It's getting hot in here.
There’s something about Sriracha. Maybe it’s the bottle’s large size, or that rooster, or the iconic red-and-green, is-it-Christmas-or-am-I-eating-dumplings color combo. Whatever’s happening, it’s addictive. I’ve been known to pool Sriracha next to baked mac ‘n cheese, drizzle it on egg sandwiches, or use it in marinades when I think they need a little extra hot-sweet something.
But let’s be honest: Sriracha is quite sweet, rather overpowering, texturally odd, and not always exactly what you’re craving. To that end, here are my top five spicy-sweet condiments that aren’t Sriracha.
My colleague Ganda Suthivarakom turned me on to Portuguese piri-piri sauce in a piece she wrote for Saveur many years ago. Mázi’s rendition—which you’ll spy at specialty shops and can buy online—has a gloriously slow burn, a fruity tomato sauce base, and silky texture. Unlike a hot sauce like Tabasco, it’s not vinegar-based, so it doesn’t bring acrid notes to the table.
Sambal Oelek (Chili Paste)
Among the many glorious qualities this chili paste boasts is its ability to substitute for fresh peppers in recipes in a pinch (as is also true of dried red pepper flakes). Sambal oelek is known to taste a whole lot like fresh chiles, and it’s what I bust out for stir-fried pork and vermicelli noodles or to serve alongside any rice-based dish. It’s hot, the tiniest bit sweet, and doesn’t knock you over with heat. Bonus: It’s inexpensive.
Some New Yorkers would argue that if you’ve never tried a pizza drizzled with this product, you haven’t really had pizza. I wouldn’t go that far, nor would I call it “the world’s most versatile condiment,” as its website does, but I would say that infusing honey with chiles and drizzling it on a pepperoni-packed pie is a pretty damn perfect gastronomic experience.
Funky, spicy, garlicky, and a little sweet, this Korean condiment has experienced a mini boom in popularity these last few years. Fermented soybeans contribute umami funk to the finished product, which is a delight to play around with in marinades, deviled eggs, spooned into mayonnaise, or dolloped alongside a finished dish (although it’s typically cut with something).
Watch: What is Gochujang?
Cocktail fans love bitters for their unique ability to add a trace of bitterness, fruitiness, or aromatics to a drink. It’s no surprise that habanero bitters accomplish the same sleight of hand. One can add—drop by drop—heat to a drink that shimmers on the palate delicately, thanks to this bitters’ structure as a shrub. (It’s laced with vinegar.) Hot and lightly sweet thanks to the pepper’s fruity flavor, it’s the most fun you can have with heat without turning on the oven.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.