There are several elements that need to be considered when making a spicy dipping sauce. The level of heat that is used should be adjusted both to accommodate those who will be eating it and to match the flavor and strength of the items that will be dipped in the sauce. The texture of the spicy dipping sauce needs to be controlled, as well, because some peppers, hot sauces and other ingredients used to provide heat can make the sauce overly thick or overly fluid as it rests. The flavor of spicy dipping sauce also is important, because even ingredients that are intended just to add heat can add some surprising flavors, and layering the different types of heat can make the dip more complex, especially if it is cooked first.
One tip before beginning to make a spicy dipping sauce is to understand how the heat in the dip will develop. When most spicy ingredients are added to a dish, they will slowly release heat over time so the dish becomes spicier the longer it sits. This effect can be accelerated by cooking some of the ingredients, which will more quickly extract the essential oils and chemicals that create the heat. When adding something such as red pepper flakes to diced tomatoes for a salsa-style dip, the level of heat when first added will be considerably less than the level of heat an hour or more later, so it is important to add spices in moderation, building up to the desired level of spiciness.
The type of food that will be dipped into the sauce, as well as the base of the sauce itself, can both affect the level of spiciness. In general, vegetables such as carrots and celery work well as neutral vehicles for the dip, while thin crackers or chips might not mitigate the spices in the dip as well. Similarly, dips that use sour cream or thick cheese will mute the flavor of more subtle spices, while dips that are mostly vegetables, stock or ingredients that are fresher and hold more water will more effectively conduct the spicy heat.
There are different levels of heat that can be added to a spicy dipping sauce via different ingredients. A robust, immediate and sharp spiciness can be achieved from vinegar-based hot sauces, while a stronger, though slower-acting heat can be added with Asian hot sauces such as sriracha. A more subtle heat with a fruity or floral taste can be achieved with fresh jalapeno or habanera peppers. Dry cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes can add a more subtle heat to a cold spicy dipping sauce or a very intense spiciness when heated along with the dip.
Some ingredients have flavors that can help to define a spicy dipping sauce while also providing unique varieties of heat. Horseradish is one of these ingredients and, when freshly grated, can provide a pungent taste. Garlic can be combined with hot pepper flakes and fried in oil to make a base for a dipping sauce. An Asian-style spicy dipping sauce can be made with soy sauce, water, sesame oil and a carefully measured amount of wasabi, a very fiery ingredient with a mustard-like undertone.