Cravings Blog

Hot sauces to match Florida’s summer heat

Scotch Bonnet Pepper sauce sold at Rodney’s Jamaican Grill in Palmetto, 814 Eighth Ave. W.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper sauce sold at Rodney’s Jamaican Grill in Palmetto, 814 Eighth Ave. W.

Before I launch into a tirade about the two new hot sauces that came across my plate (see what I did there?) in the last week, let me tell you a story.

Back in college, I decided to cook one of my favorite dishes, pad Thai, for my roommate Andy and me. I couldn’t find the red chili peppers I typically use for the recipe, so I just grabbed what looked like the closest thing. In reality, I’d grabbed the Bhut jolokia, aka the ghost pepper, aka one of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s the hottest pepper grown naturally. The hottest pepper on the Scoville scale is 16 million units and the ghost pepper is 1 million units.

(For your reference, here’s a video of Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape, where Anandita Dutta Tamuli attempts to break the world record for the number of Bhut jolokia peppers eaten. She also, um, tears them open and rubs them in her eyes.)

My eyes burned a little bit just watching the video. There are several other YouTube videos of other people eating the Bhut jolokia, but a lot of them are NSFW. People curse, and after my ghost pepper experience, I can see why.

Anyway, on pad Thai night I started sautéing everything. As soon as I added the ghost pepper to the wok, my eyes started watering. My fingers burned when I cut them, but that had happened with peppers before so I shrugged it off. Soon the cooking vapors spread through the apartment. Andy approached me with a carefully panicked tone:

“I don’t know what’s happening but I feel really hot. My eyes are like, burning and my arms are stinging.” I looked down and saw he had what looked like a red rash starting on his arms. I didn’t want to panic him further, so through my own watered eyes and burning skin I tried to reassure him. I kept cooking, but soon I was literally choking on the peppery fumes and my forearms were turning red, too. We hadn’t ingested anything and we were having this insane reaction.

As it got worse, Andy and I started to really panic and considered taking a trip to the emergency room. At one point, Andy even proposed pouring milk into his eyes. (Milk is a known antidote to spicy foods. Water, though it may seem like a great idea, will only spread the sensation and make it worse.) I convinced him not to, poured the dish into a plastic bag outside and we took a trip to CVS for some relief in the form of chocolate milk.

Back to today. The two new hot sauces I found are pretty dang hot, but not quite ghost-pepper hot. And, I know it’s not like anyone in Florida needs additional heat right now, but in case things aren’t hot enough for you, keeping these two sauces in the cupboard will kick up the heat in your life.

For most of us, Tabasco sauce is hot sauce. It’s what we’re used to seeing lined up on grocery shelves and stacked next to ketchup and mustard on restaurant tables. But Tabañero Hot Sauce is trying to change that perception.

The company set out on a journey to find the “world’s best hot sauce” in 2004, according to the Tabañero Hot Sauce website. The quest led them to Tabasco, Mexico, where they found the ingredients that would eventually make up Tabañero Hot Sauce. A flood swept through the region in 2007 and wiped out all of the crops they planned to use. The Tabañero team waited it out and developed a sauce with a “delicate balance of spice and flavor.”

Original Tabañero Hot Sauce comprises habanero peppers, carrots, onion, Key lime juice, agave nectar, garlic, salt and grapefruit seed extract, according to its website. The company prides itself on the non-vinegar recipe. In May, the company announced a deal to move into 1,300 Publix locations across the Southeast, including stores in Bradenton.

Rodney Williams of Rodney’s Jamaican Grill in Palmetto also wants to bring his hot sauce to your plate. It’s made with the Scotch bonnet pepper, which originated in Jamaica and is common in Caribbean foods. Williams’ sauce has scotch bonnet peppers, mustard, vinegar, tumeric, molasses and sodium, according to the label. You can read more about Rodney’s Jamaican Grill in my story from earlier this week.

Moral of the story: Be adventurous with your food, but take caution with unfamiliar peppers. I almost became a Bhut jolokia victim. Don’t let it happen to you!