What's the difference between Sriracha and Sambal anyway? With so many chile-based sauces on the market, it can be hard to tell savory from sweet, spicy to four-alarm fiery. We decode eight of the world’s most beloved kicky condiments. 

Cooking Light
January 03, 2017

If you’ve wandered down the international aisle of your supermarket, you’ve probably noticed that every cuisine, from Louisiana to Korea, has a chile sauce to call its own. Some are fiery, others have a vinegar bite, and others have a ketchup-like sweetness. Whether or not you’re a chile head, just a dab of these condiments can add savory depth and a welcome kick to just about any dish. We break down the eight most common chile sauces with recipes where they shine. Remember that a little goes a long way, and that color isn’t always the best indicator of heat (golden Caribbean pepper sauce is likely the hottest). 

Harissa

A fiery North African mix of roasted chiles, garlic, and spices like coriander and caraway. The roasted chiles give the condiment a smoky edge, rounding out the sweetness of roasted bell peppers or the acidity of tomato sauce. Toss with roasted potatoes or stir into yogurt to top grilled meat.

Try it in: Eggs in Purgatory

Sambal Oelek

This Indonesian blend of fresh chiles and vinegar offers bright, tangy heat. Unlike Sriracha, Sambal doesn’t have the balancing sweetness of sugar. You can also see the crushed chiles in the sauce. It’s fantastic in brothy soups or noodle stir-fries.

Try it in: Sticky Asian Chicken Wings

Caribbean Pepper Sauce

Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles make it searingly hot. A touch sweet, but you’re not likely to taste it among the super heat of the sunshine yellow and orange chiles. Try with grilled fish, or add a dab to meat marinades.

Sweet Chile Sauce

Fresno, red jalapeño, or Thai chiles simmer with rice wine vinegar and fish sauce for a not-too-hot, sweet sauce. The sticky sauce is an instant glaze for roasts or seafood, and a perfect dipping sauce for spring rolls.

Try it in: Seared Tofu with Sweet Chile Sauce and Broccoli

Sriracha

This thick Thai condiment gets flavor balance from garlic, distilled vinegar, sugar, and salt. It has the savory, sweet, and punchy notes that make it as addictive and all-purpose as ketchup, though with pronounced heat. Drizzle into a bowl of pho or on eggs.

Try it in: Supercrunch Tofu Tacos

Hot Sauce

An American Classic, vinegary Louisiana-style hot sauce goes with everything from Bloody Mary mix to Cajun jambalaya. Devotees are rightfully opinionated about their preferred brands. We like Tabasco, which is low in sodium.

Try it in: Savory Pan-Fried Chicken with Hot Sauce

Green Chile Sauce

Jalapeño, poblano, Hatch, and other green chiles turn up in various combinations in this Southwestern sauce. The blend of peppers gives the green sauce a bit more complexity than its red hot sauce cousin. Try in guac or mac and cheese.

Gochujang

A thick Korean paste full of intense flavor from fermented soybeans, sticky rice, sugar, and chiles. While dried hot peppers give the condiment its burnt red color, the paste is much more savory than fiery.  Stir into long-simmering stews or braises to take advantage of its complexity.

Try it in: Smoky “Baked” Beans