic, onions and spices, it is a staple in Filipino homes. Thick and chunky, the sauce delivers a slow-burn heat balanced by fruity sweetness. Try it with grilled chicken and beef, or if you’re feeling particularly worldly, classic sweet-ish Pinoy spaghetti—banana ketchup is the base for the sauce.
Heat Scale: 2 out of 5
Ah, sweet relief! This light, runny sauce is the ideal condiment for pork, summer rolls and even sandwich wraps. The sauce is swimming with chilies, but vinegar, garlic and sugar make it tangy and sweet. This sauce acts as a great marinade for fish, or even as a base for Asian-inspired salad dressings.
Heat Scale: 1 of 5
This radioactive red oil is hot, hot, hot. If you’re into the heat of Szechuan cuisine, this oil is for you. Made from chili oil extracts, this product is ideal for deepening flavors in dishes. Combine with milder, savory sesame oil for an umami-driven glaze for fish dishes, or even flavor brunch-favorite eggs benedict with a hella hot hollandaise.
Heat Scale: 5 of 5
Hailing from Tokyo, this can of powdered mustard and turmeric packs a sinus-clearing wallop. The heat here is not the same as a chile-based hot sauce, but it’s akin to Chinese hot brown mustard. The standard mustard paste works great as a dip or spread for sandwiches. Alternatively, mix the mustard with honey and soy sauce or tamari for a sweet-spicy barbecue meat glaze.
Heat Scale: 4 of 5