One of the things that various people in my life have commented on over the years is the plethora of hot sauces I keep in my home.
I will not deny this fact. Here's a shot of the sauces that are within easy reach. There's another 10-12 in my pantry. Siriachi, garlic chili paste, good old Tabasco, even Jewel brand hot sauce-- each one has a wonderful and unique flavor to me. It's hard to explain to someone who just feels heat, and can't enjoy the taste. There's a good reason for this. I read in an article a few years back that the number of taste buds on a human tongues varies wildly. If there were an average, there are people with twice the average number of taste buds and those with half. Ironically, those with half have trouble tasting things-- because they have so few taste buds, everything tastes bland. What is merely unbearably spicy to others is wonderful and exquisitely varied to people with a low amount of taste buds.
I'm apparently in that group, because I cannot bear to eat most meals without hot sauce. I put hot sauce on my breakfast nearly every day. At work, I have 5 or 6 hot sauces in a filing cabinet drawer for my lunches. I've been known to put two or more hot sauces on my meals. It's a common occurence for me to put hot sauces on all three meals in a day.
What makes peppers hot is a chemical called capsaicin. It is, ironically, colorless and odorless. Scientists think that plants evolved it as a deterrent to herbivores eating their seeds. Capsaicin is non water soluble; if you bite into something really spicy, water only spreads the capsaicin around your mouth and makes it worse. The chemical is fat soluble, so eating something oily or fatty can help absorb it.
Spicyness in peppers is measured on the Scoville scale. The Scotch Bonnet Pepper, pictured at the top of this post, is indigenous to the Carribean and was thought for years to be the hottest pepper on the planet. A few years ago, it was discovered that an Indian pepper, the Naga Jolokia, to the right, was found to be the hottest.
For me, though, that's a moot point. It's not just about the heat-- it's about the flavor.
Some years back, I was working at a very popular Chicago Barbecue joint, the N.N. Smokehouse. The owner managed to buy up the complete hot sauce stock of a defunct restaurant that had specialized in spicy. It was a hot sauce afficionado's heaven. We had probably close to 100 different hot sauces. I tried every damned one of them. They varied in heat, texture and flavor. Some were smoky-- chipotle sauces, made of grilled jalepeno peppers-- and were made with every kind of pepper, mixed with all kinds of things. One I remember, and could not find again, had yellow mustard and serrano peppers. After trying them all, I definitely had my favorites.
A few weeks ago, I dropped my stepdaughter off at my wife's best friend Palette's house. Palette and I had a chance to have a cup of coffee and catch up, and we discovered we shared a fondness for hot sauces. What's more, we discovered that our favorite was Marie Sharp's, a hot sauce that is made of Scotch Bonnet peppers, lime juice, carrots, garlic, vinegar and salt. It's a superb blend of heat and flavor, and damned hard to find. It was the sauce that was my favorite, after trying all the sauces at the Smokehouse. And it's expensive and damned hard to find.
Tonight on the way home from work, I decided to stock up on groceries. I planned to get down to Argyle Street, an area in Chicago's rough Uptown neighborhood that's become a place that Southeast Asian immigrants have settled in. There are, consequently, stores that sell Asian products. I decided, though, to swing by my big Mexican grocery store for produce and the inexpensive chicken leg quarters I use in cooking. I make it a habit to stroll down the aisle with the hot sauces and see if there are any new sauces I want to try. And there it was; they had the big (10 ounce) bottles of Marie Sharp's. Not only that, they were only $1.99 a bottle. I grabbed a bottle, and went to finish my shopping, and thought better of it-- I went and grabbed a bottle for Palette.
I was tired and thought about skipping Argyle Street, but realized I was really hankering for Chili Black Bean hot sauce, which I was out of. I ran over to Argyle Street and stocked up on the Chili Black Bean sauce, plus got myself a big jar of kimchee.
I mentioned recently that I'm finding out these days that everything that I love is turning out to be good for me. This includes green and black tea, coffee, red wine, capsaicin-loaded hot sauces, ketchup, mustard and dark chocolate. As I sat down to do this post, I pulled up Yahoo to check my email. I was glad I made my run to Argyle Street after I read one of the news articles on their portal page. It told me that I can add my Chili Black Bean sauce to that list. According to the article, black soybeans, the beans in my sauce, "may be a wonder food of sorts, helping to prevent obesity, lower cholesterol levels and possibly even reduce risks for diabetes."
Still laughing at all my hot sauces? Ha!