A (Very Brief) History of Hot Sauce


At the beginning of a new year, it’s quite natural to spend a lot of your time focusing forward.

There are all those resolutions to consider now (before they disappear from your mind halfway through the year) and plenty of goals, vacations, and celebrations coming up in the next few months.

At Ashley Foods, we’re also looking forward. We have new sauces and products on the horizon, not to mention all those fiery chilies we need to grow.

January is also a time for reflection. This is when it’s easiest to see just how far we’ve come in life. And, right now, we’re considering just how exceptionally fast the hot sauce industry is moving at the moment. Just take a look at the slow start of the history of hot sauce in America.

Chilies Have Been Around Forever

Forever is a really difficult concept to understand. So is 6000 years. Most people can’t comprehend that length of time. And, we can’t really say that chili peppers have been around forever, but we can comfortably say they’ve been around for 6000 years (according to Science magazine).

If you take an average life span of 60 years over that time (though it really was much shorter back in the day), that’s 100 lifetimes. So, it’s really quite amazing that the first bottled hot sauce came into play only about three lifetimes ago.

Think about that for a moment. People in South America had chilies 6000 years ago (and they made it to Europe in the 1500s), but we have to wait for “disposable” jars and cans, preservatives, steady trade routes, printing mechanisms, and more before we could get anywhere close to the hot sauce industry that we have today.

Everything Changed in the 1800s

In 1807, everything changed. A company in Massachusetts began bottling hot sauces, thus making them commercially available. The early hot sauces were made from cayenne peppers and by modern standards would have been ridiculously mild. (Think rooster sriracha mild.) At the time, however, it would have blown your socks off if you were living in America.

The industry slowly progressed from that point on. At some point after 1840, other players began to enter the market through most of those trendsetters aren’t producing hot sauces today. There’s one known advertisement for hot sauces from 1859. And the first time they were marketed as a health tonic was in 1877.

But, when the Great Depression hit, the hot sauce market plummeted along with the stock market. Although we hesitate to think of it as such, hot sauces were likely considered a luxury product at the time.

And, it took a long time for the industry to recover. Although there are manufacturers that can trace their roots back to the early 1900s (and Tabasco can reach even further), it wasn’t until the 1980s that hot sauce came back into fashion.

At that point, America was also experiencing a change in the economy and the homogenization of culture brought about by modern conveniences and the development of department stores. Many people began to experience the cuisines native to Louisiana and New Mexico for the first time; chilies just fit naturally into new lifestyles.

Mad Dog Launches alongside the Gulf War

Having worked for years in kitchens, including his own, Mad Dog’s creator, David Ashley, created his first hot sauces in 1991. He launched on the same day as Desert Storm and promptly began to receive awards and accolades.

Consumers begged forever hotter products. Rock stars clamored to have their own lines. Mad Dog Hot Sauces grew organically along with the development of an underground movement of chili heads and foodies.

Unsurprisingly given the tastes and developments of the 1980s, salsa replaced ketchup as America’s number one condiment and hot sauce festivals and competitions began to grow.

And now?

Twenty-five years into Ashley Foods, the Mad Dog 357 Collector’s Gold Edition has hit the market. And, we have to wonder if the intense heat of this sauce is what the Aztecs experienced 6000 years ago. We can’t be certain, but they were a wild bunch… much like ourselves.

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