How To Top Vanilla Ice Cream With Hot Sauce, The Right Way

Hot sauce girlies are an unstoppable force, and nothing will stop them from adding a little kick to just about anything — including ice cream.

Yes, hot sauce on ice cream. The idea might stop you in your tracks, but it's not as outlandish as it might sound. The last few years have seen a growing obsession with hot honey, specifically Mike's Hot Honey, which adds a sweet and spicy element to everything from pizza to, yes, ice cream. There was also the frenzy around Szechuan Chili Crisp, the umami-packed topping made from chiles, garlic, and other savory ingredients popularized by brands like Lao Gan Ma and Fly By Jing. Plenty of people bypassed dumplings altogether and spooned the stuff straight onto ice cream.

But how do you know if adding hot sauce to ice cream will satiate a new craving or send you dumping your Ben & Jerry's into the trash?

Go for a fruity hot sauce

First off, and perhaps this is obvious, you should be using vanilla ice cream for any hot sauce adventures. The sweet, mellow flavor of the ice cream acts as an ideal blank canvas for other, stronger flavors to shine through. (Mango and other tropical sorbets are also an intuitive match for Latin American-style hot sauces like habañero or jalapeño. Just think of the classic combo of mango slices and Tajín chili powder.)

You want a hot sauce with a simple, straightforward flavor profile. Because the ice cream is already so sweet, you don't want a bunch of smoky, tangy, savory, spicy, salty flavors competing for attention. Martha Stewart suggests using a hot sauce with an oil or fruit base, which will lean into the sweet, creamy ice cream flavor. Tajín, with its lime and chili combo, is a great citrusy option, though more adventurous hot sauces made with blueberries, pineapple, strawberry, passion fruit, or apricot will add a little something extra to your dessert.

Savory hot sauce

If you decide to go the other route and opt for something smokier or more savory, such as chili crisp, pick one with only a few ingredients. Oily toppings, including chili crisp, also, ironically, work well on cheaper pints of ice cream. Richer, creamier ice creams become heavy when doused with oil, so save your money and grab some Edy's or Turkey Hill. The fluffy ice cream will perfectly counter the mouth-numbing heat of the Szechuan peppercorns.

If you want to skip fruit and go for a pepper-focused hot sauce, choose one that isn't full of garlic and/or vinegar, which are harder to mesh with dessert items. Fermented hot sauces are also great for this compared to unfermented ones; they tend to be more mellow and integrated with complex, subtle flavors. One such fermented hot sauce is the smoky Korean sauce gochujang, made from fermented soy beans and chilis. Mix gochujang in with some caramel and ice cream for a rich flavor with an unassuming bite.