What is the difference between sambal and hot sauce?

wat is het verschil tussen sambal en hot sauce?

We have been running a hot sauce company for about 6.5 years, but when we were growing up, our mother didn’t serve us spicy food very often. If there was something spicy on the table, it was often a jar of sambal (from the supermarket) when she had made nasi goreng. For many Dutch people, sambal is probably the introduction to spicy food or the “sauce” of choice when they want to add some spice to their dish. But what is actually the difference between the sambal that is well known to the Dutch and hot sauce that is far less known to many?

We now dare to say that we are “hot sauce experts”, but we know a little less about sambal. That’s why we asked Nicole McMahon, from Trouble & Spice, to clarify that difference. That’s not ‘just someone’ we ask for this, because she won the award for Best Sambal of 2023‘ at the Dutch Chili Fest last year. We now give Nicole the floor!

verschil sambal hot sauce beste sambal maker

We all know Hot Ones, where multi-millionaire celebrities cry over hot sauce and chicken wings. And if I invited you over for Sambal Chicken Wings, you’d be there for sure, and probably have a good idea of what I’m making. But what is hot sauce? And what is sambal? And above all: what is the difference?

Difference sambal & hot sauce

It basically comes down to two things: consistency and geography! Hot sauce is traditionally a vinegar based liquid (think Tabasco), and sambal is more paste like. However, a sambal can be quite runny depending on the dish it is served with. Sambal comes from South-East Asia, and is thought to have originated in Indonesia, which explains the Dutch sambal obsession. Hot sauces have been around for over 6,000 years in the Americas where chilies are native, but would be called salsas. They were only introduced to Asia in the 16th Century. (Yes historians, there were local hot spices used prior to this to great chilli free types of sambal, including ginger, but the other spices are now quite rare and only used in traditional medicine.)

With the somewhat recent obsession with hot sauce and rise of artisan hot sauce brands the options are almost endless; crazy hot, fermented, fruity, or garlic packed to deter dracula, there’s a hot sauce for everything. Sambals are a little less ‘so hot right now’ with most makers sticking to tried and true formulas. A few new ones on the scene include Hot Honey Sambal and Funky Vegan, using fermented soy to mimic trassi. These are some other spicy condiments, including their unique qualities.

Salsa – Any sauce from spanish speaking Americas – is this a sambal or a hot sauce? Traditionally made with a molcajete the texture is more sambal than hot sauce. Sometimes vinegar is used for preservation, while in other places salsas are made fresh daily.

Shatta – A Palestinian fermented chilli paste covered with oil for preservation

Chilli Oil – Mexican salsa macha, or Chinese Chilli Crisp, Sichuan Oil, or somewhat newer chilli oils made with extracts to offer insane heat levels. Yum Phrik recently won Best Chilli Oil at the European Hot Sauce Awards, in a move from the traditional using kaffir lime leaves, roasted rice, and crispy ginger.

Have I helped, or just added to the confusion? I’d say it’s a good reason to buy some of each and see for yourself the difference between a sambal and a hot sauce. A great place to start is this Best hot sauce & sambal pack, with both of the award winners at the Dutch Chili Fest 2023 in one pack.

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