This $3 Trader Joe’s Hot Sauce Is the Only Hot Sauce You Need

updated Mar 2, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

To say that I’m obsessed with spice is an understatement: I’ll sprinkle

red pepper flakes

collection of hot sauces to the table every time I eat scrambled eggs. Recently, though,
there’s only one sauce I’m reaching for:

Full disclosure: Bomba is most definitely spicy. It’s so spicy and powerful, it makes all other sauces pale in comparison. The first time I tried it, I wasn’t expecting it to have that much kick. In fact, I thought it might almost be too spicy. But I was wrong: It is just the right amount.

What Is Bomba Hot Sauce?

Bomba comes from the toe of Italy, in the region of Calabria. It’s a hot pepper paste made from Calabrian chiles, which are fiery, but also have a bright fruitiness. You can buy Calabrian chilis dried and crushed like red pepper flakes, preserved whole in oil, crushed into a chunky paste in oil, or as bomba.

The confusing thing about bomba is that it can refer to any sauce with Calabrian chilis. Sometimes the sauce contains nothing but chilis crushed in oil. Other times it’s a jazzed-up condiment with vegetables like artichokes and eggplant. I am here for the simple version, without the extra vegetables. This version can be used interchangeably in recipes that call for crushed Calabrian chilis in oil or Calabrian chili paste.

If you try to buy bomba on line, it can get pricey. At $3, Trader Joe’s version is super-affordable, super-convenient, and it’s also fermented — so you get a mellow tang with the heat, resulting in a spicy condiment that’s more complex and interesting than traditional bomba.

Read more: Trader Joe’s Just Released My New Favorite (Spicy!) Condiment

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

How to Use Bomba Hot Sauce

  • On top of eggs. It really doesn’t matter how you prepare your eggs. Whether they’re scrambled, fried, or poached, finishing them with a bit of bomba always makes them better.
  • Tossed with pasta. This recipe for spaghetti with garlic and chiles at Real Simple has become a repeat favorite in my household — it relies on just a few pantry staples and yet it feels like a dish I’d gladly pay top price for at a good Italian restaurant. It would also be awesome in place of red pepper flakes here, here, and here. Or you could just stir a spoonful into mac and cheese.
  • As a substitute for just about any other chili sauce. I recently ran out of Asian chili garlic sauce but only realized it after I starting to prepare this sheet pan shrimp and broccoli. I swapped in bomba and added some minced garlic — and the minced garlic wasn’t even necessary. The dish got the hot kick it needed and no one knew the difference. In a pinch, you could swap it in for other chili sauces like sambal oelek or Sriracha.
  • Paired with pizza. I like to stir a little bit of bomba into this 3-ingredient pizza sauce to give it a fiery upgrade. You could also just drizzle a little bit on top of your homemade or delivery slices.
  • Stirred into soups, stews, or marinades. A spoonful adds a touch of magic to soups and stews, but I also like adding some bomba to marinades. It’s an awesome addition in this steak marinade and this chicken marinade, where the yogurt cools down some of its heat.

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.