Around the World in Spice: A Heatseeker's Journey
The first week of October marked a special milestone for spicy food fans (or “chileheads,” as they call themselves). Number One-ranking spicy food fan site in the country, Eat More Heat, opened a bricks-and-mortar store location in Houston, Texas, and chileheads came from around the country to celebrate and sample. We asked founder and main chilehead James “Wreck” Beck for a list of some favorite products — and those with the best stories — for a view of the world through a fiery lens.
Photo Courtesy of Tabañero
Tabañero Hot Sauce — Tabasco, Mexico
You think you know Tabasco. But aside from being the brand name of the USA’s most mainstream spicy condiment, it’s also the name of a — completely unaffiliated — state in the Yucatan Peninsula area of Mexico. The makers of all-natural, preservative-free Tabañero hot sauce not only source their ingredients, but also create the products in Tabasco, Mexico. They export to a few specialty stores, like iBurn, and handle online orders for customers from as far away as Alaska. Soul-warming extra: They also donate a percentage of all sales to a community church in Tabasco.
Saffron — Iran
Last year we took you on a journey to find the most expensive spice in the world, saffron — with authentic high-quality product selling for anywhere between $1,600 to $5,000 per pound. Saffron is the stigma of a special crocus mainly found in Iran; you buy it either as fine orange-red threads taken directly from the center of the crocus or as a ground spice. This musky-pungent-perfumed ingredient is used to liven up paella, risotto, Moroccan cuisine, and even cookies. It needs to be steeped or toasted for best results.
Photo Courtesy of Half Moon Bay Trading Co.
Half Moon Bay Trading Co. — Nosara, Costa Rica
Former ad man Tom Nuijens is living the dream that basically everyone in today’s small farm-loving era might aspire to: He owns a small farm in Costa Rica and divides his time between there and Neptune Beach, Florida. He’s turned a passion-project side gig into a growing business, and finds inspiration for new products from his world travels. For example, his Iguana XXX Habanero Pepper Sauce was first dreamed up “in the middle of nowhere, at this killer little ranchito bar overlooking the surf. We saw this huge green iguana nipping these bright orange bonnet-shaped peppers off a bush and eating them like peanuts. Overcome by curiosity, we stumbled over to join him for a snack that peeled the skin off our lips.”
This spice (which is one of the distinctive exotic flavors in Indian cuisine and some Southeast Asian curries) flourishes in the southern hills of India — particularly the wealthy, tourism-friendly state of Kerala. The majority of cardamom in India is grown in the Cardamom Hill Reserve (CDR), an area approximately 256,000 acres in size that has been under governmental protection since the 19th century. Cardamom appears on store shelves either in pods or ground.
Photo Courtesy of Sparkys BBQ
Sparky’s Burger — Hatch, New Mexico
As anyone from the Southwest knows, New Mexico is the heartland of chile farming and the epicenter of it all is Hatch, the southern New Mexico farm region known as the “Chile Capitol of the World.” Just about every restaurant in the state serves a green chile cheeseburger, but James Wreck contends that the best burger of all might be — not surprisingly — in downtown Hatch, at a burger joint called Sparky’s.
Photo Courtesy of Zane & Zack's Honey Co.
Zane & Zack's Honey Chipotle Sauce — Renton, WA
With a focus on fresh natural ingredients, this artisan brand found a spiritual home in the Pacific Northwest and appeals to many niches: chileheads, gourmet foodies, and farm-to-table fanatics. It’s more of a specialty food innovator than a hot sauce producer. Recommended by iBurn buyer Amy Beck, the Honey Chipotle Sauce was Zane & Zack’s first product, “created from fresh smoked Jalapeños and surplus honey from our backyard beehives, combined with other fresh ingredients.”
Bajan Pepper Sauce — Barbados
Plenty of Caribbean locals like a bit of spice in their food (and their dancing...and their conversation), but probably no island is as hung up on hot sauce as Barbados. Though Trinidad might be home to the hottest pepper variety (the Moruga Scorpion), it’s Barbados that has nurtured a cottage industry of small Bajan pepper sauce makers. By now, successful island entrepreneurs like Aunt May’s have gone international — but a foodie explorer will still discover many local brands and one-off products in Barbados’ shops and markets.
Photo Courtesy of Cambridge Chilli Sauce Co.
Cambridge Chilli Sauce Co. — UK
Although it seems incongruous given Great Britain’s legendarily bland traditional cuisine, iBurn reports that some of the most passionate chile eaters in the world are across the pond. In fact, some UK-based chile eating contests are stopped midway through to stop contestants from being hospitalized due to capsaicin overload. This brand doesn’t just cater to extremists though. While some products from the Cambridge Chilli Sauce Company, like the Trinidad Scorpion Sauce (featuring the worlds-hottest-chile contender), are for cast-iron stomachs. Others, like Raspberry & Chilli Jelly, are for everyone — especially tourists shopping at Cambridge Market, where this family business sells every week.