American Heart Month: Hearty Hot Sauce Competition

Published: February 27, 2024

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February is American Heart Month, a time when Americans are encouraged to focus on their heart health and learn more about how to protect against heart disease.

At the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, our faculty is dedicated to conducting cutting-edge research in heart health, nutrition, physical activity, and activities that promote overall wellness.

To celebrate American Heart Month, our staff recently hosted a “Hearty Hot Sauce Competition.” Staff were invited to enter the contest with their own recipes or simply join in on the fun by sampling the sauces! Research shows that hot sauce contains capsaicin, a chili pepper extract with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. This means you can boost your heart health by simply adding flavor and spice to your meals!  To get the greatest benefit, however, avoid hot sauces with added sugar. If you’d like to try your hand at making your own healthy hot sauce, consider trying some of our staff-tested recipes at home! 

Mexican Pickled Red Onions


  • Clamp-style glass canning Mason jar or glass container
  • 1 small red onion (8 ounces) cut into ¼" half-moon slices
  • 3 limes (lemon juice works in a pinch)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup white vinegar (rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 jalapeño peppers, serrano chiles, or habanero chiles


Slice red onions into ¼" thin half-moon strips with a chef's knife.

Juice all 3 limes.

In a small pan, bring to a boil the water, white vinegar, sea salt, oregano, and bay leaves. Turn off the heat. Add the sliced onions and lime juice, and let cool.

Once the onions cool down, add them into a glass jar with the pickle brine liquid. Add 1-2 chiles, you can slice them if you wish. 

Tightly close the jar lid and store the jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. You can use your onions after 30 minutes, but the flavor will be better after waiting overnight.

Avocado Green Salsa


  • 3 fresh tomatillos, chopped (husks removed chopped)
  • 2 serranos or 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 6 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons of chopped onion
  • 1 medium sized avocado
  • ? cup water
  • Salt to taste


Place the tomatillos in the blender with the chopped onion, serrano peppers, and water. Process to a coarse texture.

Add the cilantro and avocado. Process again to desired texture, either smooth and creamy or chunky.

Add salt to taste.

Poblano Peppers with Cream and Queso Fresco


  • 6 poblano peppers
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup of milk
  • Queso fresco to taste
  • Salt to taste


Roast the peppers over the flame of the stove, turning them until the skin is burned. Place them in a plastic bag for approximately 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds and veins, and cut them into strips.

Heat the oil over low heat and sauté the onion for 3 minutes or until it becomes translucent. Add the strips of poblano pepper, cook for 4 minutes. Add the sour cream, and milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the milk starts to bubble.

Add the queso fresco crumbled on top. Cook for an additional 4 minutes.

Fake Guacamole Sauce


  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon or 1 cube of granulated chicken bouillon
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/4 - 1 cup water


Roast the zucchini and chilies in a small skillet until they are charred on all sides and the zucchini becomes soft.

Remove the stems from the chilies and the ends of the zucchini, then blend them together with the oil, garlic, bouillon, salt, and water until you have a smooth sauce. (Start blending with only 1/4 cup of water and add more depending on how thick you want the sauce).

Written by Ali Linan, communications assistant at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin.