One man’s foray into the inferno of hot sauce
by Bridger Langfur, guest writer
I am a guy who has had many love affairs. Most of them could be described as passionate and heated. Some might earn the title of scorching, blazing, or even caliente. But I met my greatest, spiciest, love when I was eight years old at the home of my friend Kaushik. It was a romance I would never forget—a romance I could literally taste years afterward.
I can remember clearly the first time I went to her house. Her parents—recent immigrants from India—served a dish called Palak Paneer. Kaushik, smiling at me beneath big brown eyes, urged me to take a bite of the spinach entree. The burn began as a miniscule tingling in the back of my throat. After about a minute, the spark had bloomed into a full-fledged volcanic eruption. I tried to explain to the unsympathetic immigrant how much my mouth hurt. She did not understand, because everything that she ever made or ate blazed with equal heat. For some reason, after the conflagration smoldered to an end, I realized that I masochistically loved the intense sensation. That chili sauce introduced me to a life-long obsession with hot sauces. Ever since, I have been on a quest to find and test the most vicious sauce in the world.
Today my quest has led me to two superpowers of chili and spice. Let me first introduce David Ashley, the founder of Ashleyfoods in Brighton, Massachusetts. He began his fiery career as the sauce man in a barbecue joint, and has never forgotten his roots as he pursues hotter and hotter sauces. He was quoted saying, “The perfect barbeque sauce tastes great, contains natural ingredients, doesn’t burn when you cook with it, and has a kick!” In his hot sauces, Ashley values flavor more than heat; he wants all of his sauces to have a “fresh out of the kettle taste.” To achieve this, he uses only the freshest of chilies and infuses the sauces with a touch of sticky sweet molasses, fresh garlic, and onions. Even though his sauces are undoubtedly delicious, they still pack enough fire to make you wonder if hell could be any worse.
The second hot sauce superpower is Blair Lazar. A spunky, stout, wide-eyed bar owner from New Jersey, Lazar has marketed his brand and his videos far and wide not through promises of taste, through an appeal to masochism. While Ashley’s website is artsy and decorated with cute chilies and articles that focus on the health benefits of hot pepper, Lazar’s site opens with an animated cover page that grabs the viewer’s attention with a flaming skull emblazoned with the slogan, “Don’t fear death; fear the consequences.”
Like Ashley, Lazar’s origins clearly influence the theory behind his sauces. “While [I was] in the bar business, Death Sauce was born. Demanding hot food and fun, the late night drunks never wanted to leave. So I made them a deal. If they could eat just four of my Death Wings, they could stay all night. To make a long story short, everyone always left.” From the very start, Lazar was making sauce not for taste, but as poison for bar rats. Since then, his sauces have pressed upwards against the limits of heat. He holds the Guinness World Record for the hottest food product ever made—his 16 Million Reserve Sauce. Lazar only ever created twenty bottles of the sauce, which is probably a good thing for the continued health and safety of humanity. The name refers to the sauce’s Scoville rating—a system that measures heat by dilution. That is, in order not to taste 16 Million Reserve, one would have to add 16 million teaspoons of water to one teaspoon of sauce. That’s a full 200 bathtubs of water.
To be faithful to my search for the hottest sauce, I bought a bottle from each of the moguls. Because I could not afford to spend 700 dollars on 16 Million Reserve, I tried Sudden Death, which is Blair’s second hottest sauce, ranking around 600,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). I was incapacitated for about thirty minutes, crippled from extreme acidic pain burning in my tongue and cheeks. The sauce began dull, but then built into a crescendo of napalm-esque heat. The first time I tasted this sauce, I thought I needed to go to the hospital. I dried my tongue with paper towels to dampen the burn and finally, with teary eyes, returned to a semi-normal state. Lazar’s Sudden Death left me exhausted but clear-headed.
Ashley’s Mad Dog line of sauces is his hottest. One drop of Mad Dog 357 feels as though someone is using a magnifying glass to focus a sizzling ray of sunlight on your tongue. Ashley’s latest recipe—the one I tried—contains 1,001,304 SHU and is the current Scoville record holder. It is approximately 401 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. It also contains ghost peppers—the hottest chilis in the world, hidden in the alpine regions of Nepal. The chili’s primary use is in the development of pepper spray.
Ghost pepper is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Instead of a slow build, a venomous cobra strikes your tongue and then injects it with a blend of gasoline and hydrochloric acid. Be careful not to breathe in when tasting this sauce—it will leave you coughing. The best way to relieve the almost unbearable pain is to cradle a spoonful of yogurt in your mouth. This sauce’s instantaneous blast kindly subsides after about five minutes, in contrast to Blair’s sauces, which do a much better job sustaining pain. But for some, the quick strike of the ghost pepper proves disastrous. After my friend Blaire Colds* tried a cap full of the sauce, her stomach revolted. Without a toilet nearby she tore off her leather boot and puked right into it. Thanks a lot, Ashley. Thanks a whole lot.
Many would say my thirteen year love affair is a dysfunctional one. I would disagree. Among my friends, nothing holds more sway than the threat of the sauce. Think you can leg press more weight than I can? Great—put a drop of sauce on it. Want to send a flip-flop straight to my balls? Fine, but you are gonna get a hot sauce treat in your sleep.
It’s good, in my opinion, to have a mistress with a little bit of a kick.
*Name has been changed.