Asian hot sauce taste test: Beyond Sriracha

New Asian SaucesSriracha is only the beginning. (Credit: Matt Duckor)If you're reading this story, it's almost certainly because you like Sriracha (the Huy Fong version or otherwise). But the world of Asian hot sauces is more than just the bright-red chile-garlic-vinegar slurry we know and love.

Across the continent, from China to archipelagic Southeast Asia to India, people are spritzing (or sometimes drowning) their meals with sauces that are sweet or salty, thick or thin, fruity or garlicky. Their one commonality is their capsaicin capaciousness--their ability to titillate and burn. And, perhaps someday, one may break on through to mainstream success on American tables. Here's a sampling of hot sauces we found at Asian markets, one of which could become the Next Hot Thing.

Jufran Banana Sauce (Hot)(Matt Duckor)

Jufran Banana Sauce (Hot)

Super thick and fruity, this favorite Filipino condiment is a type of banana ketchup developed during World War Two, when there was a shortage of tomato-based ketchup in the Philippines. Shake or stir it up and be patient--it makes Heinz look like water. Use it like a spicy ketchup to cut the intensity of rich foods like fried chicken or seafood, French fries, and grilled sausages. Try it as a barbecue sauce. Banana ketchup is naturally brownish (think over ripe bananas) so this crimson condiment owes its hue to food coloring. There's a regular banana sauce, too, but the hint of heat in this one makes life more exciting.

Burn factor: 2

(See also: Taste test: Canned tomatoes)

Shark Sriracha(Matt Duckor)Shark Sriracha

The white cap seems rickety and the shark logo looks dangerous, but this popular Thai-made Sriracha charms your palate with excellent flavor.

Like the original Sriraja Panich, the Shark brand has bright heat, tanginess, and a pleasant fermented fragrance, but it's slightly less sweet. The bottle I got is "medium" and very pleasant tasting. Enjoy it like you would the Rooster sauce, but beware: You can't doodle with Shark. It's more liquid than its American cousin.

Burn factor: 3

ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Manis Pedas(Matt Duckor)ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Manis Pedas

The Indonesian ABC brand is actually owned by Heinz, which maybe explains why these three sauces are so hard to pour. Unlike our beloved American condiment, though, they've got a kick. If your tolerance for heat is mild, go for the Hot and Sweet (sambal manis pedas), though it can be cloying, like candy sweet spicy; sugar is the first ingredient listed and there's tomato, too. Kids may enjoy this if they're training for a spicy life.

Burn factor: 1

ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Extra Pedas(Matt Duckor)ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Extra Pedas

The Extra Hot Chili Sauce (sambal extra pedas) lives up to its name; I felt the heat in my hair follicles. The extra hot is soft on the manis (sweet) characteristic of its gentler sibling, but there is MSG, perhaps for an extra endorphin rush?

The chile blast pairs well with boldly flavored foods, like smoky barbecue. Serve it with patatas bravas for extra-brave guests.

Regardless, you'll be hitting the bottle often to cool down.

Burn factor: 5

ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Asli(Matt Duckor)ABC Chili Sauces: Sambal Asli

The middle ground is Tropical Chili Sauce (sambal asli), my favorite. Chile is the first listed ingredient, but the heat isn't searing, and there's no tomato or MSG. Texture- and flavor-wise, it's almost as if you took Shark brand Sriracha and thickened it to the consistency of Huy Fong's Rooster sauce.

So put it into a squirt bottle and go to town on practically anything, from tuna salads and omelets to fried rice. Tinker with it for a chicken marinade.

Burn factor: 3.5

Maggi Masala Chilli(Matt Duckor)Maggi Masala Chilli

Sweet, hot, and pungent, with a cuminlike edge, this Indian hot sauce pushes your palate to the edge, but won't push it overboard. I always go back for more--against my better judgment. It's great with deep-fried foods (e.g., samosas, pakoras, spring rolls) and fabulous with grilled meats too.

Try it with dishes and cuisines that are similarly spiced, like tacos, a lamb stir-fry with cumin, and falafel sandwiches.

Burn factor: 4

Glory Chicken Chilli Sauce(Andrea Nguyen)Glory Chicken Chilli Sauce

Chile sauces are usually multipurpose, but this one from Singapore is just for chicken--specifically Hainan chicken rice, the ultra-popular one-dish meal of poached chicken atop rice cooked in chicken broth. Glory's sauce combines chile, garlic, and ginger for a slightly chunky texture and wonderfully raw perfume, as if it had been freshly made.

Try it with roast chicken (homemade or store-bought). It perks things up nicely without killing your senses.

Rooster rating: 2

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