Sriracha Vs. Tabasco: PepperScale Showdown

Hot sauce royalty square off…

Names don’t come any bigger in the world of hot sauce than Tabasco and Sriracha. One’s an American staple with more than a century of history, the other a comparative upstart that’s captured the imagination of a generation of foodies. But how else do they differ? Are the flavors similar or world’s apart? Can you feel confident substituting one for the other? And what about the heat? Are they equally spicy? We answer these questions and more in another PepperScale Showdown. 

How similar are the ingredients in Tabasco and Sriracha?

The beauty of hot sauces is that recipes can vary widely and that they do between Tabasco and Sriracha. Tabasco is a Cajun style hot sauce that leans on three simple ingredients: distilled vinegar, red pepper, and salt. Sriracha, on the other hand, is a thicker sauce – like a thin ketchup – with a much larger laundry list of ingredients: chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite as preservatives, and xanthan gum.

Tabasco’s chili of choice (no surprise) is the tabasco pepper – a hefty medium heat pepper (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units). Sriracha turns to the red jalapeño for its heat source which comes in much lower on the pepper scale (2,500 to 8,000 SHU).

So which is hotter? Tabasco or Sriracha?

From the chilies used, you may think Tabasco is hotter by a landslide. It is hotter, but not crazily so. Both hot sauces fall in the low-jalapeño range of heat: Tabasco at approximately 2,500 SHU and Sriracha at around 2,200 SHU. Jalapeño peppers range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units for comparison.

Why so close when the tabasco pepper is so obviously hotter? It’s in the amount used in the hot sauce mix. The proportion of chilies to vinegar in Tabasco hot sauce tempers the overall heat of the tabasco peppers to a level where a great many people can enjoy the hot sauce.

Sriracha’s heat is more in line with the pepper it uses. Mature red jalapeños tend toward the upper end of the jalapeño range, but the chili is certainly more present in the sauce as a whole compared to Tabasco.

How about the taste? How different are the flavors of these hot sauces?

Eating Sriracha and Tabasco are definitely two different experiences, and they fit different types of cuisines due to it.

Tabasco has a heavy vinegar tang that’s typical of Cajun hot sauces, where vinegar is the power ingredient. There’s a depth to Tabasco, too, which you don’t often get from Cajun sauces. The tabasco pepper provides a little sweetness and a little smokiness that cuts past the vinegar. Tabasco shines with any Cajun meal, many southern dishes, chicken wings, eggs, fried foods, and Bloody Mary cocktails. Careful using it with lighter recipes as the vinegar can overpower less-heavy foods.

Sriracha has vinegar, too, but nowhere near the level of Tabasco. It’s not a main flavor player in the sauce. Instead, the chilies and garlic are the main flavors here. There’s a subtle sweetness, too, from the sugar used. Sriracha is more sauce-like, less like a condiment and more like an additional ingredient to a meal. As such, it has a lot more culinary use in the kitchen. Asian cuisine is where it originally shined, but today there are hundreds of recipes that utilize the sauce. It’s also delicious on fried foods, eggs, and fruits.

Can you substitute Tabasco for Sriracha (or vice versa)?

For novice hot sauce buyers, it’s easy to see two red hot sauces and think they are interchangeable. It’s far from the case. Sriracha and Tabasco have comparable heat, but that’s it. Tabasco’s vinegar tanginess is totally different than the garlicky sweetness. Sure, you can opt for one instead of the other for something like eggs, but be prepared for a totally different eating experience.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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