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RestaurantI opened a Hot Sauce Shop/Tasting Bar 3 years ago and I'm an expert on all things spicy. AMA!

Apr 29th 2016 by heathotsauce • 50 Questions • 1171 Points

Hey reddit! My name is Dylan and along with my partner Becky, I opened a Hot Sauce Shop in Berkeley about three years ago. We offer about 300 varieties of hot sauce and we have over 50 bottles out on our tasting bar every day. Plus we offer things like spicy chocolates, chips, powders, and candies. I've eaten the hottest chile in the world (the Carolina Reaper), I grow chiles, and make spicy popcorn seasonings and seasonal hot sauces (next batch will be out around September). For some more background, check out this article from when we first opened.

My Proof: http://heathotsauce.com/pages/ama

AMA!

EDIT: This has been awesome so far - I'm gonna go eat some dinner, but I'll be back to answer some more questions in a few hours. I'll definitely get to all of them, so keep 'em coming!

Q:

Do you have a video of you eating the Carolina Reaper? How long did it take you to recover from that?

A:

I don't have a video (I know, pics or it didn't happen), but it was a painful experience even for me, and I have a really high tolerance. My mouth was feeling totally better after an hour or so, but I had cap cramps (stomach cramps caused by high concentrations of capsaicin) for a few hours after, and that night I spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom...

If you do want to see a video, there are plenty on youtube, but I'd recommend not watching anything with [puke warning] in the title, it tends to be pretty unpleasant.


Q:

I tried a glob of Da Bomb: Final Answer (I also have a very high tolerance) about 15 years ago. Turns out you can hallucinate from hot sauce. Did it on an empty stomach and wound up puking from the cap pains, which made my mouth burn all over again.

You ever hallucinated from any sauce or pepper?

A:

It's like the classic Simpsons episode where Homer eats the superhot chili and goes on a peyote-like trip: obligatory gif.

But no, I've never actually hallucinated from chiles. I definitely feel your pain in terms of the cap cramps, that's the worst.


Q:

Johnny Cash was the Psycho Coyote.

A:

Yup! They considered Bob Dylan for the role too, but he had turned them down in the past so that got Johnny Cash instead.


Q:

Hi Dylan. I like spicy foods, but not too spicy. Can you recommend some sauces that have good flavor but won't blow my head off? For example, I really like the heat level in the chipotle flavored Tabasco sauce. That's just about perfect.

A:

Absolutely, that's something I hear a lot - flavor is so key, so many sauces get carried away with heat that they don't focus on flavor enough. If you like Tabasco Chipotle, I bet you'd like Infinity Chipotle even more - it has a really full bodied chipotle flavor without overwhelming heat. John, the guy who makes it, is a super cool dude too - he was our neighbor at the California Hot Sauce Expo. I'd also recommend Yellowbird Jalapeno - it has a nice Sriracha-like flavor with a bit more complexity, really great for Asian food and eggs.

Edit: added a link


Q:

Thanks man! I will definitely check those out.

A:

No problem!


Q:

Which hot sauce would go best on a regular Top Dog?

A:

Tough choice, but I think I'd go with Lucky Dog's Brown Label Chipotle Mustard. You get a nice mustardy flavor along with the smokiness of the chipotle and a hint of sweetness from some figs. Super good stuff.


Q:

Done. I'll be stopping by your shop the next time I make it out.

A:

Awesome, see you next time!


Q:

I am pretty sensitive to hot/spicy foods, but most of the time they taste amazing (before my lips and throat burn). What is the best way for someone like myself to become more tolerable to hotter foods?

A:

Slowly but surely. Gradually increase the spiciness, pushing your comfort zone up each time. The key is to do this everyday, without a break. If you wait too long you end up near square one again. If I don't eat spicy food for a week, I definitely have to re-adjust my mouth (though it's definitely easier to work your way back up each time).


Q:

That's the thing right there. A lot of the hot sauces marketed as being Insanity or Nuclear or whatever are little more than bottled heat. I want some flavor along with the nuclear blast, and fresh-based sauces deliver. Sorry I'm not in Berkeley, I'd love to come by.

A:

Exactly, it's all about that balance of flavor and heat. For that sort of thing, I love Bigfat's 7o8 and PexPeppers Painapple.


Q:

What's the most surprising dish that's enhanced by a good hot sauce? Something most people wouldn't think to top with it?

A:

Good question - ice cream is a surprising one. A sauce like Mind Flay Strawberry Reaper Sauce (which is made by /u/kalitarios) is actually excellent poured over vanilla ice cream, because you get that nice strawberry flavor upfront, and a slow building heat from the Carolina Reapers.

In terms of savory food, I love hot sauce on pizza, which I think is totally normal, but I've talked to some people who think its weird. Honestly, pretty much every food I eat has some hot sauce on it!


Q:

Hot sauce on pizza is the way to go!

A:

Amen!


Q:

What would you consider the best,most rounded sauce,like for heat and flavour an stuff?

A:

Secret Aardvark is an excellent all purpose sauce - probably our most popular overall sauce. Not crazy hot, especially by chilehead standards, but the flavor is increadable.

I love Yellowbird Habanero for a spicier replacement for Sriracha.

If you want to go a step up into the superhot realm without sacraficing flavor, Bigfat's 7o8 is awesome, it balances a nice bit of sweetness with some real heat on par with a ghost pepper.

We have a bunch of awesome redditor made sauces too, and they're all great: http://heathotsauce.com/collections/redditor-made


Q:

Haha I commented above in another comment that I bought some Lucky Dog, and I also snagged a bottle of Yellowbird Habenero in the same order. My first foray into spicy sauces outside of the usual Sriracha and Cholula, so I'm feeling pretty confident in my choices now!

A:

Oh yea, you can definitely feel confident in your choices :)


Q:

Ok now this is funny, I just put the two and two together that I actually ordered from your site! Didn't even realize it until I saw your username. So you'll probably be packaging and shipping my order soon! Haha looking forward to my sauce delivery!

A:

Haha awesome, small world! I totally will be packing it soon, and you'll get a tracking number when it ships. Thanks for the order!


Q:

So I have to ask... What is honestly the best way to "cool" your mouth after eating a particularly hot pepper (or something flavored with said pepper)? I absolutely LOVE hot sauces and peppers, but I get such a level of physical discomfort (mouth burning, eyes watering, muscle tension/discomfort) after eating them that it's almost not worth it.

A:

I'm going to steal a comment from myself that I made on this post in /r/spicy:

Kefir - a fermented milk product sort of like a drinkable yogurt - is the most effective thing in my book. That's because casein (one of the proteins in dairy products) is the main reason milk helps cool the burn, not fat as it's often reported. The reason casein works is because:

casein a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease." 1

Now, the reason to go with kefir rather than plain milk is that "casein is precipitated in cultured dairy products... and works more efficiently than Casein in milk." 2. This applies to sour cream, yogurt, and buttermilk as well, but kefir is the only drinkable one.

I also generally avoid alcohol when I'm really burning (though a beer with medium hot Mexican food is always nice) because ethanol makes heat receptors in the mouth more sensitive - it's the same reason it burns when you take a shot 3.

In practice though, I usually just drink water, even though it doesn't help.


Q:

Takis or hot Cheetos?

A:

Takis all the way.


Q:

I think my wife is sexually aroused by spice. What do I do?

A:

ಠ_ಠ

Maybe try /r/Relationships with that question...


Q:

Do you carry wanzas wicked temptation? I have a bottle in my office for when I feel like the food needs some spicy in it

A:

Nope, I haven't tried that one, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for it. It always amazes me simply how many sauces are out there. I'd estimate that I've tried 2,000, and it's really just the tip of the iceberg.


Q:

It's pretty good. It has the extract in it, but they added so many other flavors it mostly cancels out the metallic taste

A:

Yea that's the key with extract sauces - you've got to add a bunch of strong flavors to mask the extract flavor. Mad Dog Inferno is one sauce that I think pulls that off well - it has molasses and cloves and almost tastes like a Worcestershire sauce, to the extent that you don't notice the extract flavor.


Q:

Does your shop offer pure capsaicin crystals/resin/drops?

A:

We do! The hottest thing we offer is Pure Evil 9.6, which comes with 2 tiny vials of 9.6 million SHU liquid, plus a vial of 95% pure Capsaicin crystals. It doesn't sell much, but one guy bought it for medical purposes lately - he has severe nerve damage and he said it was a better deal than prescription capsaicin. I would advise against putting it on your skin unless you really know what you're doing, but luckily he did and said it worked like a charm.


Q:

What exactly do you do with something this hot? put a tiny little drop into a sauce? purely for heat purposes?

A:

Yea, you can add it to other sauces without changing the flavor, or add a drop to a big pot of soup. At the CA Hot Sauce Expo, Ann added some to some vanilla icing to give out as samples.


Q:

How does that compare to something like this? I put these in shabu shabu sauces and they're awesome.

http://www.amazon.com/Pure-Cap-Hot-Sauce-Ferociously/dp/B0000DG4NJ/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1461990497&sr=8-1&keywords=hot+drops

A:

Pure Evil is rated at 9.6 million and Pure Cap is rated at 500,000, so Pure Evil is almost 20 times hotter.


Q:

What do you think of people who won't eat spicy food? Or people who think things that are normally considered mild are "too spicy"?

A:

To each their own - around Christmas time we always get tons of people in the shop who don't like spicy food but are getting gifts for people who do. When I offer them samples, they look at me like I'm attacking them. But hey, everyone has different levels of sensitivity in terms of capsaicin receptors. I do recommend people keep an open mind and try new things though - I've made a lot of converts of people who think they don't like hot sauce but end up enjoying it.


Q:

I see. What sauce would you recommend that I can pour over a burrito without dying?

For reference, I love this sauce but can definitely go for more heat. it's only ~9k SHU from what I can find. I think I could go for double that no problem. I prefer flavorful sauces that aren't to vinegary.

I might also buy a bottle of that reapercussion just because my curiosity tends to get the best of me. Even if it takes me 20 years to finish it one drop at a time!

A:

Sure, I'd say something like Palo Alto Firefigters Habanero is a great one to pour over a burrito. It's not crazy hot for a habanero, but the flavor is super nice - lots of cumin and it's not super vinegary. And yea, the Reapercussions is a fun one just to have on hand, but it's definitely the sort that will stick around for a long time!


Q:

I never would have thought people liked spicy things so much that you could base a store off of them. What have you the idea that you could open this store and it would stay in business? Are there others of its kind? Also, how did you get the money to start it?

A:

Yea, the chilehead community is really die-hard. I got my start as a chilehead because my step-dad is an organic farmer, and he started growing dozens of varieties of chile peppers, and I fell in love with both the complex flavors and of course the heat. I started mild and worked my way to the hotter stuff.

In terms of getting the idea, Becky and I had started our own collection of sauces (in college we bonded over our love of hot sauce in the dining hall), and we heard about the hot sauce shops in New Orleans, and we were suprised there weren't any in the Bay Area yet, since it's such a foodie area. There are plenty of hot sauce shops out there (40-50 at least) but most of them are more touristy and have really high prices (understandably, since they're generally located in tourist locations with high rent). We wanted to do it a bit differently, so we chose a less expensive area so we could offer better prices and focus more on the flavorful stuff rather than the gimmicky sauce sauces that are so common.

In terms of why we though it would work, the hot sauce industry has been growing really fast (see this and this), and while we recognized it was a risk, we felt like it was the right time to do it.

In terms of the money, we took a small loan out, probably less than we should have started with, and when we hit some early trouble - the City of Berkeley Health Dept required us to do some major pluming to install a mop sink and it turned into a 4 month hassle of struggling with the planning dept and hiring an architect, contractor and plummer - we turned to crowd funding to raise enough to finally open. Luckily people helped us get the doors open and we've developed a loyal following since then.

Now recently, we've had some seriously encouraging growth in our online business, and to be honest, that's the direction our company is going. We've explored the option of moving to a warehouse, because our little shop simply doesn't have the room to accommodate our e-commerce site and Hot Sauce of the Month Club (which together accounts for about 75% of our business). But I don't think we would have ever gotten any traction online without our physical storefront, and being able to interact with people one-on-one, and offer tastings is a lot of fun.


Q:

Love the tastings! And the wonderful wide selection of varieties! Every time I do a tasting, it generally means I end up buying another one to four yummy bottles of sauce. :-)

A:

Yea, tastings are the best way to find new sauces for sure, glad you enjoy them :)


Q:

Profit margins of a successful hot sauce store? I have considered doing something similar, but the margins didn't seem like enough to keep the place running. You had to do a LOT of volume selling, or have many online purchases, etc.

A:

Yea the key is online sales. Really, that's the direction we're going. I don't think our website would have taken off the way it did without a storefront (which gives visability and a certain amount of trustworthiness). But now the storefront is basically our warehouse, and our online business is quickly out-growing it, so that situation may not work long term. I think the way to make a storefront-only shop work is to be in a touristy area and have a crazy high markup. That's pretty much what the chain hot sauce shops do, but we wanted to go in a different direction and luckily things have worked out pretty well.

Edit: a word


Q:

Are there any health benifits to eating a lot of chilli and chilli products? Also I like a really hot sauce minus the vinegar and for it not just to taste like napalm. from a fellow redditor who carries bottles of hot sauce to the restaurant.

A:

Absolutely, chiles are super healthy, here's a rundown of many of the benefits. And the whole thing about them causing ulcers is an urban legend, though that can make pre-existing ones worse.


Q:

Hello Dylan, Whats your favorite pizza? Thanks

A:

I actually like to go with plain cheese, and then break out about a half dozen different sauces and eat each slice with a different type of sauce.


Q:

What do you think of British food?

A:

Hehe - well there's a pretty big hot sauce movement going on in England, and it's a good thing, because the food needs it!


Q:

I'm from Mexico and I love both spicy food and chiles, what was your experience after you ate the Carolina Reaper? Was it worst when you ate it or when it came out?

A:

It was painful on the way in, but it's the sort of pain that I kind of enjoy. I can't say the same about the pain on the way out. Also, the stomach cramps are pretty bad. I absolutely love superhot stuff, but I prefer hot sauces that balance flavor and heat, and don't just go for pure pain.


Q:

What do you eat hot sauce with at home that is about the sauce itself and not adding it to a dish? I have many bottles and sometimes find it difficult to pair them with something.

A:

A quesadilla is a great blank canvass for hot sauce. That's one of my go-to meals when I have a bunch of new sauces to try.


Q:

What happened to Predator Great White Shark sauce? It used to be (relatively) widely available in the UK, great great flavour for the heat, my last batch was some desperately poor quality knock off shit. Can you still get it in the States? It's from Delaware, hilariously

A:

Ah yea, I have no idea what happened to it, but we used to carry it and the suddenly it disappeared. That'll happen - things come and go a lot. I definitely have a few customers who were pretty bummed.


Q:

I love that you're in Berkeley. Your staff is always really helpful and excited about the different flavors for sampling. I only wish you had slightly longer hours.

Obligatory questions: So far my favorite all-around sauce is Lucky Dog Extra-Hot Fire-Roasted. What similar sauces would you recommend?

Also, what's your favorite hot sauce on eggs?

A:

Awesome, thanks! I know our hours suck - as our online business has grown, it's been tough to keep up with the retail and we've had to shorten the hours recently. And I'm glad the staff has been helpful, since chances are that's me (I'm the only one here 95% of the time) ;)

LDHS Black Label is one of my all time favorites too! You might like like other garlicy sauces, like Mr Blister, or sauces like 7o8, but since you're in the area, might as well just try some more samples, that's always the best way to figure it out.

As far as eggs go, Marie Sharps Fiery Hot is one of my go-to sauces - the bright tangyness is the sort of thing that I like with eggs. Others include Ghost of Ancho and Desert Smoke's Garlic Reaper.


Q:

I just visited Southern Venezuela, and at some point I saw some indigenous ladies collecting up big black ants from a mound, and when I asked what the hell they do with them, I was told that they make a hot sauce called Kumachi (not sure about the actual spelling). Right away I knew I NEEDED to try. And I did: it's very dark in color, crunchy (because of the ants, mmm) and has a salty, mild and pleasant flavor that lingers on. I bought a bottle for about $1, with their messed up exchange rate :) Have you tried that sauce? And is it sold stateside?

A:

Cool, I actually shared an article about that stuff to /r/spicy awhile back. I went to Venezuela years ago but didn't get an opportunity to try it, and now I'm kicking myself for missing the chance. As far as I know, it's not sold in the US - if it was I'd totally buy some and offer it on my site!


Q:

How should I start making hot sauce? I've been wanting to do this since high school ~6 years ago when I found out basic hot sauce is vinegar and other stuff. What stuff should I try? Are there different techniques than just mixing stuff in a bottle?

A:

It's super simple and fun, just start off with small batches and experiement. Garlic is almost always a good idea, fruits like mango and pineapple can be good, don't forget to add some salt. Check out my comment on this thread for more tips: https://www.reddit.com/r/spicy/comments/4cnsgu/questions_about_making_my_own_hot_sauce_lots_of/


Q:

Hey, I see you on /r/spicy all the time! (Though I'm more of a lurker) Anyway, what is your favorite pepper for a mix of both heat and flavor?

My favorite for a mix of both so far has been the fatalii, though I admit my experience with trying peppers is limited. Hottest I've gone is moruga.

A:

Oh cool, hey! /r/spicy keeps me occupied when the shop is slow, it's an awesome little sub!

In terms of my favorite pepper, I'd also say the Fatalii - I love that citrusy flavor. But I also really like Aji Amarillos (a bit milder) and 7-pots (a fair amount hotter).


Q:

I feel like I've developed a tolerance to spicy foods after eating so much of it. Is that a thing? Did I somehow get used to spicy food and now it seems less spicy too me? Is there a way to measure my "spicy resistance"?

A:

That's totally a thing - before I started the shop I couldn't handle things nearly as spicy as I can now. But it works the other way too - if you stop eating spicy foods for awhile it'll start to go away (though the tolerance comes back quicker the second time). As far as measuring it, nope, it's so subjective. But I've seen it first hand at the tasting bar - 5 people try a sauce, one says it's mild, 3 say medium, and one says it's way too hot.


Q:

Forgive my forwardness, but what are your poops like?

edit: Asking seriously. I know I get the hot snakes when I eat more than a few of those chili peppers from In N Out.

A:

My digestive system has mostly adapted to my diet, but I'm not gonna lie, it isn't always pretty. There have been times I've had to temporarily close the shop to take a bathroom break, and it can be an awkward walk-of-shame when I return to the front and I'm still burning down there and walking weirdly because of it. But hey, I love spicy foods and the very occasional repercussions are totally worth it.


Q:

Is there anything to taste with these hot sauces besides mind searing pain? Like, the taste difference between Cholula and Tabasco for example. Also which hot sauce would be best for use with stuff like pasta sauces or Italian type cuisine?

A:

Definitely - flavor, IMO, is essential to a good hot sauce, it can't just be heat. The issue is that the capsaicin can drown out the flavor if you don't have a tolerance to it. So for me neither are very spicy, and Tabasco has that characteristic vinegary fermented sharp flavor (it's not my favorite), whereas Cholula has less vinegar and notes of cumin and arbol peppers (I'd consider it one of the better mainstream sauces, though there are alternatives that are way better in my book).

As far as Italian food goes, I think Secret Aardvark would be a good choice, with the roasted tomato base.


Q:

How much effort is spent on getting a good flavour vs a new spice level?

A:

Well a massive amount of effort is put into breeding the hottest chiles in the world. But in terms of sauce makers, anyone can make a superhot sauce, and adding flavor is the hard part. I know many sauce makers make dozens of batches before perfecting the flavor, and it can be even more of a challenge when it comes to scaling up a recipe from a 10 bottle batch to a 200 case batch.


Q:

My dad likes spicy sauces with naturally fruity taste, without chemical hint. I'd love to buy him a few, but unfortunately can't taste anything even moderately spicy. Would you be so kind to give some suggestions?

A:

Sure! So I'd recommend Tears of the Sun, a nice Caribbean-style sauce made with papaya, peaches, mango, and pineapple. It's not crazy hot, but the do offer a Ghost Pepper Reserve version if you want an extra kick.

I'd also recommend Wuju, which has a strong curry flavor along with mangos and mustard. Of course, this one would only be a fit if your dad likes curry flavors, because that's definitely dominant.

Infinity Chipotle is a really smoky sauce that features peaches. It's less overtly fruity than the others listed so far, but the sweetness of the peaches really compliments the smoky chipotle peppers.

Finally, I'll recommend Lucky Dog's Dia del Perro, which is a nice tangy tomatillo sauce that features apples, which add a bit of sweetness and compliments the bright sharp flavor of the sauce.


Q:

Reading about hot sauce and your experiences has been really interesting. Thanks for the AMA.

I just recently got back from a trip to Barbados and down there they had this hot sauce on just about every table. Since the trip it has become my absolute favorite. Balanced mustard flavor with a solid kick. Have you ever tried this sauce before?

Another question: I recently spent some time in the BBQ community and noticed some similarities to the hot sauce community. Specifically the goofy names and somewhat amateurish photoshop designs. Where do you think this comes from?

A:

Glad you've enjoyed it, my pleasure!

Delish is actually a sauce that people have requested before, but I haven't managed to get it yet. The closest thing we have is Lotties, which I understand to be pretty similar, and I absolutely love it, it's actually one of my all time favorites. So I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for Delish. Mustard just pairs so well with habaneros/scotch bonnets. I hardly ever use normal mustard now, I just go for the Lotties instead.

In terms of the BBQ community, there are definitely a lot of similarities, and part of it is I think there is a lot of crossover - many people are involved in both communities. One of our favorite customers is a professional BBQ Judge who travels around to competitions and he's also very much a part of the chilehead community as well. His blog is www.MadMeatGenius.com, worth checking out.

And in terms of the amateurish labels in particular, I think that is becoming less common in the hot sauce community, because it's amazing how much a professional label will boost sales. Investing in a quality professional label is my second biggest piece of advice to aspiring sauce makers, after 'focus on flavor'.


Q:

I dry and grind my own pepper flakes.

I like to use Habs as the primary.

Any suggenstions to compliment the flavor of Habs?

A:

Nice, I do the same thing. I think the citrusy flavor of fataliis would compliment the flavor of habs really well.


Q:

Do you know of a good analog to East Coast Grill's "Inner Beauty" sauce?

A:

Yea, I think Paul's Haba Haba is a good replacement. I get that question a lot and people who have tried it say that while the Haba Haba is slightly different, it's the closest approximation.


Q:

Why does Dave's insanity sauce taste like hot ass? I ate a spoonful of it once and while it did make me throw up like an hour later I was more disappointed with the actual flavor than how it made me feel.

It was hot... but it was had a gross flavor.

edit: I drank a lot of beer after I ate the spoonful. The mixture of spice and bubbles just doesn't sit with me well.

A:

I agree, it doesn't taste good, and the reason is it uses Pepper Extract for heat. Extract tends to have a bitter, metalic flavor that ruins the sauce it's in. There are some exceptions (I like Mad Dog Inferno, which contains extract), and Dave's makes a Scorpion Pepper sauce that is extract free and very tasty, but yea, I agree, the original Insanity isn't too tasty.

Also, the bubbles totally make the burn worse, and alcohol increases the sensitivity of your capsaicin receptors, definitely making things worse!


Q:

After consuming a Carolina Reaper, did you tongue or mouth burn or feel painful afterwards?

How long did the extreme hotness last?

A:

Oh absolutely, my whole mouth had some serious pain going on, and it lingered for a long time. It decreased gradually, but I could still feel a bit of burn about an hour later.


Q:

What's your faveortie hot sauce you have tried as of now?

A:

I have such a hard time choosing a favorite. Secret Aardvark is definitely one of them, but I go through phases. Yellowbird Habanero, PexPeppers Painapple, Bigfat's 7o8, Yin Yang Smokey Habanero, and pretty much every Lucky Dog have all taken turns in my top spot. It also really depends on what I'm eating. So many good sauces I'm leaving out, but there's just too many to list.


Q:

Can you recommend some cayenne based sauces you like?

A:

Sure! I'm a big fan of Mr Blister Garlic Extreme, which is super heavy on the garlic, making it thicker than your typical Louisiana style cayenne based sauce. I'm personally a garlic addict, so that's one of my favorites. Irazu Cayenne is a good super tangy one that has just the smallest bit of ghost pepper to add a little kick. And CaJohn's Cayenne Puree is great for cooking when you just want that cayenne flavor without anything else.