Posted June 17, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Pepper expert talks up hottest food trends since fire

Dave DeWitt, co-author of “The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible,” says most people who eat sushi have never tasted real wasabi. Commercial wasabi is usually a blend of horseradish, Chinese mustard, cornstarch and food coloring. Real wasabi, because it’s so difficult to cultivate, often sells for upward of $100 a pound.
But parts of Oregon provide the ideal climate for the finicky rhizome.
Pacific Farms in Florence started cultivating wasabi hydroponically in 1991 and now manufactures wasabi paste, wasabi dressings, and wasabi seeds and seedlings. Its products are available at Fred Meyer stores and online at www.freshwasabi.com.
The truth about wasabi is one of the many fiery food facts covered in “The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible.” DeWitt’s infatuation with chili peppers and spicy foods has earned him the nickname “the Pope of Peppers,” and he has more than 30 spicy-food books under his belt. DeWitt was editor in chief of Chile Pepper magazine from 1987 to 1996 and is now editor in chief of Fiery Foods and Barbecue magazine.
DeWitt, who’s traveling the country publicizing his new book, will make an appearance tonight at Salvador Molly’s, home of the annual Great Balls of Fire pepper-eating contest.
DeWitt isn’t interested in merely setting people’s tongues afire. He intends, he says, to “promote spiciness that enhances flavor, without an overwhelming burn.”
“People are sensitive to different levels of heat,” he says, “and we took that into consideration when writing the book. So many people think that chilies are all one and the same — they’re all going to burn you.”
He hopes to dispel this myth by focusing on the wildly varied flavors of chilies. He explains that habaneros have a fruity essence, reminiscent of apricots, while the pasilla chili tastes like its namesake, “little raisin.”
“The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible,” which DeWitt wrote with Nancy Gerlach, is a combination of food history, food theory, food lore, advice on spicy-food cultivation and, of course, recipes.
Each year DeWitt attends the National Fiery Foods Show, where he tunes in to spicy-food trends. He says right now chili fans are gravitating toward flavors that are smoky (such as complex spicy rubs with hickory-smoked salt and chipotle powder) and fruity (mango salsas and fruity hot sauces from the Caribbean).
In “The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible,” DeWitt considers why Americans are eating more spicy foods. His theories include increased ethnic diversity, growth in the popularity of cooking, gardening and traveling, and the need to spice up bland low-fat American diet food. He writes: “The new motto of eating in the 21st century might be, ‘The healthier you eat, the more you need to spice up food.’ ”
DeWitt is certain that no matter what new culinary trends sweep over America, fiery food remains popular as long as people are interested in food.
“The most important factor for appreciating fiery foods,” he says, “is a sophisticated palate.”
He’s confident that once people have fallen for hot mustard, horseradish, ginger and chilies there won’t be any going back. He writes: “We never hear anyone say, ‘Oh I used to eat spicy food, but now I’m back to bland.’ ”

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog