Why Have Hot Sauces Become So Popular in Cooking?

Hot sauce

Looking to heat things up in the kitchen? Adding hot sauces to your cooking will spice up your dishes to a whole new level.

They may make your lips tingle and your nose itch, but hot sauces spiced up with chillies are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, online searches for "spicy flavours" trended in 2022 – thanks to increasing globalisation driving the sales of spices, condiments and sauces. Hot sauce is emerging as the favourite accompaniment to all sorts of savoury dishes – from Indian curries to the Spanish dish bacalao al pil pil. But although you might think hot sauces are a new addition to the cooking lexicon, a “cayenne sauce” was actually bottled and sold in Massachusetts as far back as 1807. So what is the long-standing attraction of hot sauces and spicy food? Read on to find out.

Why add hot sauces to food?

When you eat spicy food, your body reacts as though you’re actually hurt, tricking itself into releasing endorphins – the body’s “feel-good” chemicals – to relieve any pain. And as we know, endorphins make us feel happy: eating sauces with chilli in them gives us the identical feeling to the “high” we get after exercising. This is why eating spicy food is so addictive, and why so many people liven up all sorts of dishes – like southern French Merguez sausages – with hot sauce. Put simply, they’ll make you feel really good!

Are hot sauces healthy?

Well, yes and no. Most hot sauces contain few calories and are spiced up by chilli peppers, which, when fresh, are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, iron and potassium. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s thought that capsaicin – the chemical component that gives chilli peppers their heat – may contribute to lowering "bad" cholesterol as well as blood pressure. The downside is that eating too much capsaicin can inflame the digestive tract and irritate the stomach lining, so moderation of intake is important.

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