Has extreme sauce had its day?

We’ve been eating hot sauce for years. We’ve been lucky enough to try some truly fantastic creations from all corners of the globe and the bar seems to be getting raised all the time. Jump back 10 years in the UK and hot sauce was almost an underground movement! The commercial choice was extremely limited and generally consisted of Tabasco or Encona.  A light smattering of US hot sauces could be found if you knew where to look however, what seemed to rise within a few years was the extreme/extract sauce. Products that were designed to impart serious heat, occasionally pray on the ignorant and overlook flavour. We see it as the teenage years of hot sauce in the UK; the years of discovery and acting without thought of consequence.

Today, extreme sauces continue to exist and continue to be conjured up but, as almost any hot sauce producer will advise, their best selling products aren’t always their hottest. Flavour has found its way to the top of the preference chart and heat is becoming secondary. Consumers have gotten wise to the flavours of individual chillies and seek them out. We’re quite partial to the citrus & stone fruit notes of the Habanero as well as the intense fruitiness of the Naga Jolokia. Subject to percentage, we know that sauces with these peppers will carry heat (which is something we love) but it’s the flavour we want more than the heat. So, we are wondering, has the extreme sauce had its day?

Producers in the UK using chilli extract in sauces seem to be divided in to two camps: those who are using a high volume of extract in order to create an extreme heat product and those who use it just to lift heat but not create a high level of discomfort if used more liberally. Our issue with the former is that high extract content means that most people will have to use such a small amount of it that it won’t impart flavour, only heat. We can’t help but wonder what the point is? We only know of one company that cleverly flavours their extracts with culinary skill. To date, we’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like the flavour of chillies but loves the heat, so why use extract? We appreciate that there is still a market for extreme products but we wonder how many people repeatedly purchase extreme extract sauces and how regularly? Are they not just a gimmick? Do they have an advantage over sauces which utilise the whole pepper instead of just the capsaicin?

In our opinion, most of the reputable companies in the UK who make and/or sell extract sauces generally market them well and provide fair warnings and advice before purchase. What we really don’t like is marketing that uses a strong negative to sell. We were saddened to see that a UK company recently advertised one of its sauces stating that it was designed to “mess you up”. Our hearts sank. We felt that such marketing was taking us back 10 years and so disappointing to see. To us, great hot sauce makers boast about things like flavours and freshness, even with their hotter products. As a club, we review all kinds of sauces and we might be attracted to something that would ‘mess us up’ to see whether such a claim was true and if the product was actually any good. However, as consumers, we would avoid such a product as a point of principal and because of the questionable marketing. The chilli pepper is a beautiful thing and offers up so many good things for a person's health and well being. It's packed with flavour and makes a great addition to so many meals. Why focus on the negative? You wouldn't see a toffee manufacture marketing their product as "great for throwing at people" would you?

That said, we are aware of products containing extract that almost seem like the devil in disguise. We were recently at a chilli festival where a vendor was selling an extract laced spray. Allegedly designed to spray on food, we witnessed it being sampled by the vendor by spraying it at the back of people's throats. The reaction was the same each time; it would make the customer cough, splutter and uncomfortable. If the product was truly designed for spraying on to food, why sample it this way? In the wrong hands, this product has been used to cause problems to others with malicious intent. We know it made the news a while ago due to someone spraying it on a bus which caused the passengers to cough and experience extreme irritation. It was used more like a weapon than a food additive. The same product was also used at the festival by an idiot who saw fit to spray it all around the male toilets. 

So, this got us thinking. Are we right? Are products boasting a harmful result (by name or description) attractive or are products boasting flavour &/or freshness the more appealing product? Please let us know by voting below and feel free to leave constructive comments.