In cooking, consuming and dealing with fiery cuisine, especially the liquid seasonings that give flavor and heat to dishes, you’re going to stumble upon dozens of interrelated names and terms. Some of their meanings may be obvious, but chances are good that if you’re newer to the world of spice you may get hung up on a few.
For the novice foodies and beginner chileheads, I’ve given definitions of a lot of these words you’ll encounter. The following list is certainly not comprehensive, yet still should cover most of the terms encompassing the wide world of spicy sauces, condiments and liquids.
In its most basic meaning, a hot sauce is simply any sauce that uses hot chile peppers as one of its mean ingredients to give it a spicy taste. Diving deeper into what the definition of hot sauce is, it can technically mean any type of pepper-based substance ranging from watery liquids to thicker condiments all the way up to a thin paste in terms of consistency. Hot sauce can have an almost unlimited number of supporting ingredients including tart, sugary, fruity, salty, smoky or tangy ones. It also should be noted that technically salsas are considered to be hot sauces, albeit much thicker ones. Also referred to as pepper sauces and chile sauces.
The word “salsa” means “sauce” in Spanish, so actually any hot sauce could be a salsa, but not all salsas are hot sauces because salsas can have just about any ingredient under the sun, including beans, corn, fruit, herbs, spices, nuts and even seafood. To Anglo-American audiences, salsa usually means a denser substance that contains thicker or more solid ingredients (although they may be soft) than pure liquid and can even be virtually all solid chunks in some instances. Pico de gallo is perhaps the most famous variant, with an ingredient list containing tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. Salsas can be made fresh or cooked and jarred.
Salsa as a whole became the best-selling condiment in terms of dollar sales in the United States sometime in the 1990s, and reigned for over 15 years (mayonnaise is now number one).
Pico de Gallo
Also known as Salsa cruda, salsa picada, salsa mexicana, or salsa fresca, and has primarily tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, cilantro, and lime juice. The ingredients are coarsely chopped and mixed into a chunky texture.
A thick, greenish-colored sauce that uses tomatillas (as opposed to red tomatoes) as its main ingredient in its Mexican-style version.
A red sauce with many of the same ingredients as pico de gallo but with a runnier, more processed consistency. Sometimes (usually wrongly) used interchangeably with the term “taco sauce”.
Highly pureed and cooked, this sweet mix typically consists of tomatoes, chile peppers and onions.
Similar to taco sauce in some ways, but can have a smoother and more oily base. Comes in two major types, red and green, that are colored based on what kind of chile peppers from which they’re made.
A thick, frequently creamy or chunky salsa dip that has avocados as a main ingredient.
Pronounced “moe-lay”, this is used to define a number of Mexican sauces that can contain varying ingredients. Frequently contains chocolate, which is perhaps the most famous form of mole sauces.
“Jerk” flavoring is found in both dry seasoning and sauce forms. Jerk sauce is sometimes referred to as a Jamaican or Caribbean-style “barbecue”, but it’s quite different from the American style, tomato-based BBQ sauces most are used to consuming. Jerk sauce is a rich, complex, spicy and peppery mixture that uses many different food components, but most often of those are Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice.
Typically a cayenne pepper sauce and butter/margarine mixture used to coat fried, grilled or baked chicken wings. Very often called “Buffalo Sauce” (named after the city of their origin, Buffalo, NY), it should be noted that true “buffalo wings” do not contain breading, while “hot wings” do have breading. Can sometimes be used on other chicken dishes, such as fried chicken nuggets, tenders or fillets on buns (usually all containing the “buffalo” moniker). Wings sauces can also be BBQ, fruit or jerk sauce-based.
Typically a finely chopped mix of vegetables that is cooked and/or pickled, and used as a condiment.
A specific form of relish popular in the Southern U.S. and other areas that uses a vegetable base, which may include cabbage.
A water and salt mixture used to either preserve foods or to add moisture and flavor to meat before cooking.
Any type of liquid in which you soak food (most often meat) for extended periods of time in order for the said food to draw in additional flavors before cooking. Marinades can come from most cuisines and can be savory, sweet or salty in nature.
A thicker, sometimes gelatinous, sauce that is applied to the outside of food that will produce a shiny and sweet coating.
A predominantly American style of sauce that’s most often made with tomatoes, and often has sweet, tangy or smoky components. It is often used as a finishing sauce for grilled meat or barbecued (AKA smoked and low temperature cooked) meat.
By definition, mustard is a yellowish or brownish condiment or thin paste that employs mustard seeds as one of its core ingredients. American-style yellow mustard usually contains turmeric. Can also include a large array of other ingredients, which can be spicy or sweet.
A popular condiment with a base consistency predominantly of tomato concentrate, corn syrup, vinegar and salt.
As the name implies, this is any type of sauce or liquid used within the process of cooking. These sauces are blended in other ingredients (often other sauces or liquids) to produce a final result when cooking is complete. This contrasts with finishing sauces or dips (which are used at the end of the cooking process or afterwards when eating), although many cooking sauces can serve those roles, too.
Any sauce or condiment used during the final stages of cooking. Many of these may be sugar-based, which can caramelize and burn if cooked for too long.
A pungent, light-colored sauce that gets it’s strong and hot flavor from horseradish root. Normally used as a condiment or an additive.
Coming from a Japanese plant similar to horseradish, this is a greenish paste with a powerfully strong kick. Frequently eaten with Japanese fish dishes or roasted with peas, soybeans or peanuts to create a spicy snack.
Asian Style Sauce
This could include the pungent, Thai-style offerings such as sriracha, which are strong garlic/red chile/sugar sauces. It could refer to a sweeter, lighter red chile sauce as well, or even a spicy kind of paste called a sambal. Asian sauces could also be a chile or non-chile varieties like fish sauces, soy sauces, or sweet and sour sauces.
An Asian-style condiment originating from Thailand that typically uses red fermented peppers, garlic and sugar, along with vinegar and salt.
These are the super hot sauces and can reach several hundred thousand or even in the millions of Scoville Heat Units. Although some use habaneros or bhut jolokias for flavor and some fire, these sauces will use varying amounts of chile pepper extract to obtain a nuclear burn in your mouth. Almost always used more for heat than for flavor, these should be used sparingly, either as an additive or for novelty purposes.
Caribbean Style Sauce
A Caribbean or Tropical hot sauce will often have a slightly more complex taste than a run of the mill pepper sauce. Sometimes these will incorporate mustard, habaneros, Scotch bonnet peppers or fruit to create a distinctive flavor and texture. Should not be confused with a Caribbean or Jamaican Jerk style sauce.
Southwestern or Mexican Style
A general category of pepper sauces usually heavy in smoked jalapenos called chipotles and vary in heat levels
The most popular kind of chile pepper sauce in America. These are any thin, watery sauce that is mainly peppers (can be cayenne, tabasco or jalapenos, and are sometimes fermented), vinegar and salt. Most of the major American brands (Tabasco, et al.) are Louisiana style.
A generalized term for saucy side dishes popular on India and Southeast Asia. Recipes can be extremely varied depending on many factors, including region.
Can be a paste or a dried spice mixture, and is used in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine to add zip and flavor to dishes
These are different types of Indian sauces and pastes. Often they are spicy or sweet in taste. Westernized chutneys are typically sweet in nature, and at times can be compared to a quasi-fruity salsa.