Confessions and Complaints of a Hot Sauce Addict

There are four items in the known universe that actually taste better to a hot sauce addict without adding hot sauce. They are:

1. Breath mints
2. Breakfast cereal
3. Water
4. Toothpaste

At first, one might consider hot sauce itself as a contender for this list. On the contrary. Sometimes even hot sauce tastes better with hot sauce.

There’s a basic principle involved: hot sauce addicts like things hot. We like ketchup hot. Ketchup, the sauce people are criticized for overusing as kids, tastes better with a sauce we’re now criticized for overusing as adults. It seems that Heinz agrees with us, though: they now sell a version of their ketchup with Tabasco already added. It’s pretty good, especially after you add more hot sauce.

Once you’re addicted to hot sauce, your appreciation for it grows whether you like it or not. As a joke, I once added hot sauce to my sandwich for lunch. Since then, I’ve never made a sandwich without it.

When I open the refrigerator for something to snack on, say, a piece of cheese, you can bet it gets hot sauce. Of course, to find something to snack on, the hot sauce has to be moved out of the way of the things to be snacked on. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but my refrigerator does contain 15 different bottles of hot sauce at this very moment. I’ve got: two old standbys; a West Indian hot sauce; one for seafood with a picture of a crab on the label clipping off a woman’s bikini; another with a picture of a Rasta dude with fire coming out of his butt; one that’s homemade; one with an obscenity in its name; and two somewhere in the back that are so hot they’re frankly inedible.

Hot sauce usage is usually done behind closed doors. Nevertheless, there is a certain lifestyle. Hot sauce addicts have hot sauce t-shirts. They have posters with pictures of hot sauce. I have a poster that tells me how all the hot peppers stand up against each other in terms of – what else – their hotness. I also have one wooden hot sauce rack (the “on-deck circle” of soon-to-be-used hot sauces), and a couple of custom-made shelves to display the who-knows-how-many unique empty hot sauce bottles. I’ve got a book on hot sauce, another book on making hot sauce and hot food, and a hot sauce kit for making hot sauce. I don’t have a hot sauce business. (I’d rather be eating hot sauce than selling it.)

As mentioned above, hot sauce addicts are actually criticized for using hot sauce. This, you may have assumed, this must be an exaggeration. No one would criticize someone for their comestible preferences, right? In a chilephobic world, you better believe it.

Not that we’re criticized every day, of course. (I haven’t had to move or change my name.) But when we do hear it, the criticism comes from people unusually defensive about their taste buds:

“Oh my God, how can you put hot sauce on that!”

Like that without hot sauce is intrinsically better than with. Who made the aficionados of the bland the sovereigns of sauce? Presumably, there’s nothing wrong with a French saucier adding sauce to his Creme Francaise L’Orange (or whatever), but if I pour Matouk’s on my chicken cutlet, I’m some kind of lowlife. Damn the purveyors of boring foods! May they be sentenced to an eternity of white bread, overcooked rice, and soggy, freezer-burned fish sticks! Then when they’re about to go over the edge and realize how much they could use some hot sauce – any hot sauce – offer them all the McDonald’s McNugget sauce they can eat. Then we’ll see who wishes they could be patronizing our good friends at Avery Island, LA in the afterlife.

But some people are sincerely curious. After all, a true mania for hot foods is somewhat unusual in the Western World (especially if you’re of European descent and appear to be mentally stable). “Why do you like it spicy?” friends and relatives will wonder. We also wonder, but don’t ask: “Why don’t you?”

I know people who add salt to just about everything, but I have to admit, I could care less why. How would they explain it, anyway – on what basis?

“Well, the interaction of the sodium chloride molecules with the cells of my taste buds cause such and such a combination of neurons to flare up inside my brain, thereby releasing such and such a chemical into my body, resulting in this remarkable physiological reaction we call pleasure.”

Kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I do have a somewhat vague, metaphorical way of describing what hot sauce adds to food. Besides the variety of flavors that make up any sauce (and can improve food’s flavor in themselves), the obvious attribute of hot sauce that mystifies people is the heat. So, what is it that’s so good about spice? In a word, texture. Spice is like the crunch in a potato chip, the bubbles in a Coke, the heat in your coffee. If these foods didn’t have their characteristic textures, they’d still “taste” the same, wouldn’t they? Sure, but even though people realize the incredible role of smells in our enjoyment of what we eat, not everyone realizes how much texture plays a part. Some people like their bagels crunchy, some like them chewy, and others like them crunchy on the outside and chewy in the inside. The point is: texture matters! And hot sauce adds a texture missing from most foods – a bite that grips onto your taste buds and won’t let go.

So, you see, there is actually some rationale for pouring on the Tabasco or the RedHot – or the Bustelo’s, the Rectal Rocket Fuel, the Mountainman Fire Roasted Habanero Sauce, Craig’s Hot Pepper Sauce (“New Jersey’s Finest”), Jamaica Best Hot Pepper Sauce, Chili Chomper’s Habanero Fire Sauce, Hot Buns at the Beach Hot Sauce (or anything else from Starboard Restaurant), Sunny Caribbee Calypso Hot Sauce, El Yucateco Salsa Picante Verde, Ass Kickin’ Hot Sauce, Jump Up and Kiss Me Hot Sauce, or the trying-to-stay-hip, yet surprisingly good Tabasco Habanero Hot Pepper Sauce.

Maybe next time you’re having some less-than-sensational leftovers, you might even want to try one of these yourself. That is, if you think you’re up for it, and everything that goes along with it. Who knows, I might even end up seeing you at a monthly meeting of the Hot Sauce-aholics Anonymous. But if I do – one word of advice: bring your own hot sauce.