You know how it is when you have two or three of something, and suddenly everyone gives you more? Well, because my mother is the Executive Director of the Barbados Manufacturers' Association, I receive an endless supply of Bajan pepper sauces every time she visits. This, in turn, has apparently suggested to other people that I collect them and now they also feel compelled to make gifts of it.
For this reason, I would like to start out by pointing out that I may have been born in Barbados, but I grew up in small town Ontario. And while my palate is not as wussy as some, I feel no Homer Simpson-like need to seek out the hottest pepper ever grown.
But then I received a sampler set for my birthday from an online friend who was visiting from out of town. 16 small jars of -- you guessed it -- gourmet pepper sauce in a variety of flavours.
The first thing I noticed was that there appeared to be a nice range of heat represented, as indicated by little icons of flames on the jars: from a four flamed Mango Chutney, to 10 flames on the Fusion Fire. The products feature ethically-sourced natural ingredients -- many are Fair Trade and Organic certified, but I understand that when you are dealing with smaller farms, the certification process can be prohibitive and pointless in areas where the cost of fertilizer and other non-organic elements are already out of reach.
There were jars with names that suggested sweetness, a combination I quite like with the heat, and so I opened them first. I dove into the Raspberries in Heat, in part because of the amusing name and in part because I have always loved raspberries, especially wild ones fresh from the vine. With only 7 flames on the front and such a harmless-sounding name, it seemed reasonable to pour some onto a spoon and taste it that way. Luckily, it was a good gamble.
Upon tasting it, my first thought was that it would be a perfect twist on a sundae syrup or other dessert touches, but as sweet gave way to heat less obvious pairings started filtering through my mind. "Fish," I thought. White fish, specifically, then pork, chicken, and game birds came to mind. The silky, liqueur-like sensation was not overpowered by the amount of scotch bonnet within (I really should learn to read ingredients before just diving in). I could envision it with simple, clean dishes, perhaps pheasant. It may be robust enough to accompany lamb - I will have to try that.
Next I reached for the Chili Chocolate. I was surprised by how thick it was, especially compared to the Raspberries. As I couldn't pour it into the second spoon, I took the tip and scraped out a small ball. The chocolate was sweeter than anticipated (I had been thinking "mole poblano"), and it was quickly followed by the kick. Even though this label bore the same number of peppers as the first (seven), this heat was definitely more noticeable. I realized I was lucky with my initial jar.
In the subsequent months, this sauce has grown to be one of my favourite hostess gifts. Paired with a nice mix of fresh fruit (served sliced), it is a great way to end a meal. It is also versatile enough to use as an ingredient in other dishes, but it really deserves to be shown off on its own. My one wish for this sauce would be that it came in a shorter squat jar with a wider mouth, rather than coming in a tall thin bottle. As it stands, you have to let it melt a bit to pour it out, and then if you want to use it at its full thickness, let it cool again.
I opted then to try the Wings of Fire sauce, being as I am a fan of chicken wings. It's a well-seasoned traditional Buffalo wing sauce, without the chemical taste that some insanely hot varieties have. The BBQ Bahamas is equally well-flavoured, though different. It's a traditional sweet-based barbecue sauce with tamarind and pineapple among the ingredients, and finishes with a delightful kick that doesn't overwhelm the combination of fruit, herbs, and spices. It would easily hold up to a robust red meat and possibly a game, and work well with either grilling or the traditional true barbecue process.
I could go through the sampler flavour by flavour, but suffice it to say that the flavour combinations are well-chosen and there was clearly a great deal of thought that went into the recipes.
The last things I will mention are the two fieriest of the sampler set - Fusion Fire and Hurricane Mash. People I have shared them with seem to respond differently to them. Personally, I find the Fusion Fire feels hotter, but most others insist they find the Mash hotter. Their website says that the blend of multiple peppers in Fusion Fire brings heat to different areas of the mouth, which coincides with my experience, whereas I find the Mash a "cleaner" heat.
My suggestion? If you like spicy, take a peek through their site and pick out something that appeals to you. They're also a great gift for the pepper-lovers in your life. The next time you are in the mood to add a little heat to a meal, or want to bring a hostess gift that will liven up a dinner party, I'd highly recommend the Peppermaster line of Canadian-made gourmet pepper sauces. (I notice that many of the sauces are available in two levels of intensity, so that you can order them depending on your ability to handle the heat.)