I used to shy-away from spicy foods because they distracted my taste buds or I guess my brain from the actual flavor. As I get older I’m developing more and more of a palate for the sensation of hot, spicy foods. I love when the heat seems to travel from my mouth up through the nose and the side of my nose starts to perspire. It almost feels like I’m getting ready to blow steam or fire out of my nostrils s like a dragon.
Lately I’ve been trying different hot sauces since I’m in the process of developing my own version. Discussing the subject with friends and colleagues I realized that a good hot sauce is a fiery discussion. Plenty of my friends had their favorite hot sauce and were pretty passionate about it. It almost seems like a competitive subject “my hot sauce is hotter.” Sure there are the Tabascos and Srirachas of the world you might be familiar with but my peeps were talking about brands that I never heard of so now I am steadily collecting.
Where does the heat come from?
A hot sauce gets its heat from capsaicin found in peppers such as jalapeno, scotch bonnet, habanera, birds-eye chili (aka piri piri) and many others. Spicy peppers have a delayed heat sensation meaning you get flavor on the palate first and then it follows with the heat experience, which can be volcanic. The burning sensation is a chemical interaction with our neurological system – meaning the pain of a hot sauce is not real in the sense of skin tissue damage compared to an actual burn. The perceived hotness is measured in the Scoville heat scale (SHU). It’s measured by how many times it must be diluted with water until no heat sensation can be perceived. For example, one of the hottest sauces on the market, made by Blair’s, has 16,000,000 Scoville units compared with Tabasco, which has up top 5,000 Scoville units. If you think Tabasco is spicy well beware Blair’s!
(a nice hot sauce variation)
Styles of hot sauce
Mexican hot sauce most likely won’t have any vinegar as a listed ingredient versus American hot sauce where it is added. Caribbean hot sauce often has tropical fruits such as papaya and/or mango to balance the spice. The ingredient list in Chinese hot sauce has almost certainly soy bean paste and sometimes fish heads for flavoring. Ginger and lemongrass can be found in Malaysian and Thai hot sauce. Harissa is an African hot sauce, which is spiced with cumin and coriander.
Helping to stop the heat
A good remedy for calming the spicy pain on the palate is drinking milk or a few spoons of yogurt since capsaicinoids are fat-soluble which is why water will have no effect to counter the burn.
(after testing the hot sauces we needed some yogurt to calm the heat on the palate)
My Favorite Hot Sauce
(recipe yields 1 ½ cups)
1 cup tomato puree (canned)
1 teaspoon Adobe sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon clover honey
- Put all ingredients in a kitchen blender and process until the mixture has a smooth puree consistency.
Chef’s Tip: when handling chopped spicy raw peppers make sure you rinse your hands thoroughly with soap and water and remember not to touch your eyes.
(if you like to feel the heat but not on your palate try the cayenne capsules - it keeps you cool in summer and hot in winter)