September 11, 2006

Torchbearer Hot Sauces

Ordinarily, I’m very good with deadlines. I’ll stay up night after night, consume endless amounts of coffee, and push anything and everything out of the way to meet a deadline for a book or article. Sure, there are occasionally circumstances beyond my control, but I’m generally on time—and in fact I typically do my best work under time pressure. However, when I don’t have a specific or firm deadline, or when I have only a made-up deadline I created myself, I tend to procrastinate. In this case, there’s something I’ve procrastinated about for a full year, and it’s time to wipe it off my to-do list once and for all.

On September 1, 2005, I posted the following (Summer of S((c)h)wag) on I Am Joe’s Blog:

A couple of weeks ago, I received a large gift basket of hot sauces, which I agreed to review and write about as a follow-up to my Interesting Thing of the Day article on Tabasco Sauce and my blog post about Measuring Spiciness. (Stay tuned. The wheels of progress are spinning slowly this summer.)

Yeah, they spun slowly all right. More twelve months later, I still hadn’t written it up. Don’t get me wrong: I’d certainly tasted the sauces. In fact, Morgen and I sat down for an elaborate tasting session, and I recorded the whole thing (on an analog tape recorder yet!), intending to write it all up the next day. But that tape recorder has sat on my desk, untouched, for many months.

Torchbearer #42 Slaughter Hot SauceI’ve just listened to the tape, and I’m happy finally to be able to say what needs to be said about Torchbearer Hot Sauces. In short: they’re excellent, and please go buy a whole lot of them to help assuage my feelings of guilt over not having written about them earlier!

Morgen and I tasted their entire range of eight sauces, each of which has a number that (supposedly) corresponds to its level of spiciness. We tried each one first on a toothpick (for safety’s sake, and to avoid contaminating it with other flavors), and then with tortilla chips; we kept some steamed white rice and some olive oil handy to help get the capsaicin off our tongues between tastes. Here’s what we found:

  • #1 Everyday Sauce—Very tasty. I thought it was very mild, with a slight hot aftertaste; Morgen, who’s less tolerant of capsaicin, thought it was clearly hot but totally tolerable. It’s less hot than Tabasco sauce, and the heat doesn’t linger on your tongue. Might be good on chips or potatoes. Ingredients are carrots, tomato concentrate, mandarin oranges, onions, garlic, habanero peppers, salt, chili powder, black pepper.
  • #4 Tingly Hot Sauce—Noticeably hotter than #1, but not burn-your-mouth hot—and a bit sweeter. Still, if it hits the right spot in your throat, it can certainly make you a bit uncomfortable. Ingredients are carrots, onions, tomato concentrate, mandarin oranges, garlic, habanero peppers, salt, chili powder, black pepper. (So same ingredients as #1, but onions move up in concentration.)
  • #7 Sultry Hot Sauce—My first comment was: “Oh, that’s hot!” This one definitely has some bite to it, and at this point, Morgen began questioning her willingness to proceed to higher numbers. She did think, though, that it was sweeter than #4. For me, this begins to get into the category of significantly spicy. Ingredients are mandarin oranges, carrots, onions, tomato concentrate, habanero peppers, garlic, salt, chili powder, black pepper.
  • #10 Sombrero Salsa—This one came in a much larger container (16 oz. vs. 8 oz.). It has a much different texture from the rest, and was clearly intended to be used in the manner of a Mexican salsa. It’s not very spicy—in fact, I found it rather bland, and certainly out of sync with the numerical scale. It’s also not very tomato-ey, and as a salsa I thought it was a bit too subtle. Ingredients are diced tomato, green pepper, Vidalia onion, petite diced tomato with lime, Torchbearer #4 Tingly Sauce (yes, another one of their sauces is an ingredient in this one!), mandarin orange, garlic.
  • #11 Sugar Fire Sauce—The word sugar in the name is key; this one definitely tends toward the sweet side. The very first impression I got was that of pumpkin (pumpkin spice being the last ingredient). It’s fruity and less spicy than #7 (and possibly even #4), once again contradicting expectations set by the numerical scale. Both Morgen and I really liked this one, and we went through this jar the fastest of all the sauces. Ingredients are papaya, mango, mandarin oranges, habanero peppers, brown sugar, pumpkin spice.
  • #23 Fever Hot Sauce—On the tape, you can hear me laughing heartily as soon as I take a taste—that is, laughing in an “Oh-my-God-I’ve-suddenly-lost-all-sensation-on-my-tongue” kind of way. “That’s flippin’ hot,” I say. It’s not so bad when it first goes into your mouth, but when you swallow and it hits the back of your tongue—wow. Morgen took one half microdroplet on a toothpick and still burned her throat, though she did admit “it’s not painful…yet.” Unlike the previous sauces, the heat of this one really lingered. Ingredients are carrots, onions, mandarin oranges, tomato concentrate, habanero peppers, garlic, salt, chili powder, black pepper.
  • #37 Tarnation Hot Sauce—The label says it’s the world’s second-hottest natural sauce, with a Scoville rating of 38,202. It’s certainly hot, but it actually bothered me less than #23. It had very little actual taste, other than the spiciness. Morgen and I both found the burning sensation very localized in the mouth, though as time went on, the tips of our tongues and our lips burned more and more. I commented that I should maybe drink some Tabasco sauce to cool off. It wasn’t until I tasted this sauce, though, that I started to sniffle, which often happens when I eat spicy foods. Ingredients are habanero peppers, carrots, onions, mandarin oranges, tomato concentrate, garlic, salt, chili powder, black pepper.
  • #42 Slaughter Hot Sauce—According to the label, it’s the world’s hottest natural sauce, with a Scoville rating of 67,582. Even a smell of this sauce will clear your sinuses. The predominant sound on the tape this time is of Morgen laughing, apparently at my facial expression after trying it. I say that it takes a minute to hit you—at first you taste almost nothing, and then suddenly: yow. As with #37, the sensation builds as time goes on. It seemed only slightly hotter than #37, though, the Scoville number notwithstanding. But then, maybe my tongue was just completely numb by that time. Ingredients are habanero peppers, carrots, onions, mandarin oranges, tomato concentrate, salt, chili powder, black pepper.

Most of the sauces contained essentially the same list of ingredients, but in different quantities. I liked the mandarin orange and carrot flavors, which are a bit unusual in this context, and anything from #11 on down is (in my opinion) readily edible as a condiment. The hottest two (or perhaps three) would be best used as seasonings in other recipes, where they can be diluted a bit.

Alert readers will certainly note that #42 Slaughter Hot Sauce isn’t the world’s hottest sauce, though it may very well be the hottest natural sauce (as in, made without adding pure capsaicin or whatever). In any case, it’s certainly hot enough for me, and likely for just about anyone.

In summary: this is good stuff, and extremely serious heat. Get yourself some of #7, #11, and #23 for a good range that’s actually usable, and if you need unbearably intense heat, you can’t go wrong with #42.

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