Louisiana-style hot sauce is a staple for soul food and Southern cuisine. But this simple condiment has a deeper history and more variation in flavor than you might know.
Published Dec. 15, 2021.
The loyalty some people have to specific brands of hot sauce is undeniable. There’s “The Cult of Crystal Hot Sauce,” a surprising variety of Frank’s RedHot superfan merchandise, and people who will fervently debate the legitimacy or inadequacy of Tabasco. These fans and critics have one thing in common: an enthusiasm for Louisiana-style hot sauce.
We wanted to celebrate this beloved condiment, so we rounded up 11 different Louisiana-style hot sauces, including products from big-name brands that have been around for decades as well as small companies that have emerged in recent years. Panels of tasters tried them two ways: plain and on creamy grits. We also had an independent lab analyze their heat levels in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Each sauce has a personality, and they range in flavor and consistency. Despite their distinguishing characteristics, they are all linked by similar ingredients and a deep history.
The foundational recipe for Louisiana-style hot sauce consists of vinegar, chiles, and salt. It’s traditionally made with one of two chiles: cayenne or tabasco. Tabasco chiles’ flavor has hints of celery and green onions with a delayed, lingering, flat heat that is felt mainly on the lips and tongue. On the other hand, cayenne chiles taste tart, acidic, and earthy, with a rapidly dissipating, slightly sharp heat felt in the front and middle of the tongue.
Some modern hot sauce manufacturers add garlic or other spices as well as thickeners or preservatives. The ingredients are pureed, giving the sauce a uniformly smooth consistency.
Louisiana-style hot sauce is distinguished from other styles by its vinegar-forward flavor. Unlike Mexican- or Caribbean-style hot sauces, which have less vinegar or none at all, Louisiana-style hot sauces typically list vinegar as the first or second ingredient on their labels. Louisiana-style hot sauce is also known for its bright, fiery red color and is milder than sauces made with Scotch bonnet, bird’s eye, and other much hotter chiles.
Some smaller and newer brands are reimagining Louisiana-style hot sauce in an effort to appeal to various demographics and distinguish themselves from larger manufacturers. These brands may add additional spices, milder chiles, and sometimes vegetables to their products. Despite these unique flares that smaller manufacturers add to their sauces, their baseline ingredients and flavors are still reminiscent of traditional Louisiana-style sauces.
To learn more about the story behind Louisiana-style hot sauce, we spoke with Adrian Miller, scholar and author of th...
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Sawyer is an assistant digital editor for ATK Reviews. She enjoys baking, collecting Prince records, and all things Toni Morrison.