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Hot to Trot

In search of the hottest hot sauce

By Rob. Walton

New Orleanians love their food spicy. The shrimp Creole here will make

the average Midwesterner’s eyes water…not to mention the blackened

redfish, jambalaya and seafood gumbo. Anywhere you go, the locals dispense

Tabasco sauce as if it were ketchup. After dining out here for a week, with

our palates inured to the spices, Tabasco seems like a downright bland condiment,

so we’re off in search of the hottest hot sauce we can find. Our model

Katalina, being from Mexico where salsa is muy picante, rises to the challenge

and volunteers to lead our quest.

We set out for the French Market where there are more varieties of hot

sauce

than frat guys on Bourbon Street. Along the way, our own hot tamale

recalls

her earliest hot and spicy memory. “When I was a girl, around five or

six

years old, my dad used to give me money to eat jalapeño peppers

in

front of

his friends to show how tough I was. I’d eat about half of one, he’d

give

me

the money, then I’d go cry to my mom. Now that I think of it, that

sounds

kinda like torture, doesn’t it?”

Well, she’s a big girl now, and she likes it rough, like so many Cajun

masochists. When we enter the French Market, a year-round farmers

market/flea

market on the Mississippi River, we know we are in the right place.

Over

our

heads hang dozens of red chili pepper wreaths. The proprietor explains

that

chili peppers are indeed hot and the base of many a Cajun dish, but

the

meanest mother of all peppers is the habañero. We push on in

search

of the

potent habañero.

Katalina and her spicy palate lead us to the center of the complex

where

literally thousands of hot sauce varieties line the walls, bearing

lethal

names like Torture and Pain or sexual names like Monica’s Down on Your

Knees

Hot Sauce. Why there are so many naked girls on hot sauce labels we’re

not

exactly sure, but we have a feeling someone will tell us before the

day is

over.

For our little experiment, we come upon the perfect lab. A shop called

I

Love

Nawlins has a sample table of hot sauces arranged from mildest to

wildest,

with dipping cups of each brand on the counter in front of each

bottle. A

basket of popcorn offers tasters a means of sampling the concoctions.

We

should have known by the water cooler next to the display table that

we

were in for trouble. At the wild end of the spectrum are two bottles.

The

penultimate, called Widow, has an actual plastic spider affixed to the

neck.

And the end-all be-all at the very end is a tiny little bottle called

Gold

Cap ($8.99 for 1.7 ounces — more than some perfume!). Just as we

suspected,

these two sauces are made from habañero peppers. The experiment

is

on.

For our own safety, we decide to let the public be our guinea pigs.

Katalina

stands behind the counter and entices passersby with her tasty

offerings.

Our first victim is Robert from New Jersey, who proclaims himself a

seasoned

hot sauce eater. Katalina, ever the gracious hostess, dips his popcorn

all

the

way into the sample dish and pulls it out dripping the Gold Cap sauce,

which

is so red, it’s almost black. She plops it into his mouth. Robert

expects

a

tingle, but gets a scalding. Within seconds, his eyes are tearing, his

nose

is running, he develops the hiccups and we believe we saw steam shoot

out

of

his ears. After doing the hot sauce fan dance, Robert is finally able

to

muster some words. “I’ve never had anything that hot in my life,” he

gasps.

“I’m gagging, my throat is tight, my eyes are watering and my tongue

burns

like hell. I can respect somebody who can handle that stuff.”

Robert, meet Sam, a dentist from Erie, Pennsylvania. Sam takes a big

scoop

of

the Gold Cap, chews it up and swallows it as if he were eating a water

cracker. Not a flinch. “Hot sauce doesn’t bother me. The secret is to

not

let

it touch your lips. I can eat whatever I want.”

Sam’s brother Nader attests to that. “He has his name up on plaques

for

eating hot sauce at three or four places back home.”

But, Sam, have you ever eaten anything that’s too hot?

“Some girl I used to know.”

All kidding aside, Sam admits, “Capsicum is the active ingredient in

pepper sauce that

makes it so hot. I can’t eat that. Medically, you can’t eat that.

You’d

have

a heart attack. It’ll kill you. It’s sold in a little bottle with an

eye

dropper.”

So what’s the appeal of eating hot sauce?

“It makes your heart rate go up. It makes you sweat. It’s like a

substitute

for sex.”

Our question has been answered.

© 2000 . All rights reserved.

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