Chili peppers are believed to be among the earliest plants cultivated by humans. Their use goes all the way back to the beginning of civilization. Archeological digs have found evidence of chili peppers being eaten as far back as 7,000 BC. Several millennia later, chili peppers would be domesticated. It was around this time that the earliest hot sauces were invented; this shows that humans have a long history of using them as condiments to enhance the flavor and nutritional value of foods. Early hot sauces would have been consumed on early versions of the corn tortilla. They consisted of the peppers along with water and perhaps herbs. In short, the Aztecs are who invented hot sauce.
The arrival of Columbus
At the point that European Conquerors arrived in South America, the Aztecs were growing several strains of chili pepper but the hot sauces were still very simple since they lacked the ingredients that Europe would later introduce to the region. These ingredients included onions and various spices. The Europeans would return to Europe with chili peppers and from there, they would spread throughout the world. The peppers became popular throughout Asia but especially in Southeast Asia, among the cultures that prized spices and spicy foods.
Hot sauce in America
Some of the first commercially produced hot sauce showed up in Massachusetts in 1807, these sauces were sold as “cayenne sauce.” There are very few surviving bottles of these sauces; much of what is known about them comes from the newspaper advertisements of the time. A New York City company called J. McCollick & Company would produce a bird pepper sauce in the mid-1800s. During this period, Colonel Maunsell White grew the first crop of tabasco chilies. White would start the practice of bottling and selling hot sauces made with these chilies.
Edward McIlhenny’s Tabasco sauce
For many Americans, Tabasco sauce is the quintessential hot sauce, which means that the answer to the question “who invented hot sauce?” would have to be Edward McIlhenny. Edward McIlhenny would get seeds from White and start growing the peppers in Louisiana, on his Avery Island plantation. Over the following years, McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce would become a cultural phenomenon that paved the way for every other mass-produced American hot sauce to come. Its initial success was largely the result of sales to hotels and restaurants rather than to ordinary consumers.
After the immense success of Tabasco sauce, many different manufacturers would try their hand at developing hot sauces in the early 20th century. These include Crystal Hot Sauce, which is a brand that still exists today. In Jamaica, the Pickapeppa Company would start producing their unique variation of the product. Like Crystal Hot Sauce and Tabasco, Pickapeppa Sauce is still made and sold to this day.
The world of hot sauce would not see any major developments until 1980 when David Tran started his company, Huy Fong Foods – the maker of the famous Sriracha sauce. Tran was a Vietnamese refugee and his company was named after the ship that took him from Vietnam. Named after the Thai city of Si Racha, the sauce consists of chili peppers along with other flavoring additives like garlic and sugar. Sriracha would become a worldwide hit and the company would outgrow its factory within seven years. Along with Sriracha sauce, Huy Fong Foods is also famous for making sambal oelek.