A great conversation about chilli sauce
While at Covent Garden Real Food market last Thursday with the Old Hatfield Pickle Co, I met a chap called Shola who was very obviously into his chillies and particularly chilli sauce.
We discussed the various types of chilli in the chilli sauce range and the differences in taste, degree of heat and colour. Anyway, I gave him my card and we parted company because it was getting quite dark, almost 19:00, the time the market closes.
Out off the blue I received a really nice email from Shola asking what he could do with Scotch Bonnet and Jolokai chillies. The pertinent part of the email is below.
“Please can you email me suggestions for Scotch Bonnet chilli and Jolokai chilli. It was great talking yesterday.looking forward to hearing from you. There is more information on these two great chillies in the post entitled Hottest Chilli Peppers.
All the best for weekend ahead.”
After some thought about the hundred and one things you can do with chilli peppers especially when you’ve got two of the hottest chilli peppers the only reasonable thing was a chilli sauce.
You can cook with a chilli sauce, use it as a marinade or a dip. A chilli sauce was the answer to ‘Suggestions for Scotch Bonnet and Jolokai chillies’!
So Shola, without giving too much away because I help one or two companies with their chilli sauce, here are some tips and things I would consider before I’d made anything.
My opinion and breakdown of what makes a great chilli sauce
Firstly you have to decide what sort of chilli sauce you want make. Here is my view of what you need to think about before you concoct or start putting a chilli sauce together.
My chilli sauce rules
I guess these rules reflect what I personally like in a chilli sauce so I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree! I’ve put them in this sequence because they follow the order in which our senses are tickled.
The labelling is not under discussion here but it’s important to consider bearing in mind it’s on of the visual aspects that sets our expectation of a chilli sauce or any other product for that matter.
First we look at the chilli sauce, then we take the lid of container and sniff the chilli sauce. We pour it out or poke a toothpick into it and look at its consistency.
The last thing we do is taste the chilli sauce before it blows our socks off and we reach for the milk!
The visual appeal of a chilli sauce
The first visual impression is the decision point at which we decide whether or not to investigate the product further. If the chilli sauce fails that first test we move on to the next product. Game over!
So what is visual appeal? The short answer is it’s what the chilli sauce looks like but I think there is more to it than that!
If you break that down, you get colour which can be solid or speckled. Speckled suggests that there are small pieces of chilli in the sauce.
Although the picture is not very good, you can see red flecks in the bottle Eaton’s Yellow Bonnet chilli sauce on the left. The flecks in the chilli sauce give an indication of the delights yet to come!
A lot of chillies are red though it’s not always the case as we all know. The colour should reflect what’s in the bottle or jar. The darker the colour, the more mysterious the sauce which creates interest and suggests that the chilli sauce is hotter. Definitely not always the case!
If dried chilli peppers are used, the sauce naturally be darker or have dark flecks depending how it has been cooked.
The other important factor to me is viscosity. How quickly does the sauce move in the bottle or container which tells me how thick the sauce is.
The thickness of a sauce has implications of how concentrated it is. It is easy to thicken a sauce and many are!
The aroma of a chilli sauce
OK, so the chilli sauce has passed its visual test and we now open the bottle or jar and our sense of smell kicks in. We sniff the sauce!
It’s an important test because we have probably bought the chilli sauce at this point based on what it say’s on the label and the visual aspects but we can still reject it if it smells disgusting.
If it’s that bad we are unlikely to buy it again. A short sales goal was achieved but a potential loyal customer was lost. We bin the chilli sauce, put it at the back of a cupboard or even complain about it!
What should we expect? Again its just an opinion but I would expect to sniff the true aroma of the chilli which is probably fruity. I would also expect to get a sense of how hot the chilli sauce is likely to be.
For the sake of an example, when you sniff the Eaton’s sauce you get both. It’s exactly what it says on the bottle. My expectation was met and I am now a great fan of that particular sauce.
The consistency of a chilli sauce
We have touched on this when talking about visual appeal and should have a good idea of how thick the chilli sauce is.
It’s a matter of personal taste like all matters relating to food and with chilli sauce, depends on what you want to do with the sauce.
If it’s a table sauce, then it needs to be reasonably thick. If the sauce is going to be used purely for cooking, then does it matter?
The taste and heat of a chilli sauce
I think the taste and flavours of the chilli should be quite pronounced in a chilli sauce. A good blend of spices that complement and enhance the chilli pepper’s taste works well and should be delivered before the chilli heat.
A chilli sauce that just delivers heat without taste is of little value in my opinion but that’s just my view.
So how hot does a chilli sauce need to be?
Again just an opinion but the chilli heat should reflect the type of chilli peppers being used and not enhanced out of proportion. If it’s a Scotch Bonnet based chilli sauce, it should deliver about 350,000 units of heat at the very maximum.
Another approach is to reduce the heat and let the chilli flavours be the main feature of the chilli sauce.
In summary, there are a lot of variables when making a chilli sauce and you can change it to be exactly what you want.
What doesn’t change are the perceptions of a chilli sauce and how our senses deliver and influence key decision making points when we buy one. They all vary from person to person and the trick is to ensure the right boxes are ticked for the majority of people.
PS As I said in the first place, this is just my opinion. If your view of chilli sauce is different, put it in a comment!