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
than frat guys on Bourbon Street. Along the way, our own hot tamale
her earliest hot and spicy memory. “When I was a girl, around five or
years old, my dad used to give me money to eat jalapeño peppers
his friends to show how tough I was. I’d eat about half of one, he’d
the money, then I’d go cry to my mom. Now that I think of it, that
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 on the Mississippi River, we know we are in the right place.
heads hang dozens of red chili pepper wreaths. The proprietor explains
chili peppers are indeed hot and the base of many a Cajun dish, but
meanest mother of all peppers is the habañero. We push on in
Katalina and her spicy palate lead us to the center of the complex
literally thousands of hot sauce varieties line the walls, bearing
names like Torture and Pain or sexual names like Monica’s Down on Your
Hot Sauce. Why there are so many naked girls on hot sauce labels we’re
exactly sure, but we have a feeling someone will tell us before the
For our little experiment, we come upon the perfect lab. A shop called
Nawlins has a sample table of hot sauces arranged from mildest to
with dipping cups of each brand on the counter in front of each
basket of popcorn offers tasters a means of sampling the concoctions.
should have known by the water cooler next to the display table that
were in for trouble. At the wild end of the spectrum are two bottles.
penultimate, called Widow, has an actual plastic spider affixed to the
And the end-all be-all at the very end is a tiny little bottle called
Cap ($8.99 for 1.7 ounces — more than some perfume!). Just as we
these two sauces are made from habañero peppers. The experiment
For our own safety, we decide to let the public be our guinea pigs.
stands behind the counter and entices passersby with her tasty
Our first victim is Robert from New Jersey, who proclaims himself a
hot sauce eater. Katalina, ever the gracious hostess, dips his popcorn
way into the sample dish and pulls it out dripping the Gold Cap sauce,
is so red, it’s almost black. She plops it into his mouth. Robert
tingle, but gets a scalding. Within seconds, his eyes are tearing, his
is running, he develops the hiccups and we believe we saw steam shoot
his ears. After doing the hot sauce fan dance, Robert is finally able
muster some words. “I’ve never had anything that hot in my life,” he
“I’m gagging, my throat is tight, my eyes are watering and my tongue
like hell. I can respect somebody who can handle that stuff.”
Robert, meet Sam, a dentist from Erie, Pennsylvania. Sam takes a big
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
it touch your lips. I can eat whatever I want.”
Sam’s brother Nader attests to that. “He has his name up on plaques
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.
a heart attack. It’ll kill you. It’s sold in a little bottle with an
So what’s the appeal of eating hot sauce?
“It makes your heart rate go up. It makes you sweat. It’s like a
Our question has been answered.
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