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Made for the Taste

“What’s the hottest one you’ve got?”
When we’re selling direct to the public with tasters available, that’s a question we get asked a lot!  My usual response is “Well, that’d be our Habanero and Naga Sauce but none of them are crazy hot; they’re all made for the taste rather than the pain factor.  There’s no chemical extracts used, it’s just the natural heat of the chillies.  It’s still hot but there’s bags of flavour too.  It’s not going to feel like someone’s driven a nail through your tongue for 2 hours after you’ve tried it”  Or something along those lines…

Why “Made for the Taste”?
Before I got into the business I’d tried a lot – and I mean A LOT – of hot sauces and most of the time all I was tasting was vinegar with heat, leaving me feeling somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed.  So when I first started making chilli sauces that was something I wanted to go all out to avoid.  We’ve since won Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards and had unsolicited online reviews like this one from The Norfolk Chillihead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBPapUBFHes so I hope that all goes to show we’re doing something right.

So why no extracts?
Look, don’t get me wrong – and I certainly don’t want to alienate myself from some of the other great UK hot sauce makers out there who I’m sure use it to great effect – sauces with extracts have their place.  It’s just for me that tends to be sat at the back of the cupboard for all eternity!  It might possibly get to see the light of day when the lads come round and then it surfaces for a few moments of “fun” whilst everyone tries to prove to each other how hardcore their heat tolerance is.  Personally, I can smell it a mile off and will have a good idea what it’s going to taste like.  And besides (and I know this might well be somewhat controversial) from a hot sauce manufacturer’s perspective, isn’t it kind of cheating?  I came across a sauce the other day made with Reapers, Nagas and extract.  For the love of God, why do you need to add the extract!?

Do you completely rule out ever using extracts?
No.  At the moment though I’m just having too much fun creating real flavours from natural ingredients.

So how are your sauces best used?
Well, each sauce has its own distinct flavour, character and heat level.  Each one is so different from the others and were carefully put together with a range of uses and recipes in mind, so much so that we’ve put a bunch of them on the website.  We even brought out our own Recipe book on the Amazon Kindle Store.

What’s the best part about your job?
That’s a tough one!  Coming from a corporate background where a daily dose of bullsh*t, b*llocks, backstabbing and posturing is de riguer, anything else is great!  So that’s everything then; I think I even enjoy the labelling!

And the worst?
Going back to the first question, it’d be the time wasters at the direct sales events.  Chilli festivals excepted – where the public are generally quite knowledgeable – it does sometimes seem like we’re a free sideshow or all-you-can-eat buffet.  However, you can usually pretty quickly tell people who are genuinely interested in your products and you learn to turn a blind eye to the others.  It goes with the territory and hell, often they can be hilarious!  However, touching on Sidekick Sauce’s James Bryson’s piece on Lick My Dip, for what it’s worth my opinion is that until the British public can distance themselves from the Richmondesque man test mindset born from Man v Food, I think we still have a way to go…

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Summer 2015 – a review

Flew by, didn’t it!
May:
3-4th.  We kicked off May with the Ely Food & Drink Festival with the lovely backdrop of Ely Cathedral and a chance to catch up with traders not seen since Christmas and wish them all a belated happy new year.  The first time we’d done this event and the first morning greeted us with a steady drizzle as we drove up the A14, looking clearer towards the horizon only to bucket down as we were setting up!  Nevertheless, it was a fantastic show, with the weather improving as the weekend went on and one we’ll definitely be doing next year.

16th  Hadleigh Show.
Our first “country” show of the year and what can I say?  As good as last year and can’t grumble with that.  Same spot next year please.

30th  Woodbridge What’s Tasty Market.
Hmm, maybe Woodbridge just isn’t ready for chilli sauces yet…  I feel sure if we’d been selling asparagus or strawberries it would have been a stonker, but we don’t and we weren’t.  No offence to the good people of Woodbridge but the demographic just wasn’t right for us.  Maybe it was the setting at the top of the hill or just the time of year.  Whatever, we’ll be back for their Christmas Market!

June:
6-7th.  Essex Maritime Festival, Southend Pier.
This was billed as the replacement event for the annual air show, which allegedly attracted 250k people last year, so hopes were high and well, it was an interesting one to say the least.
Fab weather and a potentially fab setting, right at the start of the pier.  However, as much as the sun shone down on us, the wind blew like you wouldn’t believe.  Now normally, setting us a gazebo is a pretty straightforward affair, but when it’s attempted in near storm force winds on a mile-long promontory sticking out into the Thames Estuary it can prove a little more challenging.  With 100lb of weights for each gazebo leg we were relatively OK but oh dear, as for the majority of other stallholders…  There were bits of cloth and canvass flying around, tables blowing over, gazebos ripping, produce smashing.  I felt sorry for the organisers, unlike a few others and as I understand it action was taken by some in the Small Claims Court for recompense following what proved for some to be a downright dreadful event!  We did OK, especially on the Sunday when we were able to move position into one of the gaps left by stallholders not coming back for the second day, so that we were more public-facing (the first day we’d been placed off the main public access route).   It’ll be interesting see whether they hold this event next year and if so what the location and layout of the “food court” will be.
For one unlucky stallholder it got even worse as I offered to help her push her cage full of stock up onto the exit ramp to pack away.  I was doing the lady a good turn; it was a heavy cage-full and the ramp was pretty steep.  There was no way I was going to be able to push it up the ramp so obviously pulling it up was the order of the day.  But then the cage opened up and smash…  Oh dear!

14th. Sudbury Food Festival.

Fantastic!  Again!

27-28th Colchester Food and Drink.

Good.  Better than last year.  Someone thought it would be funny if, for a £5 bet, they drank our hottest sauce straight from the ramekin dish we use for the samples.  Not exactly health and safety compliant and I did ask him not to and I did let him know what I thought of him after he’d done it.  Not the first time I’ve felt like a free side show and unfortunately it won’t be the last.

July:
1st-2nd.  Royal Norfolk Show.
I hadn’t planned on doing this one but got a call from a fellow stallholder who had to pull out, so nothing ventured, nothing gained and I took over his spot.  My word it was hot!!  So hot in fact that it seemed like a general lethargy ensued, with no-one seemingly bothered buying anything they couldn’t eat or drink on the spot.  Still, met some nice people and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.  Must have lost half a stone packing up, too!

4th.  Tendring 100 Show.

As it seems with most summers in this country, 2 or 3 days of blistering heat is followed, as standard practice, with thunderstorms and a general cooling down, and so it proved for the 100th anniversary of this event.  Last year it was sweltering in the food hall.  This year it was almost pleasant.  I think the new lay-out helped.  It certainly did with sales; our best showing at this event to date.

18-19th.  Essex Food Festival.

If you haven’t been to this event yet, please make an effort to come along.  A fab setting at Cressing Temple Barns, a fab line up of celebrity chefs and wonderful producers, and very reasonably priced.  Quite simply, our favourite show of the year.  I even saw Jodie Marsh there, although it did take a couple of seconds for me to recognise her, about the same amount of time it took for me to manage to raise my eyes to her face…

25-26th.  Holkham Country Show.

It rained.  The wind blew.  Weather warnings were in force.  We arrived on the Friday to be advised not to set the gazebo up until the following morning because of the forecast.  Now, if I’d have pre-bought tickets for this event I’d have looked at the weekend’s forecast and turned up late morning on the Saturday for a few hours in the only reasonable-looking weather window there was and I think that’s what everyone did.  Sunday was a complete washout after about 11am and we got absolutely soaked packing up.  We’d intended camping on the Friday but I managed to get a last minute B&B and then again on the Sunday with a view to having a little explore of the beautiful North Norfolk Coast on the Monday, but as it was we ended up wet and thoroughly miserable back at home on the Sunday evening.

August:
7-9th.  West Dean Chilli Fiesta.
Due to a mix-up on dates (my fault no doubt) Leanne couldn’t make this one, so whilst I was withering away in the face of the hot August sunshine for what I think were our last 3 good days of summer weather this year, she was living it up with a stay in London and afternoon tea at The Ritz with her friends.  Still, she didn’t get to meet Darth Naga, did she?  And what a thoroughly nice chap he is too.  Top beard, to boot!  We don’t normally do the whole chilli festival thing (a concern about over-proliferation of similar produce and the resultant competition I suppose) but boy are we glad we did this one!  The only downside to the whole thing was the lack of control over noisy neighbours in the “quiet” part of the campsite, resulting in my direct intervention at 1.30am on the Saturday night and giving up altogether on the Sunday night to cart my bedding half a mile to the van and sleep in the back!  If you’re reading this and as I said to you on the Monday morning, it was nice to meet you and I’m glad you had a great time but please have a little bit more consideration for your neighbours next year or at least until they start manufacturing sound-proof tents.

15-16th.  Ipswich Maritime Festival.

Another good one and a shame the powers that be have decided not to put it on next year in favour of something else yet to be decided.  If you know Ipswich you wouldn’t be surprised if it was a traffic light festival!

30-31st.  Bury Food Festival.

Whoever thinks it’s a good idea to put on an outside event on a bank holiday Monday in August can only, surely, be tempting the rain gods into putting on a hell of a show.  So for the second year running Monday saw the heavens open and at one point we had a river running through our gazebo.  I think it stopped raining for about and hour, total, on the Monday.  However, apart from that, it’s a free event for people to attend, right in the centre of town and if the weather gods were kind it could prove to be one of our best of the year!

September:
4-6th.  Chatsworth Country Fair.
A last minute call from the organisers to host another chilli-eating contest unfortunately had to be turned down due to lack of time to source the chillies but, with a little more notice, hopefully next year!  This is probably the biggest show of the year we do in terms of shear scale and numbers attending, although the Friday was dreadfully quiet this year.  Whilst Sunday was our best day yet at this event we never quite caught up.  Did thoroughly well however and it was a delight to see all the hot air balloons up in the sky first thing in the mornings, even if one did nearly land on our tent only to miss us by a few feet and crash-land next to us in the river!

12-1th.  Barleylands, Essex Country Show.

Bit of a disappointment compared to last year but still well worth doing, although from what I can gather from speaking to other stallholders about the success (or not) of their weekend, there may be a few less of us next year…   Still, much to Leanne’s chagrin, I got to listen to Slayer’s new CD all the way there and back.

26-27th.  Aldeburgh Food Festival.
Our final show until November and off the back of last year’s a bit disappointing.  Fantastic setting at Snape Maltings but just not the numbers there were last year, one theory being the rugby union world cup.  They probably have a point.  We’ll be back next year.

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How did the Ghost Chilli get its name?

Ever wondered this?  I did.  What’s the difference between a naga chilli, a bhut jolokia chilli and ghost pepper?  Indeed is there a difference?  Sure, it’s no longer the world’s hottest chilli but it set the standard the others now follow and for many it’s still the go-to chilli if you’re after real heat.

So I did a little research.  Well, actually quite a lot.  Bear with me… (My initial signposting there might lead you to think this is going to be a bit of bumpy ride and you’d be right, but take a deep breath and hold tight because it’ll be worth it in the end.)

Wikipedia will tell you that the bhut jolokia is also known as the bih jolokia, u-morok, ghost pepper, ghost chille pepper, red naga chilli and ghost chilli.  This is echoed by bhut-jolokia.net. It then adds that jolokia is the Assamese word for capsicum, or pepper.

It continues to state that in Assam, India (one of the regions it’s produced) it’s widely known as bhot jolokia or bih jolokia and is believed to be named after the Naga warriors inhabiting the plains and hills of Nagaland, which to me conjures up images of a chilli-based theme park.  Bih jolokia apparently means “poison pepper” because of its heat.

An article on ushotsuff.com also states this but hints that the bit about Naga warriors might be just an alternative source of the name.  (Whatever, the Naga bit obviously means it’s got something to do with Nagaland.)

However, as with different wine growing regions within a country, differing types of soil, temperature, amounts of sunlight, etc, will produce different tasting wines from the same grape varieties, so it’s the same with chillies.  This is one of the reasons for the ranges of Schoville heat ratings for the same type of chilli.  So it follows that in different growing regions the same chilli may vary in size, shape, colour, taste and ultimately name.  People living north of the Brahamutra River call it the Bhot Jolokia whilst those living to the south call it the Naga Jolokia.

The article  goes on to state that the Bhut reference relates to a distortion of the colloquial nomenclature of Bhot to Bhut, the former meaning “of Bhotiya origin” or something that has come from the hills of adjoining Bhutan.  It adds that experts in Assam were becoming concerned about the distortion because Western media were misinterpreting the word Bhot (Bhut) to mean Ghost.  However, researchers from the New Mexico State University asserted that “bhut” (or “bhoot”) does indeed mean “ghost”, an assertion echoed on many other websites.  Other websites will tell you that it was originally picked and traded by the Bhutia tribe, also known as the Ghost People.

Other sources will tell you the name “ghost” derives from the fact that after you’ve eaten one you wish you were dead or that it will come back to haunt you.  To me the former seems a bit extreme and the latter would indicate a length of time has to pass before it affects you, which isn’t the case because you know about it straight away!

So without a doubt, Jolokia means capsicum or pepper.  The Bhot/Naga aspects undoubtedly seem to relate to the areas it was originally grown.  The Ghost part?  Up for debate.  Personally, the distortion from Bhot (origin) to Bhut (translation to ghost) sounds most plausible although the reference to the Bhutia tribe may have some merit.

Whatever the names’ origins, there seems no doubt that they’re essentially the same thing.  That’s not to say that the Dorset Naga or Naga Viper are exactly the same because they’re not, just hybridisations or variations on a theme if you prefer.

One thing is for sure though, the name Ghost Chilli has certainly taken hold in today’s pop culture.  When trying our sauces I’ll often get people ask me what a Naga chilli is but when I ask them if they’ve ever heard of the Ghost chilli they know exactly what they’re in for!

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10 top tips to tell how hot a chilli sauce is.

10 Top Tips to Tell How Hot a Chilli Sauce is

So you’re at a market, in the food hall at a country show, at a food festival or perhaps at a specific chillifest and you find yourself in front of someone selling chilli sauces.

You want to try some of the samples on offer BUT you want to avoid feeling like a nail’s been driven through tongue, right?  Or maybe that’s just what you’re after.

Well, having just started rewriting and reformatting the recipes section of our website, it got me thinking: what’s the difference between mild, medium and hot and how can you tell?

The dictionary definitions are:
Mild – not severe, serious or harsh
Medium – halfway between two extremes
Hot – containing or consisting of pungent spices or peppers which produce a burning sensation when tasted

However, we all have our own tolerance levels, so what’s TOO hot for you?  The following list should give you some ideas of what, or what not to look for.

1) Prepare in advance.  Know your basic chilli strengths.
A little bit of preparation never lets you down and the producer will be glad to give their time to talk to someone who knows their stuff.  As a quick guide, Jalapenos (the ones you get sliced on pizzas) are pretty mild.  Habaneros (a cousin to the Scotch Bonnet) are pretty hot.  The Bhut Jolokia, sometimes known as a Naga chilli or Ghost Pepper, is very hot.  The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is (currently) the hottest.  I won’t go into great detail about the Scoville Heat Scale here but this article might help, as might this one.

2) How hot is the sauce described on the bottle?
This seems obvious right?  Well, that’s not necessarily so.  In fact, it can often be downright misleading.  This isn’t only because of your personal tolerance level but that of the sauce producer too.  What one may find mild, another may find tortuous!

3) What colour is the sauce?
If it’s red it must be hot, right?  Is ketchup hot?  No.  Are tomatoes?

4) Are there seeds visible?
Dur!  Everyone knows it’s the seeds that are the hottest part of the chilli.  Well actually, no.  Blame the celebrity chefs for this one, although they’re gradually catching on.  In fact, it’s the membrane or placenta around the seeds that are the hottest part.  The seeds themselves contain no heat.  Any heat attached to them is just residual heat from the placenta.  Besides, a lot of hot sauces are blended so that no seeds are visible.

5) Don’t take anyone else’s word for it.
This goes back to your personal tolerance levels.  Whilst the person on your left might be struggling to breathe, that doesn’t mean that you will.  And how many times have I heard someone try tricking a friend or loved one into trying the hottest sauce by telling them it’s the mildest?

6) Look at the ingredients list.
This goes hand in hand with tip number 2, but not just because of what’s in it.  For example, although we make an extra mild mango sauce, I’ve tasted a lot of mango sauces that will blow your bloody head off!

7) How high up the list of ingredients are the chillies?
Ingredients should be listed in order of quantity used, so if your chillies are right up there at the top, as a rule of thumb it’s likely to be hot.  However, seeing as you’ve already followed tip number 1, you’ll already know which chillies are the hottest.  However, beware the use of chemical extracts.

8) Have a darn good smell.
If your nose starts running and your eyes start streaming, well, you pretty much know what’s going to be coming if you put some in your mouth.  Be especially aware of any chemical smell.  It’s unmistakable when you know what to look, or indeed smell for.  This is pure capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes chillies hot.  It only takes a drop in a batch of hot sauce to have an effect so it’s likely to be way down the list of ingredients.  It might be listed as capsaicin extract, pepper extract or derivatives thereof.  Not only might it make you want to tear your head off but it’ll also make you feel like someone’s forced a ball of pure pain down your throat to sit right on top of your stomach.  Until it probably comes back up.

9) Talk to the person selling them.
This is more likely than not going to be the person who actually makes the sauces, or if not then the person should at least know what they’re talking about.  Either way, they should be pleased to talk to you about what’s in them, how it’s made, how it’s best used, etc.  If they make chilli sauces for a living then they probably know a good bit about what’s hot and what isn’t.  If they say it’s hot or if they say it’s very mild, then it probably is, but again bear in mind those personal tolerance levels.

10) Taste them.
After all, you were always going to, right?  But do so as directed.  If there are tortilla chips on offer, use them, don’t glug down the whole bottle.  At least not until after you’ve bought it.  However, DON’T start with the hottest.  Chilli sauces, like any sauce or indeed any food, should be made for the taste.  It’s not always a Man Test thing, although we’ve probably all been there.  If you try the hottest first, how are you going to know what the others taste like?  You’re probably going to be missing out on a whole world of taste and possibilities.  And bear in mind too that you’re pretty much sampling them neat.  Any good hot sauce maker will probably have made their sauces with certain uses and recipes in mind where the sauces will of course be diluted by the use of other ingredients.  They should be only too please to discuss these with you.

Happy tasting!

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Is there such a thing as Chilli Saucemaker’s Block?

Been thinking of – and talking about – creating a new sauce for a while now so finally got round to it yesterday.

Simple!

Just a question of working out whether it should be mild, medium, hot or extra hot.  What base for the sauce? What kind of chillies to use? What additional ingredients would work well? What type of vinegar? Ensure I can source all ingredients year round. Steer clear of artificial ingredients, no additives and make sure it’s gluten free.

Horseradish? Blueberries? Pasilla Chillies? Ancho Grande? Habaneros?  Nagas? Parsnips? Pears? Apricots? Peaches? The list is endless.

I’ve now got 7 different versions sat in jars but – and I’m a harsh critic – none are up to standard.

I know one thing though: my mouth is on fire and I’m not looking forward to a few hours time…

Any ideas anyone?