A standard hot sauce—the kind you might actually want to use regularly at your table—is made from chile peppers, which contain capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the natural flavor and painful but addictive heat beloved by chile-heads. But peppers can only get so hot.
That’s where capsaicin extracts come in. These preparations intensify the mouth-searing pain that Mother Nature alone can’t create in a chile pepper. For example, Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce ups the heat ante by using an extract, and it is “generally considered the standard for ultimate hot sauces,” Leper says.
There’s also Marie Sharp’s brand of hot sauces, which porker loves. “Belizean cuisine is dominated by rice & beans and you’ll find a … bottle of Marie Sharp’s on every restaurant table in the country,” porker says. “As we drove into Guatemala, it was the same. I asked one guy why don’t they put a Guatemalan hot sauce on the table. He said Marie Sharp beats them all!”
Not everyone is a fan of the superhot extract-based sauces that’re akin to ingesting a mouthful of high-artillery munitions. “I really dislike the extract-based sauces,” chileheadmike says. “They just taste bitter and burnt to me. Give me El Yucateco Kutbil-Ik Mayan Recipe or Ralph’s Righteous Habanero Sauce and I’m a happy chilehead.”
Others think the superhot hot sauces are missing the point: flavor. JMF was disappointed with Dave’s Gourmet Ghost Pepper Jolokia Sauce: “The flavor tastes like dried peppers, and doesn’t have that beautiful floral note that fresh ghost peppers do. But fresh ghost peppers are vicious, they really hurt in a mouthful-of-broken-glass way. But if you nibble on small pieces, they are tolerable and have this great flavor.”
Of course, the pure experience of soul-melting heat still has its devotees, including Perilagu Khan. “To my mind, intense heat … heightens the senses. Sure, there’s a point beyond which the returns diminish, but immediately prior to that point the heat produces a sensual Nirvana that is a truly amazing gustatory experience.”