The 10 greatest Mexican-style sizzling sauces from grocery shops and what meals to make use of them with

With palates and sinuses ablaze, the Taste team took on a monumental challenge this week: tasting two dozen hot Mexican-style sauces to identify the 10 bottles worth your hard-earned dollars and coveted pantry space .

And it’s fine work, as anyone who has walked through the spice shelves in the supermarket knows. The number of hot sauces that Texas grocers have on offer is seemingly unlimited, with dozens of bottles from around the world inviting potential buyers to whip their taste buds with the painful hot peppers of chillies.

To narrow down this overwhelming choice, Emily Spicer and I, the grocery editor for Express-News, focused solely on hot sauces, which are popular in Mexico and Texas. Think Cholula and Valentina, not Louisiana-style sauces like Frank’s RedHot or Crystal or the Srirachas of Southeast Asia or the peri-peri sauces popular in South Africa – all of which are also abundant in stores in the San Antonio area. (Don’t worry, salsa verde fans. We’ll be taking a close look at the green stuff in a future taste test.)

Of the many hot sauces we’ve tried – oh, it still burns as I write this – some were easy to eliminate because they got too close to fresh salsa. Others were just plain inedible for a variety of reasons, such as poor taste balance, chemical aftertaste, or – worst crime of all – just being boring when the tongue calls for a fiery feast.

With the hard work (and several gallons of water through the hatch) we’re bringing you the 10 best sauces we’ve tried and our recommended uses for each.

Classic buffalo sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Classic buffalo sauce

This thick, smooth sauce is having an identity crisis in the best possible way. It’s somewhere between a traditional Mexican hot sauce and chamoy, with a robust fruity taste and a hint of sweetness thanks to guajillo chillies and a little sugar. We want a splash of it with fresh fruit, tequila-based cocktails, and micheladas.

Cholula Original hot sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Cholula Original hot sauce

This sauce based on chilli arbol and chilli pequin is a real classic and has a light taste full of vinegar and spices. It is not only suitable as an all-purpose table sauce, but is also a welcome addition to hearty stews such as carne guisada, chilli and picadillo.

De La Viuda Original hot sauce

De La Viuda Original hot sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

De La Viuda Original hot sauce

This Jalisco Arbol Chili Sauce finds a perfect balance between the flavor of Cholula and the flavor of Valentina and is remarkably well balanced in salt, vinegar and heat with a persistent, slow burn. This was one of our favorites. It’s like a glittering, younger sister of Cholula and deserves pride of place as a hot sauce suitable for everyday use.

From the first red sauce

From the first red sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

From the first red sauce

If you can’t decide between fresh salsa and hot sauce, Del Primo is the bottle for you. It’s a little chunky with seeds of tomatillos, jalapeños, and arbol chilies, enhanced by a lively plant-like taste of onions and coriander. This sauce would be a winner if drizzled on almost any type of taco.

Humble House Ancho & Morita Smokey Tamarind Sauce

Humble House Ancho & Morita Smokey Tamarind Sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Humble House Ancho & Morita Smokey Tamarind Sauce

A really unique sauce made from ancho and morita chillies, tons of spicy tamarind, raisins and balsamic vinegar. Born in San Antonio, this product is perfect for adding a mild smoky and fruity flavor to quick-grilled or oven-fried meat. It would also be a perfect complement to greasy sour cream or cream cheese based dips and mac and mac and cheese.

Trader Joe's hot jalapeño pepper sauce

Trader Joe’s hot jalapeño pepper sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Trader Joe’s hot jalapeño pepper sauce

Jalapeños are clearly the star here, with their distinct flavor that shines through. This sauce has a pleasant taste of charred chili skin without becoming smoky, balanced with lots of salt and spice. It’s a versatile sauce that can be used almost anywhere you would use a fresh salsa.

Valentina hot sauce

Valentina hot sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Valentina hot sauce

This hearty sauce with a strong nose of cumin and garlic is based on puya chillies grown in Jalisco. It’s thicker and less acidic than many of the sauces we’ve tried, with a pretty tame heat. This rounded sauce would be a welcome addition to eggy breakfast tacos or quesadillas.

Whisker Bomb Pepper Sauce Pepper

Whisker Bomb Pepper Sauce Pepper

Paul Stephen / staff

Whisker Bomb Pepper Sauce Pepper

ZZ top frontman Billy Gibbons and his bearded music colleague Tim Montana have teamed up to create this surprisingly personable sauce that crosses the line between cantina and barbecue pit. It contains an unusual blend of spices like mustard, ginger, and allspice without losing its Texas twang. This would be a perfect partner with brisket tacos or as a glaze on ribs.

Yucatan Sunshine prepared habanero pepper sauce

Yucatan Sunshine prepared habanero pepper sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Yucatan Sunshine prepared habanero pepper sauce

Of the various habanero-based sauces we tried, this version was by far the best with a crisp and lively taste of this particular chilli. It’s very fruity with some sweetness of carrots in the mix. While it was the hottest sauce we fell for, it remains very tasty and would be a welcome flavor boost on grilled chicken, seafood, or any other dish that requires a touch of heat and a delicate floral aroma.

Zaaschila pequin sauce

Zaaschila pequin sauce

Paul Stephen / staff

Zaaschila pequin sauce

While this sauce is clearly Mexican and made with tomatillos and chili pequin, it has a remarkably global flavor profile thanks to loads of garlic, onions, lemon juice, and a large serving of oregano. It is reminiscent of the hot Middle Eastern sauce called Shatta and would be a perfect alternative to chimichurri on grilled red meat, poured over a lamb gyro or drizzled on crispy falafel.

pstephen@express-news.net | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen