Is Hot Sauce Healthy? Because the Hot Sauce Trend is Still Hot
By Lisa Monroe
It’s such a cliché, but hey, it’s true. The hot sauce trend is on “fire” and it has been for a while. The Wall Street Journal said so a year ago. But go back two more years, and there’s USA Today saying the same thing. And according to Serious Eats, hot sauce was big even back in 2015 – it was a $1.3 billion industry in the U.S. alone.
By 2018, hot sauce was even more popular – a $2.29 billion global market, that’s predicted to grow a whole lot more over the next few years. According to Fortune Business Insights, the hot sauce market will grow worldwide to another $1.5 billion to $3.77 billion by the end of 2026.
Hot sauce is no longer just for splashing on barbecue and chili. Nowadays we add it to all kinds of foods, from our avocado toast in the morning to our favorite pizzas and baked potatoes for dinner.
To put it mildly, no pun intended, people today love their hot sauce, and everyone seems to have their favorite way of using it. There are even hot sauce aficionados, for whom hot sauce isn’t just a condiment but an obsession. Where can they go to celebrate this spicy concoction? How about the NYC Hot Sauce Expo? There are festivals across the country that celebrate hot sauce and the spicy foods that are made with it.
Whether you like it super hot or mild and tangy, there is an impressively long list of commercial hot sauces – more than 120 worldwide, and exponentially more if you factor in homemade varieties and those made by restaurants and mom-and-pop shops. Yes, you can make your own delicious hot sauce at home, and believe it or not, it’s relatively easy to do.
Hot Sauce is Healthy!
Despite how different they may taste, most hot sauces only contain three main ingredients: chili peppers, vinegar, and salt.
Generally speaking, capsicum describes the genus of flowering plants that we refer to as pepper plants. Peppers are in the nightshade family of plants and native to America, grown here for thousands of years and also cultivated now throughout the world. The fruit that we eat from this plant is technically a berry, although we tend to think of it as a vegetable.
There are many different types of capsicum. For example, we know the milder tasting fruits as bell peppers and the zestier ones as chili peppers. Often, when someone uses the term “capsicum,” they are actually referring to the chili pepper, as we are here.
Capsicum contains a lot of vitamin C, which can help with iron deficiencies. One bell pepper, for example, contains up to 97 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. Capsicum also contains other vitamins like vitamin A, as well as beta-carotene and dietary fiber. While all varieties of capsicum are good for you, red peppers are typically more nutritious than their green cousins.
Capsicum has numerous health benefits, due to a chemical found inside the fruit called “capsaicin.” Known for its pain-reducing qualities when applied to the skin, the use of capsaicin as a topical solution is not new. In fact, Native Americans highly regarded it for its many different medicinal purposes, including applying it as an analgesic and as a circulatory stimulant.
Today capsaicin is commonly used in creams and lotions designed to alleviate pain from arthritis, backaches, and even headaches. And modern research has shown that skin patches laced with capsaicin can reduce pain in people suffering from nerve damage caused by health issues like diabetes and shingles. It’s also used to reduce symptoms of skin conditions such as psoriasis and after surgery to reduce nausea and vomiting.
In addition to using capsaicin topically, many people believe that consuming capsaicin can improve health in many ways, from boosting the immune system and assisting with weight management, to improving digestive health, improving eyesight, and reducing age-related eye problems. And while research isn’t yet conclusive, there is thought to be a correlation between capsaicin and a lower risk of cancer.
Chilero: Packed with Capsicum AND Probiotics
The older generation of people living in the blue zone region of Nicoya, Costa Rica are some of the longest-lived, healthiest people in the world. About one in every 150 people in Nicoya lives to be 100 years old. That’s compared to one in 4,000 in the U.S.
For the Chorotega people of Nicoya and, in fact, throughout the entire country of Costa Rica, chilero hot sauce is the most widely used condiment. This spicy, tangy sauce adds a kick to a variety of recipes and foods, including rice, beans, and stews. Almost every Costa Rican has his or her own version of this popular sauce too, ranging from mild and sweet to killer hot.
Chilero is made with simple ingredients – vinegar, salt, chili peppers, and vegetables – and packed with goodness, from capsicum and other ingredients. As Dan Buettner says in his cookbook, The Blue Zones Kitchen, when describing the chilero recipe, “The vinegar gives it a probiotic boost, and the vegetables and chili peppers add to its antioxidant and antibacterial properties.”
It’s really easy to make and only takes 20 minutes to prepare. Simply parboil carrots and onions, then add to a large jar of vinegar along with chili peppers, salt, and vegetables like cauliflower, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Then let the concoction pickle for one to three days, and you have a hot sauce that will keep two to three months in the fridge. It’s easy to experiment with the flavor of chilero by preparing it with different chili pepper and vegetable combinations.
Blue Zones Hot Sauces
We have a variety of Blue Zones Nicoya hot sauces from our suppliers in Costa Rica, including traditional Nicoyan Chilero, if you’d like to try this Costa Rican favorite. Our Blue Zones sauces are made with several different chili peppers, from the well-known cayenne in our Nalga de Perro Hot Sauce to Costa Rica’s native Congo pepper in our Conbirra Hot Sauce. All of the sauces are 100% natural, gluten-free and contain no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or added sugars.
We give the profits back to the Costa Rican centenarians and sustainable efforts in the Nicoya region so your purchase goes a long way. In fact, any purchase you make in our store, from a t-shirt to coffee, helps us give back to our friends in Nicoya who have shared so much wisdom with us over the years.
Some Interesting Ways to Use Chilero or Any Hot Sauce
Hot sauce can add a spicy flavor when drizzled or splashed on all kinds of food. It can enhance the flavor of blander foods like rice and beans or put on spicy foods to make them even hotter. In recipes, it can be combined with other ingredients to add bold flavor and heat to dishes like stews, chili, casseroles, soups, and stir-fries. Here are a few other interesting ways to use chilero or your favorite hot sauce:
- Garnish gallo pinto with a few tablespoons for a traditional Costa Rican dish.
- Add to a cup of honey with one or two tablespoons of vinegar, then warm on the stove for a spicy, sweet dip for fruits like cantaloupe, as a spread for toast, or drizzle it over fruit salad.
- Puree a half cup in the blender with 10 cloves of garlic and one or two tablespoons of dark mustard, then use for basting foods before grilling.
- Combine with plain yogurt or mayonnaise to make a zesty and creamy salad dressing.
- Use chilero as a dip with vegetables, pita chips, or plantains (tostones).
- Add a few drops of hot sauce or a tablespoon of chilero to guacamole for an extra kick.
Lisa Oliver Monroe is a journalist and author of a travel book about America’s Historic Triangle (Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown). Her writing has been published by Virginia Living, Boomer Magazine, Kirkus Media, Advance for Nurses, and Colonial Williamsburg, among many others.