Review: Melinda’s Dry Hot Sauce
Of interest regarding the mighty habanero is its sheer versatility in the hands of product manufacturers – and its vulnerability. I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everything crafted with our beloved pepper – even as the feature ingredient, lives up to one’s expectations for mouth fuel. Alas, the curse of the chilehead.
To illustrate my point, I offer Melinda’s Dry Hot Sauce. We’re all familiar with the Figueroa Brothers’ product line, which has been around for a while – the habanero-based sauces with more X’s on them than, well, ahem. A whole lotta X’s going on with Melinda. This product doesn’t have any, so I guess it could be rated G, as interpreted from the “all purpose” classification. In fact, nowhere on the bottle does it mention the heat level of the product – but that’s okay for now.
This being my first-ever powdered heat condiment, chile powders aside, (their most likely source), I was definitely curious as to its zing factor. Back to the brand, though. Before I discovered online catalogs and specialty shops, over ten years ago, my hot sauce options were severely limited. Forget supermarkets. If you wanted something off the beaten path, your best bet was an all-natural or gourmet foods store. They might have something a bit more adventurous than the vinegar-based crowd.
That’s where I remember first picking up some Melinda’s along with another similar brand from Costa Rica with a big, colorful toucan on it. These pretty-labeled mild to medium sauces were great stepping-stones toward the eventual volcanoes we’ve come to inhabit. They built your confidence and credibility. Along with the habs, other ingredients like carrots and papaya are added, which provide texture, but also restrict the heat. Why do that, I always thought.
It is no wonder then, that reviewing this product became nostalgic, bringing me back before I tried Dave’s, Blair’s or Ashley’s tongue twisters. So I had a perfect occasion to test it. This past weekend, Lambertville, NJ celebrated its annual Shad Festival, and a few friends and I decided to check it out. Arriving late on Saturday, with the festival already closing down, I was a bit disappointed, although we could re-attend it on Sunday.
The surprise came when one of my friends already there, found out that the Shad hadn’t run yet, so there was none to be savored. Not grilled, fried, broiled and no roe – nada. (Lambertville lies along the Delaware River and the Shad enter it annually from the Atlantic, apparently one of their few chosen spots on the Eastern seaboard). So we dubbed it the Shadless Fest.
He had tried a crab-cake and a pulled pork sandwich, neither being remarkable and then pointed out all the cell phone, bank and other not-remotely-related-to Shad kiosks present. Some festival, I thought (we say fish but we mean fishy), content that I hadn’t missed anything spectacular. After a trip to Suzie’s Hot Sauce shop, in town, we headed to a local brewery, ordered some apps and cracked open a bottle of Ring of Fire Original to dress them with. Now that’s a tasty hab product. I realized later that this was a grave mistake, because we inadvertently compared the heat and flavor of this most excellent sauce to the Melinda’s Dry Hot Sauce later, which I was actually eager to impress my friends with, having brought it along.
That evening, grilling lamburgers with smoked mozzarella tucked inside, on my little Weber, we setup camp at a nearby state park where we had a site reserved. The good thing about Melinda’s Dry Hot Sauce is its handy size, perfect for a tailgate or a camping trip, where you want most of your accompaniments in a less-than-Costco size. So I rubbed down our patties generously with this Dry Hot Sauce.
One of my impatient friends came by and put a good dollop on his finger, expecting, I dunno – fireworks maybe, and when he said “It tastes like breadcrumbs” my tail nestled between my legs. No, I thought, it has to have more flavor than that. It was like serving a bad wine to your best table. The huge fire we had going in the pit didn’t help matters either.
Sadly, he was right. It does taste (and smell) like breadcrumbs, with the faintest tickle of heat, too shy to come out and play. Sodium is only 25 mg, which is fine if you’re watching your intake, but this dry hot sauce seriously lacked flavor, never mind heat. Maybe they need more product development, but I would consider dumping the entire bottle into sour cream and calling it a dip – adding salt to taste.
It seems to me that this product doesn’t fit that well into its category – it needs something else, and a good helping of it. If I want heat in powdered form, I’d go right to a good chile – Arbol, Chipotle, Hab, what have you. (I have a powerful chile powder mix I bought from an Asian market that keeps in a jar, and I swear as soon as I open it up I start sneezing).
For all-purpose seasoning, I go with Tony Chacere’s or Paul Prudhomme’s, or I blend my own. Heck, even Emeril’s is halfway decent. Melinda’s Dry Hot Sauce has more fillers than heat or flavor ““ hence the sawdust composition. You’d get better flavor just using salt and pepper. Even Ms. Dash no-sodium has more flare.
To be fair, I gave Melinda a second chance tonight. My dinner was simple – a salad with Ponzu sauce and sesame oil (makes a great dressing) and some giardiniera, brown rice and grilled chicken in an Indian-inspired lentil salad with fresh herbs and spices . Ok, so I mix weird foods – but I try to keep it generally healthy.
I had to bid Melinda farewell, without a kiss goodnight. Call me a heat-seeking snob, but I can’t say this product impressed me in the least. It seems to be a product extension for those with truly sensitive taste buds, or people minding their hypertension. When I come across habanero products like this, I reach for a tissue box, because it make me want to cry – not from intense heat, but from the extreme lack thereof. In my book, the sauce is still boss.
Appearance: Granulated spices/sawdust
Smell: A little on the earthy/musty side
Taste: Breadcrumbs. I have to add hot sauce to this to get some flavor out of it.
Heat: N/A; almost undetectable.
Overall: Sorry to be harsh to a well-established brand, but I wouldn’t recommend this product. Stick to an old-fashioned hot sauce, or if you are in some situation where you can’t use a liquid and require powdered heat (Mars maybe), use a dried chili powder. However, if you are watching your sodium intake, this product may be for you, but you’ll have to find a way to add more heat.
Ingredients: Pepper sauce powder (peppers, salt, vinegar, natural tocopherol), citric acid, garlic, onion, habanero powder, carrot powder, maltodextrin, modified food starch, natural flavors, sugar.
Manufacturer’s Info: Figueroa Brothers, Inc. Kenner, LA, 70062, www.melindas.com
Product Pricing: 1.12 oz shaker for $4.89 directly from the manufacturer.