Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mild Hot Sauces for Newbies

I love seriously hot hot sauces - not ultrahot food additives that rely on capsaicin extract and are downright painful (and rarely flavorful), but rather full-bodied, flavor-rich and pepper-packed hot sauces that complement my food while also providing an intense heat. That being said, I can also enjoy a mildly spicy pepper sauce that has good flavor, and in fact I recall when I used to think that Tabasco Sauce was as hot as it got (although even back then I thought Tabasco was seriously lacking in flavor). It wasn't until college that I started discovering the world - indeed, the universe - of real hot sauces, instead of the one-dimensional, thin, overly vinegary grocery store "hot" sauces. And how did I begin my journey of chile pepper discovery? By starting with milder hot sauces with good flavor and just a touch of burn. Although nowadays I tend to use stronger stuff, I still have some favorite hot sauces that are "beginner-friendly" because they offer just a bit of peppery heat but are packed with plenty of food-friendly flavor. These sauces are ideal for anyone who thinks they hate hot sauces, or that hot sauces are all "too hot" with no real flavor, or who is ready to embark on a journey of peppery pleasure. Here's my list of favorite mild hot sauces:

1. Not Cool Garden Fresh Mild Habanero Pepper Sauce: Granted, the words "mild" and "habanero" are rarely used together, but this thick, rich pepper sauce truly is only mildly spicy, with just a hint of habanero flavor and heat but plenty of garlicky zest. Indonesian spices add layers of complexity, and perhaps best of all, this North Carolina sauce is certified organic. I absolutely love this sauce on pizza, and it also works quite well on Italian and Mexican dishes as well as on burgers, sandwiches and even omelets or scrambled eggs. It also adds great flavor to casseroles, stews and chili.

2. Capsicana Zing Gourmet Sauce: This slightly sweet and pleasantly peppery sauce is spicy, but not hot, and regularly appears on our list of Top Ten Best-Selling Hot Sauces. You can use Zing Sauce in virtually any recipe or dish, and it makes a great dip or sandwich spread when blended with cream cheese. I even use it on tossed green salad instead of a dressing, and it's refreshingly good on chilled cucumber slices!

3. Blues Carolina Pepper Sauce: The tomatoes help tame the vinegar tang and peppery heat in this cider vinegar-based all-purpose sauce, while also adding nice body and substance. I love this sauce on pulled pork, cooked greens, french fries, fried okra, steamed or microwaved veggies, baked beans, omelets and scrambled eggs, as well as in soups, stews, casseroles and other recipes.

4. Cackalacky Spice Sauce: North Carolina yams and a splash of burgundy wine add surprisingly good flavor notes to this full-bodied table sauce. I like to use this mildly peppery sauce on burgers, sandwiches, Mexican dishes, stews and even meatloaf.

5. Georgia Peach & Vidalia Onion Hot Sauce: This award-winning sauce blends together two of my favorite Southern delicacies, juicy sunripened peaches and summer-sweet onions. This sauce is ideal on anything grilled, as well as on fish and seafood dishes, chicken recipes, and even on sandwiches.

Whether you are just getting started with hot sauces or you're a seasoned chilehead, why not try one of these gentler but flavorful mild hot sauces for something new, or for a change of pace? Trust me, you won't be disappointed, and I bet you'll be quite pleased!

Zestfully yours,

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