Posted June 29, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News


From Cleveland.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
James F. Sweeney
Plain Dealer Reporter

It doesn’t matter what your body says: When it comes to hot sauces, it’s flavor, not heat, that matters.

So ignore your watering eyes, runny nose and burning tongue and find the flavor beneath that flame.

People are dripping and drizzling hot sauces onto a greater variety of dishes than ever before. Not just chili and chicken wings, but eggs, soups, stews, hash browns and even pies. Hot sauces are becoming as popular in the kitchen as anything on the spice rack.

It’s a fast, easy way to add spice and flavor to almost anything. The sauces come in a mind-boggling variety of styles, flavors and intensities that can be matched with flavors and foods.

“It’s not just for people who want to burn their taste buds off,” said Marie Dalby, editor-in-chief of Chile Pepper, a bimonthly magazine with 140,000 subscribers.

Why the increased popularity of hot sauces?

People are more open to exotic cuisines such as Thai, Indian and Caribbean with their traditions of heat and spice, Dalby said. As Americans travel and taste authentic cuisines, they demand the same flavors at home. The Internet can deliver almost anything not found on local shelves.

Hispanics, the fastest-growing group in the country, favor hot and sweet flavors, though many of their dishes are mild and subtle. Fusion cooking is introducing heat into dishes that lacked it before.

As a result, heat is spilling over into foods such as dips, peanut butter and jellies, even jalapeno candies.

Many traditional snacks such as Cheetos now come in hot versions.

When Dave DeWitt, the country’s leading expert on chile peppers, began writing about them in New Mexico in the early 1970s, interest was limited to the Southwest. Last month, he finished a nationwide book tour. What he saw on the road convinced him the entire country is on fire.

“When you’ve got hot and spicy fast food in Middle America, you’re conquering Middle America,” he said.

And food is not immune to American culture’s drive to get ever louder, faster and more extreme. Your Buffalo wings are atomic? Then I’ll make mine thermonuclear. You put hot sauce on scrambled eggs? I’ll put it on toast.

And hot sauces are just plain fun. How can you not enjoy something called Scorned Woman, Toad Sweat or Jump In an Open Grave? And those are just brands that can be printed in a family newspaper. There are plenty with names and labels best left off the dining-room table. One local store even has a “naughty shelf” covered by cardboard to prevent tender sensibilities from scalding.

There are more hot sauces now than ever, but they do have a long history.

While chile powder appeared in recipes in the 1700s, the first cayenne sauce was bottled in Massachusetts in 1807.

The most famous hot sauce got its start in Louisiana in1859 when Col. Maunsel White mashed Tabasco chiles, strained them and mixed with vinegar and salt. He shared the recipe with a friend, Edmund McIlhenny, who planted his own peppers. In 1868, McIlhenny sent 350 used cologne bottles full of his sauce to wholesalers. The response was huge, and Tabasco brand remains so popular that some people use it to refer to all hot sauces.

Hot sauce and the accompanying endorphin rush can be addictive.

For Christopher Cunningham, hot sauce at first was nothing more than a way to keep his lunch to himself. Tired of people asking for a bite, he began dousing everything with liquid heat in 1987.

“No one ever bothered me again or asked for a taste of anything,” said the 46-year-old postal worker from Brunswick.

But he was hooked. He started eating jalapeno sandwiches and now plays regularly with the dangerous stuff — Pure Cap and Dave’s Insanity Sauce.

Once he accidentally got some hot sauce on his contact lenses: “I was rolling around on the floor of the bathroom for 20 minutes. My eyes were on fire.”

Fellow saucer Roger Reynolds knew he’d found the right chicken wings when the heat made his ears ring.

“My wife was like, Stop eating them.’ I said, Are you kidding? These are great,’ ” he says.

Like Cunningham, Reynolds, a 39-year-old trucker from Avon Lake, is not sure why he eats fire.

“I guess it’s just my masochistic nature taking over,” he said.

At some point, hot sauce ceases to be merely scorching and becomes a food additive. That sounds benign, but it’s not.

It means the capsaicin content is so high that the burn overwhelms any flavor and simply adds heat to food. Products such as The Source, Satan’s Blood and Pure Cap are capsaicin extracts, many times hotter than any pepper and better dispensed by dropper than a shake of the bottle. (Oh, and wear gloves. And, above all, do not rub your eyes.)

Hot sauce goes well with almost everything, including machismo, said Heather Marks, co-owner with husband Brian of Heather’s Heat and Flavor in Lyndhurst’s Legacy Village. The shop specializes in all things hot, including sauces, rubs, spices and even pickles and peanut butter.

Marks keeps the superhot sauces behind the counter and counsels the brave to sample them with the end of a toothpick.

“It’s usually the boys lining up to see how tough they are,” she said.

There are always people who insist on playing with fire, but DeWitt has advice for people who are interested in trying hot sauce, but who don’t want to get burned: Start with something relatively mild and determine your tolerance and tastes. And avoid the superhot stuff.

Remember, it’s the flavor, not the flame.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
jsweeney@plaind.com, 216-999-4850

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog