I admit it. I jumped to conclusions. I love the sweet/sour/hot/bright flavor of Thai sweet chili sauce. The bright orange color, viscous, gelatinous texture and bright labeling on the bottle all led me to assume this must be full of “stuff” that I didn’t want in my body. I figured it must be full of thickeners, food coloring, a million chemicals and too much sugar to be good for me. So, I learned to make my own, from scratch.
Recently I questioned my assumptions and read a few labels. There was definitely sugar, and a lot of it. After all, it is sweet chili sauce. There were chiles, acetic acid (vinegar), xanthan gum (fermented sugar and alcohol – totally healthy), modified cornstarch (this just makes it shelf stable with all the vinegar in there), salt and sometimes garlic and ginger. So, this brightly colored sauce is perfectly fine. Nothing scary about the bottled versions at all.
So, have I stopped making my own? Nope, ’cause mine tastes better. I thicken it with lots of peppers and a little cornstarch for consistency. The cornstarch also means I can thicken it with less sugar. This sauce is amazing and you should keep it on hand just like catsup or Dijon mustard.
Lesson learned? Keep reading labels. Lots of packaged foods have stuff we just don’t need to be eating and lots of unnecessary added sugars, but some are fine. The lesson is not to rush to judgement. It’s time to dial back the reactionary hating – in so many places. Sweet chili sauce seems like a perfectly good place to start.
Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 onion. finely diced
- 2-3 red jalapeños or Thai bird chiles, diced
- 2 red sweet peppers, diced
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar or palm
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tbs corn starch
- Warm vegetable oil in a small saucepan over med heat. Add garlic, onion and peppers and cook until softened, 5 min.
- Add vinegar, brown sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 15 minutes.
- Transfer to a blender and purée. Return to pan over medium heat and season to taste with salt and vinegar, if needed, for bright tanginess.
- Whisk in corn starch and cook 1-2 min until glossy and syrupy.