Monday, September 26, 2016

Hot Sauce Nation

Hot Sauce Nation: America's Burning Obsession by Denver Nicks
Chicago Review Press: 10/1/16

eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781613731840


Hot Sauce Nation: America's Burning Obsession by Denver Nicks is a very highly recommended celebration of the most popular condiment on earth and a tribute to the people who make it and the people who love it. Nicks explores the history of hot sauce, and some of the people and places who love it.

"Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans - language, rationality, culture, and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce." Dr. Paul Bloom.

What a timely book as I have just started harvesting my habanero and tabasco chilis, and my jalapenos are coming on strong. I'm not the greatest fan of hot sauce in my home, but I understand how a hot sauce fanatic rates their various sauces and can distinguish one sauce from another. This is a fascinating look at how the chili pepper was "discovered" by Columbus in the New World and the love was subsequently spread around the world. in fact, that has continued to be the key to the success and the expansion of the varieties of hot sauces: immigration. As cultures intermingle, they bring their own varieties of hot sauce with them and we love it. Think of sriracha and the spread of its popularity

The true hot sauce aficionado can never have too many varieties of hot sauce. We love our hot sauces. "But, as you know if you’ve ever poured too heartily from the wrong bottle of hot sauce, taste and smell are but secondary pieces of the hot sauce puzzle. There’s something else happening with hot sauce unique to the chilies that are its essential ingredient, something weirder and kinkier and a stubborn mystery that cuts to the heart of what it means to be human - pain."

That pain is from capsaicin, but "capsaicin is just one of at least twenty-two compounds, called capsaicinoids, that account for a pepper’s heat in the myriad forms it takes." The heat profiles of various peppers differ widely, just as hot sauces differ. 

In fact, "Dr. Bosland developed a multidimensional heat profile to more fully describe a chili pepper’s heat, including five separate descriptors: how fast or delayed the heat is (Asian chilies tend to come on fast, while habaneros come on slowly); how long it lingers (habaneros stick around, but jalapeños dissipate more quickly); the sharpness or flatness of the heat (cayennes are sharper, like pins sticking in the mouth, whereas New Mexican chilies are flatter, like the heat is applied with a paintbrush); where the heat is strongest (jalapeños burn nearer the tongue and lips, habaneros attack the back of the throat); and finally how much heat the chili has. These are our good old-fashioned Scoville heat units."

I found this exploration of the history of hot sauces and the current trend to more varieties and more heat fascinating. We'll see how far the trend to more heat/pain goes. In the meantime I've got some jalepeno poppers to make and it's time to explore some recipes for homemade hot sauces for my tabasco and habanero chili peppers.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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