Hot sauce history: the ancient history of that spicy goodness

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Hot sauce is getting hotter and hotter. And I don’t mean in terms of actual heat, but in terms of popularity. Also here in Europe. Despite that, it is still in its infancy and most people are not yet very familiar with hot sauce. That’s why we would like to educate people in this area. Particularly about the history of hot sauce, because it goes back thousands of years. To go all the way back to the birth of hot sauce, we have to go back in time no less than 9,000 years!

The Aztecs (7000 B.C.)

Aztecs were around 7,000 B.C. not just concerned with total domination of Mesoamerica, building pyramids or inventing the calendar. Even more important: the first steps into the wonderful world of hot sauce were taken. A small step, but it turned out to be a gigantic step for the culinary world. Chili peppers and water were first combined with some spices to add some extra flavor and kick to their food. This substance was also used for medicinal purposes, payment of taxes and even warfare (think pepper spray-like weapons). Two millennia later they had domesticated the peppers.

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Peppers conquer the world (1500 AD)

The next big step took quite a while, because about 8,500 years later, a certain Christopher Columbus brought the pepper to Spain. Instead of reaching India as planned, he ended up in Central America and there he came across the chili pepper, instead of the black pepper he was looking for. Because the chili pepper caused a burning sensation in the mouth, just like black pepper, he called the chili peppers. That is why they are still colloquially called peppers. A story of coincidence, but the pepper had found its way to Europe and from there it would travel all over the world. The Portuguese brought the chili to Asia around the year 1542 and the fiery fruit then traveled all over the world via the Silk Road. Until then, in Asia she used ingredients such as ginger or black pepper to add ‘spice’ to dishes.

The first commercial hot sauce

It is of course important to know the story behind the main character in hot sauces (we mean the pepper, of course), but it took a while until the first commercial hot sauce was produced. The year 1807 was when that happened. Then the first hot sauce advertisement was placed in a Massachusetts newspaper. By the way, that was not Tabasco, but ‘Cayenne sauce’. So it was made with the Cayenne pepper.

In the mid-19th century, the Mexican-American War was raging, and American soldiers returning had found a new love in Mexico: peppers. Of course, thanks to the influences of Mexican cuisine and there is a good chance that the first seeds of the Tabasco pepper were also brought from Mexico to the US here. Tabasco peppers owe their name to the place where they come from. In 1870 the time finally came and the hot sauce that is still most famous today was born. Edmund McIlhenny obtains a patent for ‘Tabasco Brand hot pepper sauce’, which was later trademarked in 1906.

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And we have already come a long way! From that moment on, hot sauce was sold commercially and more and more players entered the market. That market grew considerably, especially in the US, and has only recently spread to Europe. So we are only at the beginning of what will probably be a long and tough adventure!

This piece of hot sauce history and much more can also be found in our book “HOT SAUCE – The hot sauce bible with 40 spicy recipes” (only in Dutch), in which we discuss the history and culture behind hot sauce and share our favorite hot sauce dishes.

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