With the line “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag,” Beyoncé may have inspired, or even confirmed, a generation’s tendency to never the leave the house without a Sriracha keychain. Even if that’s not entirely true, it’s hard to ignore that something has dialed up the heat of a once more regionally based, niche condiment (as far as condiments go, anyways).
Global Hot Sauce Market reports (yes, a real thing!), show that the hot sauce industry earned over $2 billion in revenue last year, a number that has nearly doubled over the last ten years. And the growth is projected to continue to trend upwards for at least the next five years. So, what exactly does that mean?
It could in part be a product of the Internet and the endless need for more content and funny videos of people in pain. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and jalapeño kettle chips have been usurped by Paqui Carolina Reaper Madness’s one-chip-challenge videos. On his own YouTube channel, Danish entertainer “Chili” Klaus Wunderhits eats the world’s hottest peppers with prominent celebrity figures across a variety of industries; sweating, crying, and snapping his fingers along the way.
Or maybe everything can be traced back to the craft movement of the last decade, particularly brewery culture. There are plenty of parallels. For one, both have devoted followings. There are finicky measurements that seem to arbitrarily measure taste: IBUs for beer bitterness and the heat-indexing Scoville scale. Nationwide festivals and exclusive releases bring fans out in droves, with more independent companies and passionate home crafters popping up each year.
And both industries trend towards extremes and experimentation. Where beer drinkers might chase a strange new sour or barrel-aged dubbel, there’s always a new diabolical pepper growing, waiting to be mixed with something unexpected. How did anyone ever drink beer before there was an endless river of IPAs in every city in America? This isn’t a complaint – if Frank’s Red Hot and Cholula are the Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors of this analogy, everyone comes out a winner.
That goes for local markets as well. Jacksonville has plenty of homegrown companies offering their own spin on spices. But be careful; it’s far too easy to get lost in the sauce.
Hotter Than El
As their tagline suggests, Hotter Than El pushes for maximum heat (think Carolina reapers, ghost, and scorpion peppers) without sacrificing flavor. However the most interesting aspect across their 20-odd sauces is variety: from regional variations to the use of unique ingredients like mangos and blueberries, to a chipotle sauce made with Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale from Bold City Brewing—it almost pays to order a beer flight.
Cowgill’s Datil Pepper Hot Sauce
A vinegar-based sauce from a family owned business. The Datil pepper is cultivated almost exclusively in St. Augustine, making this sauce a true local flavor. There’s even an annual Datil Pepper Festival. Comparable to habaneros, with a more sweet-citrus taste, Datils can vary in heat. Cowgill’s take on the pepper adds a layer of smokiness, but it’s still accessible. They also offer a mustard variation as well as classic habanero and jalapeno sauces.
B&D Sauce Co.
Like many of the new hot sauce companies popping up, the owners of B&D Sauce Co. started out as spicy food fans and homebrewers of their own sauces who took the leap in creating a fully fledged business. B&D were influenced by the Bahamas’ Thai Birds Eye chili, leading them to start growing their own Bird Peppers exclusively in Northeast Florida. Using only the peppers they’ve grown themselves, B&D is another truly local hot sauce.
Beach residents are probably very familiar with this Panamanian-style sauce that also comes in verde, amarillo, and increased heat variations. It’s a sauce that is pretty approachable and tastes just as good on an omelette as it would in over a plate of fresh local tacos.
This article originally appeared under the headline “My City’s Got Sauce” in Void Magazine Vol. 9, Issue 11, Bold Bites.