The Untold Truth Of Cholula Hot Sauce

Is it an ingredient? A sauce? A condiment? A seasoning? Cholula hot sauce is all of these and then some. Cholula goes with just about everything, from eggs to breakfast tacos, enchiladas, and even ramen, not to mention tenderloin, nachos, shrimp ceviche, and wings (via Cholula).

Created from a family recipe in Mexico that was handed down through generations, today Cholula is a global brand that's captured the taste buds of spice-lovers in the U.S. and beyond. An article in The Daily Beast explores how the relationship between hot sauce and consumers in the U.S. has changed over time. The growing multi-racial and multi-ethnic population in the U.S. is having a direct impact on not just the make-up of society, but its culinary experiences too. Hot sauce is reaping the benefits of these shifts, becoming a more popular part of the American diet, and Cholula is at the forefront. From a TikTok song about loving Cholula to Beyonce telling the world she has hot sauce in her bag (could it be Cholula?) in her hit song "Formation," spicing up your food is where it's at. Actress Reese Witherspoon also loves the brand, stating, "I do love some Cholula. I do love some spicy shrimp and grits", in a Vanity Fair video. Read on to find out the untold truth of Cholula hot sauce.

Cholula is named after an ancient city but isn't made there

Cholula is an ancient city steeped in incredible history. It's home to the Great Pyramid of Cholula, an Aztec structure that is the biggest pyramid in the world. The 2,500-year-old city in Puebla is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in North America. Perhaps surprisingly, Cholula hot sauce is not made in this city. 

Cholula is actually made in Chapala,  Jalisco, Mexico. The first U.S. city that Cholula was sold in was Austin, Texas. It debuted there in 1989 after it had expanded throughout Mexico. Cholula was sold in supermarkets In the Southwestern U.S. in the '90s. Today, it's found across the whole U.S., as well as in Canada, according to MexGrocer. However, the history of Cholula goes back much further. The hot sauce brand was, in fact, inspired by a family recipe that is over 100 years old (via Cholula). 

The hot sauce recipe is traditional

The woman on Cholula's label, known as La Chila, is credited (possibly apocryphally) with creating the sauce's recipe. The story goes that as well as cooking traditional Mexican recipes for the Jose Cuervo family, the cook behind Cholula experimented with different ways of using peppers from Mexico. An article in Askmen says that Cholula is made with arbol peppers and piquin peppers, both of which take almost a year to grow and harvest. Close to 90% of the peppers used to make Cholula are actually sourced in Jalisco which boasts a perfect pepper-growing climate. They grow in small fields with water that comes from wells in the area. After they're hand-picked, the peppers are watched over as they're dried in the sun for several days. Cholula ingredients today also include salt, vinegar, garlic powder, spices, and xanthan gum.

The company uses traditional farming techniques to grow its peppers. In a 2018 Cool Hunting feature, Miguel Padilla, who was the manager at the hot sauce plant at the time, stated that the "process of harvesting is generational." As per tradition, picking the right seeds is important, and this means classifying them in terms of their heat, strength, and taste with each new harvest.

Americans love Cholula enough to get tattoos

Cholula has a dedicated fan club. Data from users of the grocery delivery service Instacart reveal that some 74% of people in the U.S. add hot sauce to their food. The survey placed Cholula as the third most popular sauce in the U.S. in 2021. The sauce placed fifth in our own grocery store hot sauce ranking.

In 2020, Delish reported that Cholula superfans could get a free inking courtesy of Mexican celebrity chef and MasterChef judge, Aarón Sánchez, who also owns New York tattoo parlor Daredevil Tattoo. The tattoos had to be chosen from five Cholula-related designs. There was also an Instagram competition for people who didn't live in the New York area. The winner received a free flight to the Big Apple to be inked. Everyone who got a tattoo had a chance to win a lifetime supply of Cholula.

Cholula hot sauce is 3,600 Scovilles (or maybe 1,000)

Here's the burning question: Just how hot is Cholula hot sauce? Some people can't get enough spice while others reach for water at the mildest hint of pepper. The Scoville scale measures the strength of spicy foods by looking at how much capsaicin is in them. It's capsaicin that makes chiles hot and causes a burning sensation on the skin. 

According to Hot Sauce Scoville Scale, Cholula scores 3,6000 SHUs, which would make it hotter than Huy Fong Sriracha and the original flavor of Tabasco. There is some disagreement about this online; according to Askmen, Cholula is a much tamer 1,000 Scovilles. Either way, in the grand scheme of spiciness levels, it's relatively mild. Mad Dog Plutonium No. 9 sauce reaches a staggering 9 million SHUs, which is pretty hot indeed. Meanwhile, Blair's 16 Million Reserve Crystals is the hottest chile extract in the world at 16 million SHUs. It isn't a sauce but actually pure capsaicin in a vial.

Cholula is used in cocktails

If you thought that Cholula hot sauce was just for spicing up food, think again. It can also be used as an ingredient to spark a little fire in cocktails too. Maxim highlights some interesting cocktails, including a Cholula bloody Mary with bacon. One popular drink in Mexico is a Michelada, which is simple to make with Cholula. All you have to do is to add a couple of tablespoons of tomato juice, a tablespoon of fresh lime juice and a tablespoon of Cholula to a tall glass. You then fill the glass halfway with ice before adding a bottle of beer and garnishing with a wedge of lime (via Cholula).

Another drink recipe on Cholula's website is sangrita. According to Matador Network, sangrita, which means little blood in Spanish, is traditionally used to chase shots of tequila. The small, red, and spicy non-alcoholic drink is designed to enhance the flavors of the spirit. Cholula's version includes orange juice, grapefruit juice, lime, pomegranate, celery, and of course, hot sauce.

The Cholula lady looks like Bob Saget

On the front of every bottle of Cholula is a depiction of a Mexican woman from times gone by, dressed in traditional clothes, in a kitchen with peppers in front of her. There is a story that this woman was part of the family who first created Cholula (via Askmen). Cholula states that the woman on the front of the bottles is known as La Chila. 

Whether or not La Chila is based on an actual person, the late comedian and star of '90s sitcom "Full House," Bob Saget, thought she looked like him. In 2017, he posted a picture of the sauce on Instagram with a comment that read, "Seriously, I do not remember posing for this." Saget wasn't alone in noticing the similarity. A People feature reveals that Instagram commenters and one poster on Reddit agreed with Saget's observation about La Chila.

There are many Cholula sauce variations

There are many varieties of hot sauce available in the Cholula range. Cholula Green Pepper contains jalapeno and poblano peppers, while Chipotle is a blend of sweet, smoky chipotles along with the classic Cholula blend of arbol and piquin peppers. Chili Lime includes a tangy citrus component, while the Chili Garlic variety spikes the original sauce with allium sharpness. Finally, Cholula Sweet Habanero creates a tropical taste with pineapple juice and habanero peppers. There are also two wing sauces: Caliente, which adds a buttery taste, and Mexicali, which has a citrusy blast along with cilantro (via Cholula).

In addition to sauces, the brand makes two flavors of Cholula Street Taco dry seasoning. The Cholula Smoky Chipotle Carnitas is designed as a pre-mixed blend to create classic Mexican street food such as pork carnitas for tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. The seasoning includes chipotle peppers, cumin, and paprika, as well as garlic and onion. The Cholula Street Taco Chile Pepper Carne Asada is a mix that cooks can use to make carne asada marinade (via McCormick For Chefs).

Hot sauce can be used to make desserts

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hot sauce. However, one reviewer of Cholula Green Pepper Hot Sauce on PepperScale swears that the salty green pepper flavors of this Cholula sauce go perfectly well with vanilla ice cream. Interestingly, Cholula recommends another one of its hot sauce flavors to try with a cool serving of ice cream: Chili Lime, which it also recommends as a topping for shrimp, seafood, and steak.

There are many interesting recipes to try with Cholula; one you may not have thought of is a spicy brownie served with whipped dulce de leche frosting. This recipe mixes Cholula with fudge brownie batter to create an intriguing blend of sweetness and heat (via Cholula). Spicy flavors and chocolate work pretty well together, so this combination might actually taste good. If you end up trying it, let us know how it turns out.

The sauce's wooden cap is symbolic

Each bottle of Cholula is immediately recognizable because of its distinctive wooden top. The cap symbolizes the attention to detail that goes into the creation of Cholula hot sauce. The rounded top is made from beechwood, and the cap color changes according to the different flavors of the sauce. While Cholula Original Hot Sauce is a plain beechwood, there are two green-colored ones for the flavors that contain jalapenos and limes, orangey-brown for the garlic and habanero varieties, and a darker brown for the chipotle sauce (via Cholula). 

Per All Roads Lead To The Kitchen, in 2011, Cholula ran a cap decorating competition. The winner earned a Sur La Table Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 9-piece cookware set. The cap that took the top spot was a Christmas Eve-themed painting with a bright star shining in the night sky, a couple of figures with a donkey, and a brightly lit manger. This is not the only time a Cholula cap has been used for crafts; one Cholula fan posted artsy instructions on how to turn a hot sauce top into a fridge magnet in a Facebook post.

Hitting a hot sauce home run with the MLB

Cholula hot sauce has done several promotions with Major League Baseball. One such initiative was a program called the Cholula Flamethrower. As part of the program, ads for the sauce were placed prominently in many MLB stadiums. The Texas Rangers featured a wall hanging made from close to 15,000 wooden Cholula caps. Some concession stands started selling Cholula-branded foods like Cholula tater hots, Flamethrower chicken tenders, and a chicken sandwich (via Spitball).

One baseball star who loves his Cholula and has teamed up with the brand is Noah Syndergaard, who's played for the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Angels. The star pitcher stated in a press release how much he loves the hot sauce. "Cholula is a part of my life — whether it's the morning before a game, in an after-game meal or during an off day, it's a brand with a personality I'm naturally drawn to. Having grown up in Texas I've tried all the hot sauces. Cholula is not about simply delivering heat, it's about bringing a unique flavor and attitude, which really mirrors how I try to live on and off the field."

A big U.S. investor bought Cholula in 2018

In 2018, L Catterton, a private equity firm, announced it was acquiring Cholula. The move was seen as a push forward for the brand in terms of broadening within the retail world and F&B industry. Scott Dahnke, global co-CEO at L Catterton, was quoted in a press release explaining the appeal of investing in the hot sauce brand. "Cholula represents a compelling opportunity to invest in a premium brand with an established reputation for quality and authenticity in the growing hot sauce category."

Reuters reported that before the buyout, the brand was privately-held. The sale came amid rising sales in the hot sauce market. At the time of the sale, hot sauce accounted for $2 billion of the $23 billion American condiment market. The purchase meant that although Cholula was still being made in Mexico, its new corporate home would be in Connecticut. However, the hot sauce would soon change hands again.

McCormick beat Heinz to buy Cholula for $800 million

U.S. spice, herb, and flavoring manufacturer McCormick made a successful bid for Cholula in 2020, beating Heinz in the process. At a whopping $800 million, the purchase price was enough to make anyone's eyes water. On hearing of news, one rival hot sauce manufacturer was reported in a Bloomberg article as saying, "Oh my gosh! That's a lot of red peppers!" It was to give the sellers, L Catterton, a four-fold return on what they'd paid just a couple of years previously.

A feature in the financial media outlet Benzinga, quoting information from the Wall Street Journal, highlighted how quickly Cholula's sales were growing at the time of the sale. Overall, retail sales of hot sauce in the U.S. had risen by over 40% since 2015. The increase in hot sauce's popularity was credited to Millenial consumers. Cholula continued making its sauce in Chapala, but the corporate home of the hot sauce moved from Connecticut to Baltimore, Maryland. 

Cholula partnered with Golden Chick

In 2020, Cholula got together with Texas restaurant chain Golden Chick to create the ultimate hot sauce and chicken combo. Part of the partnership involved spicing up the chain's menu with a Cholula chicken sandwich and chicken tenders. In a report in Fort Worth Business, J Sullivan, executive chef at Golden Chick, expressed his delight. "The idea of collaborating with Cholula to produce unique offerings for our guests has always excited me. Our team had a great time working on this development and experimenting with new flavor profiles. Our Cholula Chicken options feature the perfect balance of our one-of-a-kind marinades and batters with Cholula's authentic original hot sauce. These menu items pack the perfect amount of heat." 

Augmented reality Instagram and Facebook filters were used to bring attention to the limited-time promotion. Part of the menu, which was offered to customers at a later time, was a Cholula mac-and-cheese sandwich bringing two classic tastes of the South together in one meal (via San Marcos Record).

Cholula presents the interactive Tacotopia experiential art exhibition

When you think of hot sauce, you probably don't think of art. However, in 2019 a Cholula press release announced Tacotopia, a fun taco-themed pop-up that featured 20 interactive, 3D artistic installations that the hot sauce brand created with event production company West 54 Productions. Taco and Cholula fans were able to spend an hour exploring and capturing those all-important Instagrammable moments. Visitors were also able to try out the different tastes of Cholula too. Starting in Austin with a preview, a longer exhibition was opened in Los Angeles, followed by Chicago, Miami, New York, and Phoenix.

The experiential art event included settings such as a lime half-slice swing with a backdrop of vibrant lime slices, with the words, "señorita needs a margarita" and "party like a guac star" emblazoned on a wall with a cool and contemporary backdrop of brightly colored squares with avocado images inside of them. 

The brand launched a hands-free hot sauce dispenser

While Cholula may have a rich heritage, it's a sauce of the times too, collaborating with Simplehuman, an innovator of tools for efficiency in the home, to come up with the world's first hands-free hot sauce dispenser. "When restaurant operators began removing Cholula bottles from tabletops amid the pandemic, we needed to develop a solution that could adapt to their new environment," stated former Cholula CEO, Maura Mottolese in a 2020 press release. "The collaboration between simplehuman and Cholula combines the best in technology and taste to revolutionize the condiment station to meet the needs of the customer and the foodservice industry in the ever-changing landscape that is 2020."

The Cholula x Simplehuman touch-free dispenser allows customers to get a serving of hot sauce by simply hovering their hands by the sensor. Servings are delivered in any size of ramekin, with a special valve developed to stop splatters and a pumping mechanism that safeguards against drips. Unlike touch-free soap dispensers, on the hot sauce dispenser, the sensor faces upward, making it more user-friendly within a restaurant setting. 

Cholula could be the next ketchup

A 2020 Better Marketing feature highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic it only heated up the hot sauce market, with sales rising 25% between 2019 and 2020. Even before that, sales were increasing a healthy 10% per year. The author of the article predicted that under McCormick's ownership, Cholula would be able to expand its strength from the restaurant market and start capturing more retail business. Of course, the more spice you taste, the more you want it, so it's not surprising that hot sauce is exploding in popularity. 

Bloomberg article reported that McCormick hopes that Cholula could one day be as ubiquitous as ketchup. There's no doubt that Cholula has a future as a kitchen and restaurant staple, as more and more foodies reach for the hot sauce to spice up their lives. However, since there are so many more in the hot sauce market than the ketchup market, it's unlikely that Cholula could one day take Heinz's place.