As supermarkets like Waitrose report large increases in hot sauce sales, it’s nothing compared to the overwhelming demand seen by specialist indie retailers who have been championing hot sauce for years.
Jen Ferguson, co-founder of independent hot sauce, craft beer and natural wine emporium Hop Burns & Black, says that already-strong hot sauce sales at her two South London stores and online web shop have increased by 94% over the past 12 months (with sales up a staggering 149% for December Y-O-Y) as customers go hot sauce-crazy for Christmas.
Hot sauce headlines have been recently dominated by the Guinness certification of the world’s hottest chilli Pepper X, but the allure of hot sauce lies not only in its ability to add heat, but also in the vast array of flavours that accompany the burn. From smoky chipotle to fruity Scotch bonnets, habaneros, ghost peppers and more, hot sauces are no longer just about intensity; they are a celebration of diverse and nuanced taste profiles.
The enormous success of US YouTube celebrity hot wings show Hot Ones has also played a huge part. Hop Burns & Black is the only UK hot sauce shop to have ever featured on the smash hit show and stocks the UK’s most extensive line-up of Hot Ones sauces, with customers often buying with the intention of recreating the Hot Ones ‘mild to wild’ chilli challenge experience at home.
This has all sparked what Jen calls a ‘craft hot sauce renaissance’, with artisanal producers creating small-batch sauces that cater to a spectrum of preferences.
“When we launched, more than nine years ago, a lot of people thought we were quite mad for specialising in hot sauce, but the zeitgeist has well and truly caught up,” says Jen. “We now stock more than 130 hot sauces, across all heat levels and flavour profiles.
“Along with the recent Hot Ones hype, demand has been driven by the growing interest in world cuisine, and the desire to explore flavours from around the world. Hot sauces, often deeply rooted in cultural traditions, provide a gateway into other cultures and cuisines; you can experience the heat of the Caribbean, the smokiness of the American South, or the unique flavours of Asian cuisines—all from the comfort of your own kitchen,” explains Jen.
In the foodie world, chefs and restaurants are getting in on the act, creating their own bespoke sauces and incorporating house-made hot sauces to create memorable dining experiences. Perennial best-sellers at Hop Burns & Black include the retailer’s collaboration sauces with South London street food brand Slow Richie’s; recent top-selling sauces include a small batch release from Peckham taco restaurant Taquiza and a range of sauces specifically designed to enjoy with seafood from South London Sauce Co and London’s Rocks Oysters. The customisable nature of hot sauce allows for different flavour profiles which can also be tweaked and updated with the seasons.
An increasing focus on health and wellness may also be a factor for hot sauce’s appeal, with customers becoming more mindful of what they put into their bodies. Just as Hop Burns & Black’s alcohol-free sales have boomed (increasing 23% in 2023), sales of hot sauce have grown alongside, as health-conscious customers seek out delicious ways to enjoy a more natural high.
Jen explains, “Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in chilli peppers, has been linked to various health benefits, including metabolism boosting and pain relief. But spicy food can also cause pain and, in response, your brain releases endorphins and dopamine. This can create a feeling of euphoria, similar to a runner’s high.”
As hot sauce takes its place at the forefront of culinary trends, expect to see a wide range of products, events, and collaborations celebrating this fiery phenomenon (Hop Burns & Black even runs its world-famous Chilli Karaoke events throughout the year, challenging punters to struggle through their favourite songs after chowing down on the spiciest chilli peppers and hot sauces they can handle). So whether you’re a heat-seeker or a flavour explorer, 2024 is the year to embrace the sizzle, spice, and everything nice that hot sauce brings to the table.