Review: Walmart Gets Spicy (In More Ways Than One) With BookTok-Inspired Hot Sauce Set

set of five hot sauce bottles
set of five hot sauce bottles - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

If your ideal summer afternoon includes devouring the latest trending novel on BookTok -- the online community of book lovers on TikTok -- while also snacking on hot and spicy dishes for sustenance, Walmart has you covered. The retailer partnered with Melinda's, a well-known hot sauce brand, to bring bookish spice lovers a limited-edition Spicy Books Hot Sauce set for every chili rating on the BookTok scale.

Authors like Emily Henry, Christina Lauren, and Abby Jimenez have perfected the summer romance. (One of Henry's most popular books is even titled "Beach Read.") Sarah J. Maas (best known for her "A Court of Thorns and Roses" series) and Rebecca Yarros ("Fourth Wing") have risen to swift popularity for their high-stakes, steamy "romantasy" novels (aka fantasy novels with a hefty dose of romance, for BookTok novices).

From mild to burning and from one chili pepper to five, a perfect summer read is out there for everyone based on the amount of "spice" (aka sex scenes) you like in your plotlines. The same is true for the hot sauces: Walmart and Melinda's concocted five variations corresponding with each level on the five-chili scale. We taste-tested each sauce to see whether it held up to the hype — and the intended spiciness — or ended up being a let-down. We provide thoughts on the flavor of each, along with some suggested food pairings that could go well with each hot sauce.

Walmart provided a complimentary set of the Melinda's hot sauces for tasting and review purposes.

Read more: The Best Wings In Every State

One Chili Pepper: Mango Habanero (Mild)

mild hot sauce
mild hot sauce - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

This Mango Habanero sauce has a little something for everyone. It's fruity, it's light, and it's got a touch of heat — but only enough to keep things interesting. The label describes this sauce as "a little heat, but mostly sweet," and we would tend to agree. Sweet notes from the mango puree are dominant, with a slight touch of heat from the habanero peppers to keep you coming back for another taste.

When we smelled this sauce before tasting it, the aroma was a tad murky. We could detect tropical notes from the mango first, then subtle spice behind it, but we weren't sure what the overall taste would be. This ended up being a light flavor with fresh notes, and it was a great way to start with the sampler. If you like fruity hot sauces, you won't want to skip this one.

Given its mild nature, this sauce could likely complement a wide array of dishes, but we think it'd be extra welcome for a little extra zing on your fish tacos.

Two Chili Peppers: Jalapeño (Medium)

medium jalapeno hot sauce
medium jalapeno hot sauce - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

Based on smell alone, this medium-spiced jalapeño sauce was the one we were the most excited to try. It gets its heat from — you guessed it — jalapeño peppers. It was bright and fresh and promised tanginess and heat in a single waft. The flavor didn't let us down. This sauce gave us the full range of jalapeño flavor, including some definite heat. To us, the sauce was perfectly balanced. The vinegar in the sauce adds some zing while keeping the peppers at the forefront.

We'd agree this sauce is a true medium on the spiciness scale. It packed some heat in each bite, but it doesn't overpower the palate. Melinda's tagged this one as a "slow burn" — it won't smack you over the head with spiciness, but it will be versatile enough to complement a variety of dishes. If you've ever had a really good fresh salsa verde, this hot sauce would be the perfect addition if you need to add a little more pep to your own plate.

Three Chili Peppers: Chipotle (Hot)

hot chipotle hot sauce bottle
hot chipotle hot sauce bottle - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

The rich, brown hue of this three-chili sauce promises some smokiness and some heat, and it doesn't let us down on either count. The sauce smells smoky from the start and reminds us of the aroma of canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce that we use in enchilada sauces and other dishes that need a smoky, rich flavor.

That said, we weren't totally prepared for how hot this one would actually be from the first taste. Granted, Melinda's doesn't mess around when it comes to hot sauce, but we thought the sauce for the medium chili rating would be a little more, well, medium. There's no getting around it -- this one is spicy from the get-go. It makes sense. The first ingredient listed in this jar is habanero pepper mash with extras like chipotle pepper flakes to add that smokiness, and the heat is definitely present.

Once we got used to the heat blooming in our mouths, though, the flavor of this sauce was actually quite good. The heat from the peppers was still balanced with the smoky notes, and the chipotle flavor definitely came through. We couldn't really detect the carrots and pulps from papaya and passion fruit that are on the ingredients list, but we didn't hold it against this tasty sauce. We'd likely use this again for sprinkling over enchiladas if you prefer more spice than the rest of the people you're dining with.

Four Chili Peppers: Red Savina (Flaming)

flaming hot sauce bottle
flaming hot sauce bottle - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

Four chili peppers is where the heat can really start to get to you — in both books and hot sauces. The bright color of this sauce, which Melinda's dubbed "fiery and flavorful," isn't here to play around. Red Savina peppers are a form of habaneros that have been cultivated over many years to become bigger and hotter than the peppers in the rest of their family.

"The Red Savina Habanero is a legend among pepper growers for its flavor and of course extreme heat," according to a site about hot peppers called Pepperhead. "It has a sweet taste, almost fruity."

When we tasted this sauce, we were hit with pepper flavor first, then the heat followed in full force. After the chipotle habanero sauce, we were expecting to get smacked in the face with spice on this one, but this was only slightly hotter than the chipotle sauce in our opinion — just without the smoky elements. It packs heat for sure, but the flavor was unique to us. The sweet or fruity notes, likely from a combination of the peppers themselves and the carrots that Melinda's adds to the mix, kept us coming back to try it again. This was surprisingly addictive, and it left residual heat in our mouths longer than with the first three we tried. We'd likely add some of this to our chicken wing sauce for a unique twist on a classic.

Five Chili Peppers: Naga Jolokia (Burning)

burning hot sauce bottle
burning hot sauce bottle - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

From appearance alone, we would have guessed that this Naga Jolokia — or ghost pepper — hot sauce would be the five-alarm bottle in the set. The color is bright, bright red, and it comes with a semi-serious "proceed with caution" warning on the label from Melinda's.

These peppers once had the distinction of being the hottest on the planet. They're about 200 times hotter than a jalapeño and have only been usurped from the "spiciest pepper" throne by four other peppers since 2007 — the hottest of which is currently the Carolina Reaper.

As if the Naga Jolokia pepper mash isn't enough to get our taste buds burning, Melinda's also tosses some habaneros into this sauce for good measure. If your comfort level is more in the medium to hot range, this sauce is going to stretch you in the heat department. That said, it isn't just spicy for the sake of setting your mouth on fire. There are some interesting flavor nuances from the peppers, carrots, lime, and vinegar going on before your mouth explodes. In fact, we are surprised that it brought interesting flavor to the table rather than just aiming to make us sweat. (Our noses were running after this taste-test, though.) It won't take much of this spicy blend to make an impact on your plate, and we'd likely sprinkle it over dishes like huevos rancheros for a hefty dose of spice.

Availability And Nutrition

hot sauce set in book-like box
hot sauce set in book-like box - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

If you're looking for unique sauces and fun labels to celebrate both your love of spicy books and hot cuisines, this set fits the bill. These Spicy Books Hot Sauces are part of Walmart's "spicy summer" campaign, meant to celebrate the BookTok romantasy fandom — and anyone who wants a little kick to their palate. They're available for shipping nationwide online through Walmart for as long as supplies last. The set of five 5-ounce sauces retails for $14.98 and comes in a specialty box.

These sauces are much like any other hot sauce when it comes to your health. The serving size is one teaspoon for each sauce, so they're going to have a negligible effect on your daily nutrition. Each one has 0 calories per serving. Some of the varieties have up to 6% of your recommended daily value for sodium, but otherwise they're like eating your vegetables — if those vegetables are the bright red, spicy kind, that is.

Final Impressions

set of five hot sauce bottles in box
set of five hot sauce bottles in box - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

This hot sauce set is a fun mash-up to celebrate summer, a love of reading, and spicy foods. Depending on the chili level of your books and your sauces, you might sweat a little bit with each one — or just enjoy a chill, flavorful moment by the pool. The overall flavors of each sauce are unique and bring something a little different to the box, giving you ample options to choose from as you use them over and over.

The biggest takeaway: Melinda's knows what it's doing when it comes to imparting flavor -- and not just spice -- into its sauces. Each one has subtle nuances that kept us coming back for more tastes. The hottest ones pack a punch, just like you want them to, but they aren't spicy just for the sake of making your tongue burst into flames. Whether you're sprinkling these over dishes to add heat or incorporating them into recipes for a full, robust spice level, they offer a wide variety of spicy options to your pantry.

Our favorite was the jalapeño sauce. Though it was on the milder side in terms of the spiciness levels for this set, it brought enough heat to keep things interesting. It remains pepper-forward without blowing out your palate so you can enjoy the flavors in the rest of your meal. It was also fresh and zippy when we tasted it, and we can see it being a versatile must-have, particularly for lighter summer dishes.


box set of hot sauce bottles
box set of hot sauce bottles - Nikelle Murphy / Mashed

We taste-tested these hot sauces in one afternoon, working our way up the chili pepper scale from one to five. That way, we wouldn't destroy our taste buds and miss out on the nuances of the milder sauces. We tasted each one with a few drops of the sauce on a plain tortilla chip to avoid adding other flavors to the mix, though we made notes about what we'd pair it with in the future based on the profiles of each one. Though we used the chip as a vehicle (we rarely see people eat hot sauce straight from a spoon, so we didn't either), we put the sauce straight on our tongue to get the immediate effect from the sauce rather than the chip. Between tasting each one, we ate yogurt and drank water if necessary to eliminate the spicy notes from the previous sauces.

Read the original article on Mashed.