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A Heated Debate
of Maine’s Sultry Summertime Sauces
My first job managing a restaurant left me in awe of the responsibility. I was in my mid-20s and I had the daunting task of making sure a brand-new Japanese-Fusion restaurant was launched without a hitch.
One day an older woman walked in to have a late lunch and the dining room was fairly empty. She sat down and I walked over to greet her ahead of her server to make sure she felt welcomed. I think she appreciated it because we got to talking about the food and how she had never tasted sushi before. I thanked her for choosing our establishment for her first experience and commended her for trying something new.
I decided to send her a California roll on the house and told her it was the training wheels of the sushi world. She smiled, thanked me, and I walked away. I ended up getting a little busy and assumed her server would go over the basics when the roll was delivered.
The next thing I noticed from across the restaurant was this poor woman gasping and clutching her neck and chest. Running over to her table and fearing she was suffering a heart attack, I asked her if she was OK. To this day I will never forget the look on her face as she replied, “Oh, I’m OK,” the words dodged gasps for air as they escaped her mouth, “but your avocado is REALLY spicy!”
Some spicy foods should come with a warning declaring their seemingly evil intent. And while wasabi (along with mustard and horseradish) gets its heat from a chemical known as allyl isothiocyanate, peppers get their heat from a molecule called capsaicin. Contrary to popular belief, the highest concentration of this compound resides in the white flesh of the interior that holds the seeds (the pith and ribs) and not the seeds themselves.
Did you also know that “spicy” isn’t a flavor at all? You won’t find it among sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or perhaps the least understood, umami—the five flavor distinctions that make up our sense of taste and smell.
What we call spicy is, in fact, a trick on the tongue. When eaten (or accidentally wiped on your face from a finger) the capsaicin molecule binds to receptors that register pain and intense heat. The result is the brain thinking the body is actually on fire.
Why would anyone eat something that makes their brain think their mouth is on fire? The answer has to do with how our brain responds. The brain triggers the release of endorphin and dopamine, blocking some of the pain and giving the eater a sense of euphoria. Whether you understand the science or not, most people love the combination of heat and flavor that many hot foods provide.
edible MAINE gathered a group to taste some of Maine’s own hot sauces and products. To keep things fair, we tasted each product the same four ways: plain, and on three pieces of food (cracker, celery, and grilled chicken). We then rated each product on heat intensity, flavor, heat duration, and ingredients. It was a really fun evening even with the occasional need to douse a mouth with dairy, bread, or tequila. We only tasted a small sample of all the amazing sauces from Maine and everything we tasted was delicious. Here are some of our tasting notes.
Hot Sauce #1- Gourmet Hot Sauce from Beast Feast Maine
This sauce seemed to be a crowd favorite for its medium heat and versatile nature, making it fit to go on anything. One taster commented that it was “smoky and tastes like summer.”
Hot Sauce #2- Fire Eater Hot Pepper Sauce from Mother’s Mountain
This one was my personal favorite and had the best overall balance of heat and flavor. With a mustard base and a touch of sweetness, one taster said it was “screaming to be eaten with sausage.”
Hot Sauce #3- Hot Sauce from Lost Woods
This flavorful sauce was another crowd-pleaser with most comparing it to a sriracha-style sauce with a kick of garlic. The consensus was that it would be perfect on chicken wings while one taster described it simply saying, “It would surely kill any vampire or first date … and I love it!”
Hot Sauce #4- Cocoloco Hot Sauce from Captain Mowatt’s
This one didn’t pack a lot of heat but had great flavor for anything that would benefit from, as one taster described it, “a Caribbean-style Russian dressing.” Everyone agreed this would be a perfect addition to a Rueben sandwich or coconut shrimp.
Hot Sauce #5- Greenie Hot Sauce from Captain Mowatt’s
This last sauce also didn’t pack a ton of heat, but instead balanced herbaceous and acidic flavors. Reminding many of a play on chimichurri, it would be perfect on eggs, nachos, and grilled meat or fish.
Getting out of trouble
Capsaicin is hydrophobic, meaning it won’t dissolve in water.
Don’t reach for that glass of ice water when your mouth is on fire because it will only spread the heat around your mouth. Want to cool down? Grab something fatty or oily to bind and pull the molecules off your receptors. Think milk, sour cream, or even avocado.
Capsaicin is also alcohol-soluble, but the higher the percentage the more effective. For the grownups, a vodka and soda probably won’t cut it but swishing with a shot of tequila will.
Make your own
If you are anything like us, you love to enjoy Maine-made stuff but also love to make things yourself. If that’s your jam, here is one of our house-favorite recipes for an herbaceous summertime sauce that will add just the right amount of heat to anything, especially a seafood taco.
Herbed Green Chili Sauce
Makes about 1 cup
3 jalapeño peppers, cored
1 poblano pepper, cored
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (we use apple cider)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¾ cup cilantro
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled
½ teaspoon salt
Grill or broil peppers to get them nice and charred; don’t forget to turn them from time to time. Once cooled, peel the peppers and add them with all of the other ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and transfer to a small, clean jar. Keep in the fridge up to two weeks.