Incorporating hot sauce into dishes is rising in popularity in America. We all that one friend who tries to impress at the dinner table by ordering the spiciest wings possible, then acts like the heat is no big while he gulps down gallons of water. Besides conquering the spiciest wings they can find, are consumers really embracing all that hot sauce has to offer?
Hot Sauce by the Numbers
Technomic analyzed 109 dishes incorporating hot sauce spanning 71 operators – a significant growth of 31% and 20%, respectively, over a five-year period. Casual Dining and Midscale Dining saw a market penetration of 14% and 13%, respectively, while Quick Service and Fast Casual saw 9% and 7%, respectively, and Fine Dining claimed just 3%.
When it comes to wing sauces, of the top 10 flavors, hot sauce ranging in heat –Spicy, Hot, Medium, Extra Hot, and Hot and Spicy – dominated the more mild flavors, like Sweet and Garlic. Hot, along with Mild, come up on menus the most often, with the Hot experiencing a 35% jump in menu popularity since 2014. The majority of dishes using hot sauce are entrees and appetizers, and although hot sauces steer clear of the kids' menu, the category of adult beverages is rising, especially with the ever-growing popularity of brunch and the Bloody Marys that pair so well with breakfast foods.
Everything is Better with Spicy Chicken
There's absolutely no contest: chicken is hot sauce's best friend, the most common being of the ubiquitous orange Buffalo persuasion. The top dishes that are rising in popularity or are firmly rooted as classic vehicles for hot sauce all have chicken as the main protein, with the possible exception of specialty burgers (i.e., veggie patties, turkey, etc.): chicken wings, Buffalo chicken pizza, chicken strips, Buffalo chicken sandwich, chicken salad, and specialty burgers. That's not to say that beef, shrimp, and ham don't make the spicy cut. Although chicken dominates the field of protein, these meats are also featured as menu items paired with hot sauce as well as tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese.
The classic color of the Buffalo sauce gives these dishes both a distinct, appealing look but also warns those with a delicate palates that they may want to stand back – their tastebuds may not be able to handle the heat these popular meals are packing. But there's a reason another popular condiment is always paired with hot sauce: if you feel your mouth catching fire, just grab celery and a nice, big scoop of blue cheese your dish inevitably came with to ease the burn!
Feeling the Heat Around the Country
It seems Americans love pairing heat with … more heat. The most popular combinations across the country include szechuan sauce and jalapenos. In the Northeast, heat-seekers combine the cooling taste of avocado to their hot sauce dishes, while pickles help sooth the aching mouths of the South and Midwest. And to slow the burn down further, another popular, wide-spread (with the exception of the Northeast) condiment combination is to mix hot sauce with mayonnaise. Though that may cut the heat in the moment, there's no stopping this hot trend from continuing to spread through the States and onto menus within them.