13 Unusual Hot Sauce Brands That You Must Try

Variety of hot sauce bottles
Variety of hot sauce bottles - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Hot sauce: Is there any condiment more versatile, more essential, or more hotly contested? It's used to top everything from eggs to tacos to seafood to Buffalo-style hot wings, pizza, and steak. At its most basic level hot sauce is a combination of powdered peppers (usually cayenne or tabasco), garlic and other spices, and either vinegar or water. These are the simple components in those ubiquitous bottles of hot sauce we see on grocery store shelves and restaurant tables, and fans are devoted to their brand of choice and will go to great lengths for that perfect bite.

But the appeal of hot sauce spans the globe — many cultures have their own characteristic recipes to spice up a meal and add instant heat and flavor to everyday cuisine. There are hundreds of varieties of peppers worldwide, each with a distinct flavor profile and varying Scoville rating, and each with individual accompaniments and preparation techniques. All this makes for an infinite variety of hot sauce possibilities. Here we discover 13 hot sauce companies that offer a departure from the tried and true and look at some of their most creative and unique hot sauce varieties.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer/distributor/etc.

Read more: 12 Popular Grocery Store Butter Brands, Ranked

Secret Aardvark

Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce
Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik/Tasting Table

Out of the widely available grocery store hot sauces, Secret Aardvark ranks among the very best. It comes packaged in a low-key plastic squeeze bottle with a cartoon aardvark on the label, almost as if the company knows it's going to be used in large quantities and treasured to the last drop. For anyone looking to expand their hot sauce horizons but not quite ready to commit to a specialty order, Secret Aardvark offers a fun, accessible, and delicious contrast to the more familiar, run-of-the-mill sauces.

This Portland-based hot sauce company sets itself apart from the pack with a quirky style and a fun attitude that's garnered legions of adoring fans. And unlike many big brands, its sauces pack some pretty serious heat. The Red Habanero and Serrabanero blend fiery habanero with the sweetness of tomatoes, tomatillos, and even carrots, which makes them addictive and crowd-pleasing staples. Secret Aardvark sauces won't melt your face off, but they will shake up your hot sauce routine a little and are guaranteed to wake up any dish.

Bushwick Kitchen

Bushwick Kitchen Weak Knees Hot Sauce
Bushwick Kitchen Weak Knees Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik/Tasting Table

Bushwick Kitchen is another broadly distributed hot sauce company with products you may have seen on grocery store shelves. The company was originally conceived as a hot honey company when founders Casey Elsass and Morgen Newman launched it back in 2013, but they have since expanded the brand with a line of maple syrup, sriracha, and hot sauces. Its roots as a honey company are evident in its focus on the sweeter side of condiment craftsmanship, with serving suggestions that encourage you to slather the sauces on unexpected items like ice cream or add it to pickle brine.

Bushwick Kitchen's Weak Knees line of hot sauces comes in apple, peach, and strawberry varieties, and while they are differentiated by their fruit flavors, the peppers are very much the stars of the show here. The jalapeno, habanero, and scotch bonnets are not lost behind the fruit, but supported by it. Each hot sauce has a respectable amount of heat, too. While you're busy enjoying the initial burst of fresh, tangy fruit, a slow, warming burn sneaks up on you and takes over. These are excellent on all types of smoked meats, on desserts, in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or with cheese and crackers. If you like spicy-sweet combos, give Bushwick Kitchen hot sauce a shot.

Bayou Gotham

Bayou Gotham Hot Sauce
Bayou Gotham Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik/Tasting Table

Bayou Gotham's name and inspiration come from a mashup of Louisiana (Bayou) and New York (Gotham) culture. Born and raised in Louisiana and now in his adopted home of New York, founder Scotty Peppers seeks to honor his own cultural heritage and the melting pot that makes up American cuisine. Each of Bayou Gotham's sauces borrows from diverse cultures to pay homage to the nuanced differences within each one, embracing tradition without being constrained by it.

There's the Caribbean Creole-style Flambeau Fiya, which was named the 2024 Scovie Award Grand Prize winner thanks to its masterful blend of spices that Creole cuisine is known for (including garlic clove, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, and peppers). It's magical as a topping for jerk chicken or any Carribean-style dish. Then there's the 2nd place Scovie Award winner Zing Dynasty Sichuan Habanero, which is like your favorite sesame teriyaki sauce kicked up a notch with Sichuan peppercorns. It would be fantastic anywhere you'd use soy sauce.

Sticking to those southern roots, Bayou Gotham also has a Bourbon-infused Louisiana-style hot sauce called Ruby Rebelle, as well as the Cajun Lagniappe Bayou Bourré, which legitimately tastes like a bottled Cajun seafood boil (an incredible feat). And if you had any doubts as to Bayou Gotham's Louisiana bona fides, the serving suggestions for their Bayou Bourré include po' boys, gumbo, and alligator — but they are each just as glorious on less exotic foods too!

Green Belly Foods

Green Belly Foods Hot Sauce
Green Belly Foods Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik/Tasting Table

Colorado-based Green Belly Foods has a carefully curated lineup of just three hot sauces: Red Belly, Yellow Belly, and Green Belly. The recipes are all inspired by the homemade traditional Guatemalan hot sauce of co-founder Juan Ignacio Stewart's mother, Maria del Carmen. The sauces are simple and focus on fresh ingredients that would be found in a Guatemalan garden. The cilantro, garlic, and habanero Green Belly sauce is the one that started it all. It wasn't long before its fresh and herbaceous quality won over scores of fans and Ignacio Stewart began selling the sauce at farmers' markets. Even today, the company still has a strong connection to the agricultural community — it builds relationships with the farmers who grow its ingredients to support sustainable practices and help the growers thrive.

As the company grew it added the mango and red chile Yellow Belly sauce, an ode to Guatemalan fruit-on-a-stick vendors. The most distinctive sauce is the Red Belly sauce packed with Cobanero peppers, an obscure spice that Green Belly Foods personally sources from Mayan Q'eqchi' farmers in Guatemala. The pepper is very popular in Guatemalan cuisine, but nearly unknown in the states. Though with Red Belly sauce showcasing them so beautifully, cobanero peppers won't remain unknown for long.

Hot Sauce Hunters Australia

Hot Sauce Hunters Australia Bottle
Hot Sauce Hunters Australia Bottle - Melyssa Holik/Tasting Table

Hot Sauce Hunters Australia began in 2022 when Aussie Scott Lindridge turned his love for spicy foods into an online hot sauce retailer. After six months of buying and distributing hot sauces, he decided to try making his own. He had tried hundreds of hot sauces from all over the world and wanted to create one unlike any other. Together he and his wife Ann-Marie spent nine months perfecting a trio of Hunter's Own sauces: Super Hot, Nectarine & Gin, and Garlic Sauce.

As a hot sauce distributor-turned-producer, Lindridge has a depth of experience that informs each of Hot Sauce Hunters Australia's creations. The Nectarine & Gin, in particular, takes all the knowledge Lindridge gained from sampling hundreds of hot sauces across the globe and brings it all together in a singular, exquisitely balanced hot sauce. The gin botanicals dance against the sweet-tart nectarine fruit flavors, and the heat level is enough to make you tingle but not cry. Since launching Nectarine & Gin, it's gained international recognition, winning a silver at the Sydney Fine Food Awards in Australia and a 2nd place Scovie award in the U.S. — hardly surprising given the vast wealth of expertise that went into making this marvelous sauce.

Lucky Dog

Lucky Dog Hot Sauce
Lucky Dog Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Nicknamed "Food's Best Friend," Lucky Dog Hot Sauce strives toward culinary perfection with its diverse array of hot sauces. Named after founder Scott Zalkind's dog Lucky, each of Lucky Dog's sauces is made with all-natural ingredients and relies on local sourcing whenever possible.

Taste-wise, these finely crafted sauces have layer upon layer of flavor for unbelievable dimension and nuance in each bottle. The recipes blend fire-roasted peppers for a light smokiness and kick along with subtle fruits or sweet carrots to balance sweet, spicy, tangy, savory, and smoky in a gorgeous edible symphony.

Each is a distinguished culinary treat on its own, but the Year of the Dog sauce in particular is a revelation. It combines Thai chile and pineapple without coming off as sugary sweet or conspicuously tropical. Instead, layers of toasted onion and sesame, roasted garlic, and subtle hints of rice vinegar, ginger, and lime give it an incredible flavor that is sheer perfection on any dish.

Year of the Dog has garnered a ton of awards and even made an appearance on "Hot Ones." But with a balanced heat level of only 29,800 Scoville units, don't worry — this dog doesn't bite.

California Hot Sauce Solutions

California Hot Sauce Solutions
California Hot Sauce Solutions - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Tim Paulman and Jason Robey co-founded California Hot Sauce Solutions in 2018 to combine their two lines: Paulman Acre and J's Small Batch Hot Sauce. Together, they comprise one of the most inventive hot sauce companies out there, with a penchant for highly adventurous flavors and ingredients. Pumpkin, raisins, cognac, beans, mushrooms, cactus pads — nothing is off limits. Paulman even once made a hot sauce out of edible ants! Never content to stick with the tried and true, the pair are always reinventing and reimagining what hot sauce can be, and their attitude seems to be "Why not?" But their sauces don't rely on novelty — they are well-crafted and legitimately tasty.

One standout example is the award-winning Paulman Acre Fermented Garlic Hot Sauce. This one features slow-roasted black garlic and lacto-fermented Caribbean peppers. It's sweeter than you'd expect with earthy, umami flavor coming from the black garlic and a slow, lingering glow from the peppers. It's quite savory and very distinct.

Another exceptional offering is J's Small Batch Mustard Glen hot sauce. It uses a 16-year Single Malt Islay Whisky to underpin spicy mustard flavors and a broad mix of unusual ingredients like cauliflower, Yukon yellow potatoes, summer savory, and brown sugar along with the usual suspects (garlic, peppers, and vinegar). It's a truly singular creation that speaks to the boundless creativity and enthusiasm that goes into their sauces.

A Frame Datil

A Frame Datil Sauce
A Frame Datil Sauce - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

While some hot sauce companies cast their nets wide and broad, A Frame Sauce Company founders Caleb Cooper and Scott Herlih take the opposite approach. They're very specialized, with a hyper-local focus using ingredients from their own backyard — literally! A Frame concentrates exclusively on the St. Augustine Datil pepper, a little-known variety of mysterious origins. No one knows for sure how the datil pepper first arrived in St. Augustine, but it has been there since at least the 18th century and now grows abundantly in the region. It's a sweet, hot pepper that hits around 100,000 to 300,000 on the Scoville scale and has made its way into a plethora of local restaurants, packaged foods, and farmers' markets (although it remains exceptionally rare outside of St. Augustine).

A Frame makes three varieties of hot sauce, each a unique spin on the datil pepper's distinctive sweet taste. Currently, the variety is mainly known to the residents and visitors to St. Augustine, but don't sleep on it — it's only a matter of time until the cat's out of the bag.

Funky's Hot Sauce

Funky's Hot Sauce Bottles
Funky's Hot Sauce Bottles - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

The Pacific Northwest isn't exactly known for its hot sauce, but Washington company Funky's Hot Sauce Factory is challenging expectations and proving to be a real contender in the competitive hot sauce world. Founder and CEO Matthew Mini started selling to the public in 2019, and since then Funky's has been taking home awards. It was even named the Grand World Champion in 2022 at the New York City Hot Sauce Expo, the first hot sauce company in the Pacific Northwest to win the title. Surprisingly, Funky's Hot Sauce Factory regularly uses local ingredients, including Carolina Reaper peppers locally grown in Washington state — an area that, again, is not known for sunny growing conditions nor spicy food.

Funky's Stellar Fuzz is a habanero hot sauce with a heavy dose of garlic and light zing of ginger. It was featured in Season 23 of "Hot Ones" in 2024, where it received rave reviews from guests. One of Funky's lesser-known varieties — the Italian style Pieno Di Stelle (Italian for "Full of Stars") — uses three kinds of Calabrian chilis, a moderately spicy, robust, and smoky-sweet pepper popular in Italian cuisine. The Pieno Di Stelle is downright heavenly on pizza, pasta, or any Italian dish.

Queen Majesty

Queen Majesty Hot Sauce
Queen Majesty Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Queen Majesty stands out from the crowd by making hot sauces that feel so elevated they're almost elegant, which is no small feat for this usually humble condiment. The brand begins with fresh ingredients and slow-cooks them using recipes inspired by owner Erica Diehl's Sicilian grandmother. Each of its products is made without sugar, xantham gum, or preservatives and is kosher, vegan, and gluten-free. The vibrant sauces are beautifully packaged in appealing, artistic bottles to bring a real sense of style to your table. But what truly sets the brand apart is its flavors.

Two of the most unusual combinations are the Cocoa Ghost Hot Sauce and the Red Habanero and Black Coffee Hot Sauce. Cocoa Ghost is made with ghost peppers, habaneros, chipotle, and pasilla peppers plus jet black cocoa, which anchors the pepper's spice and makes for a pleasantly grounded sauce that's milder than expected for a ghost pepper sauce. Even more surprising is the Red Habanero and Black Coffee flavor, where black coffee brings complexity and bitterness to the fruity sweetness of habanero peppers. It's bright and sophisticated — definitely worth a try if you want to step up your hot sauce game.

El Fuego

El Fuego Hot Sauce
El Fuego Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Another unexpected Pacific Northwest company, El Fuego Pepper Sauce out of Bellingham, Washington has been selling its specialty hot sauces since 2016 and regularly bringing home awards since 2017. Scovies, Screaming Mi Mis, Fiery Foods Challenge — El Fuego has been recognized by them all. Owner Erin Keedy excels at producing small-batch hot sauces that embody the flavor of each pepper and highlight the unique properties of each capsicum varietal. Then comes the heat for a slow-building, satisfying burn.

Case in point: El Fuego Datil Bite sauce. It's unmistakably a datil sauce, and the sweet fruity flavor of the pepper is the first thing you notice. But this sauce also gets a boost from scorpion pepper, so while it starts with datil, it ends with a smoldering scorpion sting. El Fuego similarly showcases Serrano, Fresno, and Reaper peppers in individual sauces, and the company also has several fruit-based sauces that incorporate freshly squeezed juices, like their Guavahaba, Watermelon 'Peño, and Tropical Hab options.

Old Bones Chilli Co.

Old Bones Chilli Co. Hot Sauce
Old Bones Chilli Co. Hot Sauce - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Old Bones Chili Co. is based out of Houston, Texas, where they craft their line of not-too-hot sauces using innovative production techniques, including their own special approach to smoking chili. The method remains a trade secret used only by Old Bones, which imparts a signature smoky taste to all its sauces. Head Chef Joshua Ngaire kicked off Old Bones Chilli Co. in 2021 with its flagship Smoked Garlic Chilli Sauce and its hotter counterpart, the "Extra Hot."

Today Old Bones' lineup includes (among others) a Buffalo sauce, a Jalapeno & Garlic sauce that took home a 2nd place Scovie in 2024, and its five pepper Longhorn sauce. The latter features Carolina Reapers, two kinds of Habanero, Cayenne, and Criolla peppers, plus plenty of garlic and that signature Old Bones smoke. The mixture of peppers makes for a pleasantly layered, smoky sauce that could top just about any dish — but would be especially nice on a big plate of Texas barbecue. The brand's most unusual sauce is the Old Bones Peri Peri, which uses Australian-grown birds eye chili and a house-made charcoal-infused oil with herbs and spices. Drawing on Caribbean influences and marrying them with big Texas flavor, it's a delightful departure from the norm that has garnered multiple awards for Old Bones Chilli Co.

Villain Hot Sauce

Villain Hot Sauces
Villain Hot Sauces - Melyssa Holik / Tasting Table

Villain Sauce Co. takes the spicy approach with its sauces but doesn't sacrifice flavor in favor of a tongue-destroying inferno. Instead, the intense fire supports the bold underlying flavors to build additional layers into each sauce. Founder Chris Badanjak started the company in 2020 after finding himself disappointed in the spice-to-flavor balance in other hot sauces. Villain Sauce Co. is for people who can't get enough heat, but want some actual taste — not just pain.

The company has eight variations in its lineup ranging from piquant to truly villainous. The Midas Touch is one of the more unusual combinations with ingredients like sweet potato, brown sugar, vanilla, and raisins, brought together with curry and garlic, then topped off with a trio of Thai chili, Scorpion, and Habanero peppers. Each pepper hits slightly differently in the throat or the tongue, so it burns all the way around. Similarly, the appropriately named Sinister Delight layers uber-hot Peach Ghost, Scorpion, and Habanero peppers into a peachy vinegar base for a sweet fruit sauce that will leave you sweating and possibly swearing (in a good way). If you're someone who finds other hot sauces too mild but still wants delicious, proportional taste behind the heat, Villain Sauce Co. is the brand for you.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.