From Ginger Goat, Bajan Tyga, and North Country Condiments to Phlippens, Wicked Smart, and Sorry Sauce, Waterloo Region has become a hotbed for small batch hot sauce makers.
Sara and I love to hit the sauce.
Hot sauce, that is.
She and I, and our families, have a taste for tongue-tickling concoctions that add pep to food and sometimes make us sweat.
We've tried dozens and dozens of sauces, many brewed up right here in Waterloo Region.
So we came up with a list of our faves.
Here's a tour for the tastebuds featuring the top 13 finest hot sauce creators of Waterloo Region.
Bonn Park’s spicy adventure begins with a Caribbean celebration of Island flavours
1. Wicked Smart Hot Sauce
Want to take a trip to tropical Trinidad? One taste of Wicked Smart, created by Trinidad native Ifoma Smart, will take your palate for a spicy trip.
Ifoma grew up watching his grandmothers, aunts and uncles make sauces, an now he’s putting that generational tradition into every bottle of Wicked Smart.
The mildest of Wicked Smart's sauces, relatively speaking, is SOCA, a delicious fruit-forward blend of fresh organic peaches, limes, and habanero that Sara loves on pizza.
I love the scorching Calypso, made with a blend of Carolina reaper and Scotch bonnet peppers.
We interviewed Ifoma on Episode 136 of Bonn Park, and he told us about the traditions, ingredients, and creativity that go into every batch.
Make a wicked smart decision and pick up the new Wicked Smart Hot Sauce three-pack featuring a brand new limited editions sauce – Kaiso. It’s a little sour and a little sweet, with just the right amount of heat, made with mangos, culantro (not cilantro), and Trinidadian scorpion peppers.
I’ve been to Jamaica and tried some fantastic jerk sauces throughout the Caribbean, but none compare to Phlippen Jerk.
This is not your typical jerk sauce. Made in small batches with hand-smoked local ingredients like smoked onions and garlic, this is the best jerk I’ve ever tasted – perfect with breakfast eggs, Jamaican patties, or as a base for jerk pizza.
Founded by Kris Phippen in Kitchener, Phlippens is proud to be a little different.
My family is also hooked on Phlippens other three sauces: Original, Sweet Heat, and Hot, as they may be the most versatile sauces we have in our fridge. It has become an essential in our household -- we eat Phlippens with everything and use it as marinades, dips, spreads, and for grilling. I love to pan-fry halloumi cheese with Phlippens.
Seriously, you need to try this Phlippin sauce -- we're not Phlippen kidding.
3. North Country Condiments
Created by two award-winning local chefs, North Country Condiments strives to unite their culinary expertise with your inspired creations.
North Country Condiments believe the best ingredients make the best food, which is why they use only the freshest ingredients for sauces like Sweet Spice BBQ and Smoked Apple Mustard.
Their Slow Burn sauce is one of my all-time faves, and Sara recommends pairing it with cheese or grilled tofu. There's so much flavour packed into North Country Condiments, I find myself using it with a variety of dishes -- and sometimes straight up.
North Country Condiments also just bottled a brand new sauce called Original Burn. It’s the same delectable flavour profile as Slow Burn, but with more heat.
4. TASTE Chipotle Ketchup
They have a huge selection of sauces, oils, and condiments from around Canada and the world -- and their own in-house brands too.
Their Chipotle Ketchup is a staple in my fridge and Sara's. It is made with fresh local tomatoes and contains only half the sugar and salt of big-brand ketchups.
Sara is a ketchup connoisseur. "I put ketchup on my ketchup," she says. She loves the tangy, smoky taste of TASTE Chipotle Ketchup, and she's planning to use it on tofu kebabs with pineapple, peppers and onions.
With tongues tingling from tasting, Sara and I visited TASTE and chatted with owner Gerry Mischuk and manager Lea Riddle-Pitre for Bonn Park Episode 137 about the incredible array of flavours available at their shop.
5. Ginger Goat
Ginger Goat was conceived out of a passion for heat, flavour and fun.
The Original Goat is a flavourful medley of smoked pineapple, ginger, and garlic with a solid headbutt of Carolina reaper at the tail end.
That last ingredient is what gives the Original Goat its deep, long-lasting heat, but, the complex balance of flavour makes it approachable compared to other “mouth melters.”
In 2021, Ginger Goat received international attention after being chosen to fill the number five spot on the popular YouTube show Hot Ones.
Sara says Ginger Goat Original is her favourite sauce for tacos, while I enjoy it on crackers with a celebratory shot of Tequila.
Ginger Goat packs a flavourful peppery punch and adds a wave of fragrant aromas and zing to your favourite dishes, from wings, soup, and burritos to poutine, burgers, and chili.
We are excited to try Ginger Goat’s other two flavours next: We Got the Beets, and Peaches and Scream.
6. Sorry Sauce
Sorry Sauce includes a free apology in every bottle.
The apology is for the scorched tongues of those brave enough to try it.
Sorry Sauce’s Tamarinjury is a killer roti sauce, made with grapes, tamarind, and scorpion peppers. Then there’s the fiery Curry Curry Hard, an adapted dal tadka recipe using curried lentils and local Amish paste tomatoes, and winner of the 2021 Canadian Hot Sauce Award for Best New Sauce.
But they also have milder sauces too -- including Sorry Sauce's Beauty, which earned a prize at the 2022 Heatwave Hot Sauce Expo.
Personally, my favourite is somewhere in the middle between their mild and hottest -- the Pitter Patter sauce is made with groundcherries grown by owner Erik “Twitchin' Kitchen Magician” Begg in his "Garden of Apologies."
So what’s the hottest sauce made in Waterloo Region?
Sara and I agree, the honour of “Hottest Sauce of Waterloo Region” goes to Sorry Sauce’s Cherrynobyl, winner for the best “Extreme” sauce at the 2020 Heatwave Hot Sauce Expo.
Hot sauce maestro Erik Begg of Sorry Sauce says, “Cherrynobyl is a careful balance between delicious and utterly terrifying. The base of Niagara black cherries, black cocoa, vanilla bean with elements of lemon, black pepper and brown sugar is as delicious as it sounds, but then I add a whole bunch of peppers. The current batch uses a blend of the hottest peppers in the world with red, yellow and chocolate Carolina reapers with chocolate bhutlah and Dragon's Breath peppers for a fire that tastes like an accidental core meltdown.”
Why is Waterloo Region so prolific when it comes to small-batch hot sauce makers?
Many of Waterloo Region’s hot sauce creators make their quality sauces with locally sourced ingredients that they pick up from the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, a local treasure and the largest agricultural market in Canada. And they are open all year round. At the market, local hot sauce makers can find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus tons of poblanos, jalapenos, habaneros, cayennes, ghosts, serranos and a wide variety of other peppers grown by Ontario farmers like Voisin’s Family Farm, 100 Mile Produce, and Wagenmakers Greenhouses.
Our Waterloo Region hot sauce makers also have a wealth of opportunities to partner and collaborate with other entrepreneurs, local food producers, and craft breweries. Last summer, local hot sauce maestro Jeff Davis of Island Son Canada partnered with TWB Brewing to create Tyga Bee, a delicious barbeque sauce and spicy marinade, just in time for grilling season. At Counterpoint Brewing in Kitchener, you can find both Wicked Smart’s sauces and Phlippens Original, Hot, Jerk, and my favourite, Sweet Heat, made with hand smoked local ingredients, including small-batch Eby Family Natural Honey.
Add to that, my favourite hot sauce emporium in all of Canada is right here in Waterloo Region. TASTE the 4th Sense in St. Jacobs has been in the village for over 20 years now, and has the biggest collection of hot sauces I’ve ever seen.
“Waterloo Region is a hotbed of tremendous quality sauce, along with southwestern Ontario, so we set up an all-Canadian corner in the store and they have turned out to be the most popular sauces we carry,” says TASTE owner Gerry Mischuk.
Sara’s and my favourite thing about TASTE is that all the products are available to sample before you buy.
“That’s TASTE’s biggest hook: absolutely everything in the store is available to taste, so there are no surprises when customers get home,” says Gerry. “Heat is such a subjective thing, sampling is encouraged, and tasting is believing.”
Bonn Park’s tour for the tastebuds continues with stops in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, and the Township of Wilmot, to check out more of Waterloo Regions’ finest hot sauce makers.
7. Garlic King
Want to boost your culinary creativity? You'll be amazed how versatile Garlic King’s Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce and their Carolina Reapers Hot Sauce can be.
Their Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce is meticulously hand blended using the finest fresh peppers and veggies -- and, of course, lots of fresh local garlic.
And Garlic King’s Carolina Reapers Hot Sauce is a cauldron of pineapple, mango, red peppers, Carolina reapers, cilantro, paprika, and a glorious wave of garlic.
8. Willow River Ferments
Another hot sauce from New Hamburg, Hot N’ Funky was created by Willow River Ferments, known for their famous fermented sauerkraut.
Hot N’ Funky fermented hot sauce is a seriously scorching combination of Scotch bonnets, bell peppers, and garlic enhanced with fruity pineapple and mango.
Whether you pair it with Willow Rivers’ Sauerkraut or splash it on freshly shucked oysters, this delicious sauce will make any meal, well, hot and funky.
9. Ruckus Foods
The word "ruckus" is apt to describe the wild flavour profiles in his sauces, from honey wasabi and raspberry lime to the blazing heat of Carolina reaper peppers.
Sara and I love, in small doses, the Cherry Reaper BBQ sauce, which is sweet and sticky and almost certain to make you perspire.
Check out Episode 105 of Bonn Park for our conversation with Charlebois about making a ruckus in the kitchen and onstage.
10. MH Fine Foods
Jamaican and Canadian cuisines come together in perfectly balanced flavours at MH Fine Foods, founded by Malcolm Henry of Cambridge.
There's the MH Sweet Potato Hot Sauce, which isn't too spicy but packs incredible taste.
MH Sweet Potato Hot Sauce packs a little heat and a lot of flavour. It has a smooth consistency and texture, and has a unique taste. The subtle kick of Scotch bonnet pepper brings just the right amount of heat complimenting the flavours of spices, and sweetness of the sweet potato.
Looking for something hotter? MH Triple Heat Sweet Potato Hot Sauce is a dizzying blend of Scotch bonnet peppers, habanero, and Carolina reapers, and winner of the 2019 Award for Most Unique Sauce at the Heatwave Hot Sauce Expo.
I love it in a Caesar cocktail, a stir fry, or as a grilling sauce on the barbeque.
Even hotter? MH’s The Burner Lime & Peach Sweet Potato Hot Sauce is their hottest sauce yet. Wonderfully citrusy and fruity, The Burner is an intense adventure, starting with a medley of lime, peach, and sweet potato – then finishing with the Carolina reaper heat with a nice long afterburn.
I’ve had a lifelong fascination with ghosts and all things spooky.
So I’m not surprised that one of my new favourite hot sauces is called Ghosted, featuring on the label a whimsically illustrated spectre dressed in a white bed sheet.
Created by Stacey White of Kitchener, Ghosted is a wonderful blend of habanero, ghost, and jalapeno peppers with red peppers, garlic, and onion, making it the perfect everyday sauce for anyone that enjoys just a touch of heat.
Lively and feisty, it really is a stellar hot sauce, and I can’t wait to try Ghosted’s three new flavours: mango, pineapple, and pickle.
12. Big Stooley’s World Sauces & Rubs
A slice of simple cheese and tomato pizza with a liberal dose of Big Stooley’s Big Buffalo Wing Sauce splashed on top is heaven. I love fermented hot sauces for their complex, tangy flavour, and Big Stooley’s Buffalo Wing Sauce is outstanding.
Founder Claude “Stooley” Restoule loves to cook and grill.
“My love for cooking and grilling is why I decided to finally launch this venture. There is BBQ and great food everywhere in this world that should be experienced by all.”
Having only recently discovered Big Stooley’s World Sauces & Rubs at TASTE in St. Jacobs, I’m looking forward to experiencing their other fermented sauces, like Mango Habanero Hot Sauce, Caribbean Pepper Sauce, Big Kansas Smoky BBQ Sauce, Tangy Carolina BBQ Sauce, and their Tragically Maple Whiskey BBQ Sauce.
13. Island Son Canada’s Bajan Tyga
The last stop on Bonn Park’s local hot sauce tour is Bajan Tyga. Island Son Canada creates amazing Caribbean-inspired micro batch hot sauces right here in Waterloo Region, made by hand using locally sourced ingredients, and you can taste the sun in every jar.
Bajan Tyga is a favourite of foodies -- a medley of flavours from Scotch bonnet peppers, mango, garlic and a Dorset Naga peppers afterburn.
I love Bajan Tyga in scrambled eggs; Sara’s family favourite has been topping their risotto with the flavourful golden brew.
Jeff Davis, the maker of Island Son Canada, is a member of the League of Fire Chilli Eating Champions. We chatted with him on Episode 40 of Bonn Park about his Bajan roots, his love of music, and how he comes up with such incredible flavours.
"The story really begins in the 1960s when my dad immigrated from Barbados to Canada, where he eventually met my mom," he told us.
"When I was a kid, dad offered me some mysterious yellow sauce with my spaghetti one night that mesmerized my tastebuds and had me craving more. I was hooked."
We are hooked too.
We hope you enjoyed this little tour of Waterloo Region's most delicious (and sometimes devilish) sauces and it has left you craving more. Now go find some and try for yourselves. You may want to keep a glass of milk handy.
Can you handle the heat from Waterloo Region’s finest, fiery and flavourful hot sauces? Here’s where you can find them!
Waterloo Region has a number of wonderfully supportive markets, specialty shops, emporiums, butchers, and craft breweries that carry many of Waterloo Region’s finest hot sauces, like TASTE the 4th Sense, Vincenzo’s, Brady’s Meat & Deli, Caudle’s Catch, MH Fine Foods, Central Fresh Market, T&J Seafoods, Counterpoint Brewing Co., Descendants Beer & Beverage Co., TWB Brewing, Crowsfoot Smokehaus General Store, St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, Gifted in Belmont Village, and Cloverleaf Farms in New Hamburg.