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
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!
Do you have a video of you eating the Carolina Reaper? How long did it take you to recover from that?
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.
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.
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
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.
What's the most surprising dish that's enhanced by a good hot sauce? Something most people wouldn't think to top with it?
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!
What would you consider the best,most rounded sauce,like for heat and flavour an stuff?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
I make leather hot sauce holsters - wanna do a collaboration?
Sure, email me at email@example.com with more info. It might not be something we can pick up right away, but lets chat!
How does that compare to something like this? I put these in shabu shabu sauces and they're awesome.
Pure Evil is rated at 9.6 million and Pure Cap is rated at 500,000, so Pure Evil is almost 20 times hotter.
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!
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!
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?
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 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.
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!
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?
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!
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"?
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.
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.
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.
How much effort is spent on getting a good flavour vs a new spice level?
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.
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?
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.
Do you know of a good analog to East Coast Grill's "Inner Beauty" sauce?
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.
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.
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!