Battle of the Hot Sauces!

Photo by OCW staffLet me begin this review with a disclaimer: home-made hot sauces kick mass-produced hot sauce's ass any day. Please seek out home-made Mexican and Asian hot sauces. Call my aunt or my friend's mother, each of whom harvest chiles directly from Satan's secret stash. Now, back to the review.

I'm a hot-sauce addict. When my doctor draws blood, he must use an asbestos-made syringe. Tabasco to me is vanilla. I've conquered every culture's version of the condiment—Cajun, Jamaican, American (pussies!)—so I can say with authority that the best commercial-brand hot sauces are the Mexican-concocted Tapatío and Vietnamense-created Sriracha. Tapatío is a bit bitter at first, but the potency of the chile quickly overwhelms any acridness. Sriracha—you may know it better as the red sauce in the rooster bottle commonly used at sushi bars—has a sweet, garlicky flavor that will remind you of ketchup, perhaps because both share a similar solubility.

I enjoy these hot sauces so much that I would—and have—gulp them if no other food was available. But for those of you whose nostrils drip at the sight of guacamole, which is the best? As part of my peppery proselytizing, I conducted a series of trials with both hot sauces to determine which makes you sweat best. Using the rigorous time-test environment of my lunch break, I consumed and compared. And then I drank a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to save my digestive tract.

The Ethnic Exchange.I took humble representatives of Latino (pinto beans and rice) and Asian (the Vietnamese noodle bowl bún) cuisine, putting the other culture's sauce on each dish. I thought it would be a successful exchange since Sriracha and Tapatío nicely complement the foodstuff of their respective traditions. Tapatío quickly envelops the beans and rice with its flames, in particular transforming the bland rice into a surprising treat. Sriracha, meanwhile, makes bún's sweetness even sweeter while adding a bite that establishes bún as one of Asian cooking's most underrated dishes.

Trading sauces, though, was horrible. The Sriracha didn't cooperate with the beans and rice at all, bringing out the saltiness in everything and losing its own subtlety. When I finished eating my creation, I wished I never started.

Tapatío on bún wasn't much better. Part of what makes bún so wonderful with Sriracha is that the vermicelli noodles never absorb the thick sauce, making it a true interplay of flavors rather than a morphing of two into new. It was different with Tapatío. The naturally moist noodles quickly sipped the flavor out of the sauce, creating something unimaginable: bland bún.

Winner: none. Keep each sauce to its respective cuisine. Segregation in the name of taste is no vice.

Other Options.The most important thing to remember with hot sauces is its usefulness in adding flavor to leftovers. Here are the results of perennial easy-to-prepare meals doused with Tapatío and Sriracha:

Pizza: I've been putting Tapatío on pizza forever, and one of the things I like about this mix is that it makes even the crappiest crust tasty. But pizza is better with Sriracha; the little garlic kick that was so disastrous with the beans and rice meshed perfectly with the already-present tomato sauce. Winner: Sriracha.

Eggs: if you enjoy ketchup on eggs, Sriracha will make you smile. Tapatío, on the other hand, coats the embryo remnants with its light-yet-brutal touch. It won't leave as big a mess on your plate or mouth as Sriracha. Winner: Tapatío.

Hamburger: I don't like ketchup on eggs, but ketchup on hamburgers is another story. Tapatío blends well with meats, but the compacted carcass patties need something sweet to take the charcoal out of it. Sriracha does it and won't slip off the patty like Tapatío. Winner: Sriracha.

Soups: it depends. For hearty soups such as potato cream, Tapatío's fluid nature is better. It'll immediately dissipate into the substance without affecting the overall taste of the soup. But the thickness of Sriracha gives light broths like Campbell's a richer taste. Like oil, Sriracha will float on it, letting you scoop whichever remnants you might need. Winner: again, it depends.

Hot dogs: I don't eat them. They're made of unspeakable animal parts.

Conclusions. Tapatío and Sriracha have their good and bad attributes. Find out for yourself. Call my aunt or my friend's mother, but if their husbands pick up, hang up.


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