All About Hot Sauce

In School Nutrition’s August 2014 issue, author Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, offered an overview of peppers, including suggested ways to menu this popular produce item in school meals (“Pick a Pepper”). But there’s another way to incorporate peppers that the print article didn’t cover: as a condiment—as hot sauce.

If you think kids can’t handle such a fiery food, think again. Just like adults, students of all ages enjoy varying levels of spice—some may shy away, but others will say “bring on the heat!” Serving hot sauce on the side or as an optional drizzle can help you—and them—experiment with flavors more liberally.

But, wait, don’t the federal regulations regarding sodium levels in school meals mean that salty condiments like hot sauce are off the table? Yes and no—a teaspoon of generic hot sauce contains around 130 milligrams of sodium, so you may be better off seeking low-sodium commercial varieties or devising your own recipe. While considering your options, School Nutrition offers a brief overview with facts that may help in your search—or that you can share with students.

Hot sauce is sold under a variety of pseudonyms, including chili sauce and pepper sauce. All these names refer to any spicy condiment made from chili peppers; popular brands include Tabasco, Frank’s RedHot and Cholula. Tabasco first appeared on the market in 1868 and is still produced today, and Frank’s RedHot sauce is the original hot sauce and the primary ingredient used in the first buffalo wing sauce, concocted in 1964 at the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, N.Y.

Not all hot sauces are made equal—ingredients vary based on the region in which the brand is manufactured. The one component they all have in common is any type of chili pepper, which contains chemicals known as capsaicinoids that give your taste buds (and skin) that burning feeling. From there, the differences abound.

For example, in Mexico, where Cholula is made, chipotles typically form the base of hot sauces, and vinegar is never added. But in sauces made in the United States, however, vinegar is nearly always present, along with salt and a base of cayenne, chipotle, habañero or jalapeño peppers. (Unless, of course, it’s New Mexico-style Chile sauce, which doesn’t contain vinegar but instead is made from fire-roasted native green Chile pepper.)

Regions in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, Europe and New Zealand all have their own varieties of popular and unique hot sauces. For example, two of the hottest chilies in the world, the Naga Viper and Infinity Chili, were developed in the United Kingdom and they are available as sauces, and Sriracha, a Thai chili sauce, has earned something of a cult following in the United States today.

If you’re ready to branch out of your comfort zone and experiment with hot sauce, consider making your own from scratch. Below, Carlsbad (N.M.) Municipal Schools’ School Nutrition Manager Nancy Thatcher, a former SNA Employee/Manager Representative, shares her own recipe for hot sauce.

New Mexico Red Salsa

YIELD: 50 servings (1/4 cup each)

  • Jalapeño peppers, fresh*—1 cup
  • Onions, fresh—1 cup
  • Tomatoes, diced—1 #10 can
  • Salt—to taste
  • Garlic, granulated—to taste


  1. Combine the ingredients using a blender. If you prefer chunky salsa, don’t blend as much. If you like it smoother, blend more.

*Note: You can experiment with various amounts of jalapeños for differing levels of heat.

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