Spicy Cranberry Sauce

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It’s time to spice up your cranberry sauce game! This irresistible twist on a classic holiday staple will bring some heat to your Thanksgiving table. Prepare to ignite your palate with the perfect blend of tangy cranberries and fiery spices.

How to make a spicy cranberry sauce with jalapeno and cayenne.

Making fresh cranberry sauce adds a gourmet touch to your holiday table. It’s easy to prepare and can be made several days in advance. However, for this recipe, I cranked up the heat on my classic homemade cranberry sauce by adding spicy peppers.

I use two types: freshly minced jalapeno peppers and dried hot cayenne pepper. This adds an upfront heat that also lingers for a few moments. Plus, a little bit of lime juice adds a citrusy flavor and dimension. Once you’ve tried this hotter version with your Thanksgiving food, it may be a new tradition to prepare each year!

Key ingredients

Ingredients needed to make this spicy cranberry sauce recipe.
  • Cranberries: I use 12 ounces of fresh cranberries to make the recipe. If you have frozen cranberries, they will work too. No need to defrost; just add more cooking time.
  • Water: The liquid will help the berries simmer, cook, and burst. This will release the pectin and juices from the cell walls for a thickened sauce.
  • Sweetener: I use honey for its unique flavor and moisture. Pure maple syrup or agave are good substitutes.
  • Peppers: Fresh minced jalapeno peppers and dried cayenne pepper add lingering heat. It’s easy to adjust the spice level to your liking.
  • Citrus: Add lime zest and juice to balance the sweetness of the honey. Lime also complements the flavor of the jalapeno.
  • Salt: Adding salt enhances the sweet, tangy, and spicy taste of the cranberry sauce.

Wash the cranberries

Cranberries in a colander being rinsed with water.

Cranberries are harvested in watery bogs, then processed, packaged, and shipped to markets. It’s best to give them a good rinse in cold water to remove dirt and debris. Make sure to pick out and discard any berries that are bruised and broken.

Simmer the sauce

In a medium saucepan, add the washed cranberries, water, honey, minced jalapenos, salt, and cayenne pepper. The honey will be very viscous, so give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar before cooking. Bring to a boil to kick start cooking the cranberries, then reduce to a simmer.

You’ll hear popping, which is a good indication that the berries have begun to release their tart juices and pectin. After about 15 minutes, they should have all burst, and the sauce should become thick like jam.

Add the lime

Lime juice and lime zest added to a pan of cranberry sauce.

Typically, I enjoy adding orange zest and orange juice to my citrus cranberry sauce, but lime pairs so much better with the peppers. Add the zest of one lime, and squeeze two tablespoons of the juice. Stir it into the cranberry sauce with the heat turned off to preserve the lime’s delicate flavor.

The essential oils from the zest will add lasting citrus flavor—the citric acid from the juice will balance the sweetness of the honey. You can serve the sauce warm, at room temperature, or refrigerate for a jam-like consistency.

Flavor variations

Now that you know how to make spicy cranberry sauce, it’s super easy to customize! Try these tasty flavor variations:

  • Peppers: Use different types of peppers like Serrano, Anaheim, Fresno, or Habanero. For dried chilies, try chipotle chili powder for a charred flavor. Red pepper flakes will have a long-lasting heat. A little hot sauce will add a tangy and spicy kick!
  • Citrus: Instead of lime, try adding lemon or orange. Grate the zest to add a better aroma. Lemon juice will be more tart, and orange juice will give a sweeter taste.
  • Sweeteners: Instead of honey, try maple syrup or agave. Granulated sugar or brown sugar can also be used, but add an extra ¼ cup of water since it’s a solid and not a liquid like honey. Simmering the sauce with a cinnamon stick will enhance the sweet taste and aroma.
Diced jalapenos placed on top of cranberry sauce in a white bowl.

Serving suggestions

Frequently asked questions

What types of peppers or spices work best for adding heat to the sauce?

Freshly minced jalapenos or serrano are my top choice. They can be roasted for a charred flavor before adding to the sauce. For a lasting heat, use dried ground chilies like cayenne or chipotle for a smoky taste.

How do I balance the sweetness and spiciness of the sauce?

I find that for every 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, a ½ cup of sweetener adds just enough sugary flavor without overpowering the characteristic tart taste of the berry. From there, it’s easy to add the desired level of spiciness. I use ¼ cup of fresh hot peppers plus ¼ teaspoon of dried chili peppers. Add more dried peppers to taste.

How long will spicy cranberry sauce stay fresh in the refrigerator or freezer?

Cover and refrigerate for up to 7 days. Freeze for up to 3 months, defrosting before serving.

Homemade jalapeno cranberry sauce for those that want to serve a kick of heat this Thanksgiving.

How to adjust the spiciness of the cranberry sauce

Fresh jalapenos will add a mild heat level. Add the seeds and membrane to make the sauce hotter. Increase the cayenne pepper gradually, and ⅛ teaspoon at a time. The heat really builds, and the dry chili is very fine in texture and will give a lasting heat. To make the sauce less spicy, reduce the jalapenos to 2 tablespoons or omit the cayenne. It’s always easy to add more spice than trying to reduce it.

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Spicy Cranberry Sauce

I love making spicy cranberry sauce because it adds a delightful kick of heat to the traditional sweet and tart flavors. The combination of spicy peppers and tangy cranberries creates a vibrant and bold condiment that elevates any holiday meal.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 28 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 12 ounces cranberries
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Ingredients – Add the cranberries to a colander and wash with cool running water.
  • Combine Ingredients – In a medium pan, add cranberries, honey, water, jalapenos, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Simmer Sauce – Bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency, about 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Add Lime – Turn off the heat and stir in the lime zest and lime juice. Taste and add more sweetener or cayenne if desired.
  • To Serve – Serve warm or cool the sauce before serving.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 1 ¾ cups
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
  • Sweetener: Granulated sugar or brown sugar can be used. Add an extra ¼ cup of water to the recipe. For a sweeter sauce, add an additional ¼ to ½ cup of sweetener.
  • Liquid: Apple juice, apple cider, orange juice, cranberry, pomegranate, or grape juice can be substituted for water.
  • Thinner Sauce: Add 1 cup of water instead of ½ cup.
  • Storing: Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Freeze for up to 3 months; defrost before use.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 28 servings
Calories 6kcalCarbohydrates 1gProtein 0.1gFat 0.02gSaturated Fat 0.001gPolyunsaturated Fat 0.01gMonounsaturated Fat 0.002gSodium 0.2mgPotassium 10mgFiber 0.4g (2%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 7IUVitamin C 2mg (2%)Calcium 1mgIron 0.03mg

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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