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Primer – Hot Sauce

03.15.2010


So this weekend I decided (or rather didn’t plan) not to do any outdoor cooking. It was my anniversary Saturday, and we had plans to go out, instead of cook a quaint meal together, and Sunday, we didn’t really get to cook because we had plans all night. So I don’t leave you without any Back Porch wisdom (we don’t want our readers YouTubing “the WOW freakout kid” –BTW, if you think your kids are bad, check out this kid…) I’ve decided to talk about my favorite food.

HOT SAUCE!

First, a little chemistry. Please note that I am not a chemist. I have some BS after my name, but it should stand for “Backyard Scientist”. I love experiments, DIY technology and the like. Now, you may wonder what makes hot sauce hot? (And who put the bop in the bop-shu-bop-shu-bop, but I don’t know that one!) It’s called Capsaicin. Kap-Say-Kin. Say it with me. Kap-Say-Kin. Good. It is a natural oil that has the effect of hurting your tongue when you eat it. According to Wikipedia, “Capsaicin is a chemical compound which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes.” It’s natures way of saying to animals, ‘Bite me and I’ll bite you back!’ Same with the red and orange bright colors that don peppers. It’s a defensive adaptation. Now, you would think that humans, being the 3rd most intelligent species on the planet (right after mice and dolphins! –Don’t Panic!) wouldn’t want the strong taste of the pepper. Some don’t, but as soon as you get past the bite of the pepper, the flavor is worth the pain.

Heat Scale

The ‘hotness’ of a pepper is measured on the Scofield Scale, measured in Scofield Heat Units, or SCU’s. The basis of the scale is thus: “In Scoville’s method, an alcohol extract of the capsaicin oil from a measured amount of dried pepper is added incrementally to a sugar/water solution until the “heat” is just detectable to a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus a sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable, even undiluted. Conversely, the hottest chilis, such as habaneros, have a rating of 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract must be diluted over 200,000 times before the capsaicin presence is undetectable. The greatest weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity. Tasters taste only one sample per session.” –Wikipedia.org

The hottest pepper known to mankind is the Bhut Jolokia pepper from Bangladesh.

A sample of some peppers on the Scoville scale, available from Wikipedia.org:

Scoville rating Type of pepper
15,000,000–16,000,000 Pure capsaicin [4]
8,600,000–9,100,000 Various capsaicinoids (e.g. homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin, nordihydrocapsaicin)
5,000,000–5,300,000 Law Enforcement Grade pepper spray,[5] FN 303 irritant ammunition
855,000–1,050,000 Bhut Jolokia (Naga Jolokia)[6][7]
350,000–580,000 Red Savina Habanero[8][9]
100,000–350,000 Guntur Chilli, Habanero chili,[10] Scotch Bonnet Pepper,[10] Datil pepper, Rocoto, African Birdseye, Madame Jeanette, Jamaican Hot Pepper[11]
50,000–100,000 Bird’s eye chili/Thai Pepper/Indian Pepper,[12] Malagueta Pepper,[12] Chiltepin Pepper, Pequin Pepper[12]
30,000–50,000 Cayenne Pepper, Ají pepper,[10] Tabasco pepper, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese)
10,000–23,000 Serrano Pepper
2,500–8,000 Jalapeño Pepper, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper,[13] Paprika (Hungarian wax pepper)
500–2,500 Anaheim pepper, Poblano Pepper, Rocotillo Pepper, Peppadew
100–500 Pimento, Peperoncini
0 No heat, Bell pepper

How Hot Sauce is Made

There are a few schools of thought on this. One, is the Louisiana method. This is to dry and grind the peppers to powder and mix with lots of vinegar. The exception to this is Tobasco brand sauce. This unique sauce is made by aging the tabasco peppers in oak kegs for 3 years. This is the only hot sauce that gives me heartburn, and it is because of the aging. It has a very flavorful, unique taste, and goes great on eggs, pizza, doughnuts, just about anything.

Mexican hot sauce uses hotter peppers, and usually less vinegar. My absolute favorite sauce in the world, is Cholula. It goes great on anything, and you can tell it by the wooden cap and woman on the label. They have come out with a chile lime sauce, which I have not yet tasted.

Asian hot sauce is a whole different animal. You won’t find much vinegar in it, and if you do, it will be there primarily as a free flow agent, not flavoring. I previously posted about Sriracha chili sauce, which is a flavorful sauce that packs a big punch. The same company, Huy Fong Foods, also makes a garlic chili paste, that is even better than Rooster (Sriracha) sauce. This paste is great in chilies, soups, on anything. It has the same ingredients as Sriracha, but more garlic, and not as finely blended.

Making your own hot sauce and pepper dishes can be fun and delicious. Make sure you wear rubber gloves, and don’t touch your eyes. You can seriously hurt yourself or even go blind if you get capsaicin in your eye. Wash any exposed area immediately with lots of water. To make hot sauce, add peppers, garlic and any other ingredients (such as cilantro or other spices) to a blender with a little vinegar and blend into a fine liquid. Keeping the seeds and cores will make the food hotter, as much of the capsaicin is in the seeds.

My other guilty pleasure is Wasabi. Wasabi is a way different animal, but somewhat related. Since Wasabi horseradish doesn’t have capsaicin in it, it uses something called “Isothiocyanates” to make it hot. Since it is not an oil, it doesn’t burn as long as peppers will. My favorite snack are wasabi peas- you get them in the health foods section of the grocery store. They are little freeze dried peas with wasabi clumped all over them. Tasty!

To counteract the heat from peppers, chew bread, rice or peanut butter, and drink milk. Don’t drink water or it will just spread around your mouth. (oil and water don’t mix, so it won’t dissolve the capsaicin.)

What is the hottest hot-sauce I’ve ever had? Dave’s Insanity Sauce. Just one drop is enough to incite a riot of angry villagers inside your mouth. I love that stuff! 🙂

What is the hottest sauce you’ve had? Sound off in the comments.

Bon Appetit!
The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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4 Comments
  1. There's an asian sauce that I won't touch. We have two names for it at our house: “Vietnamese Rocket Fuel” and “Ruth Juice”, because my sister Ruth can drink it straight. I don't know why she'd want to, but it does prove that she's more of a man than I.

  2. If you eat a spoonful or two of peanut butter after eating hot food that contains capasaicin, it will completely contain and absorb the oil in the peanut butter, and it voids the system without any harm. It's a great tip, and you can eat any hot pepper with a little pb.

  3. gardenerG permalink

    We have Dave's Insanity and Da Bomb (link) as our 2 hottest. A friend says they differ in background flavor – that Da Bomb is not flavorful, just hot.

    I can only put the tip of a toothpick of either stuff onto a taco or bowl of chile!

  4. @gardernerG- I LOVE Dave's Insanity- Haven't tried the Da Bomb. Thanks for the tip. Remember to take it with a bit of peanut butter and you'll be fine. It is true that one drop'll do ya with the insanity sauce.

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