The New Heat

Written By: Jean Heimann

Once upon a time, for many (well, maybe just me) heat was just a table condiment.  A hot sauce bottle on the table meant to soup up, well whatever needed to be souped up:  greens, scrambled eggs, deviled eggs, a Bloody Mary.  To most salt & pepper cooks, hot sauce was more of a Southern kitchen thing and showed up only on a rare “let’s try this new recipe” occasion.

Then there was Buffalo.  Hot sauce and melted butter pour over fried wings.  Sour, hot and rich.  Dunk the wings in blue cheese dressing and munch on some veg to cool off.  A novelty became a trend and now popular food stuff, it even got its own national chain restaurant. Buffalo was THE heat for many a year, until…. Sriracha!  A table condiment in Vietnamese restaurants to soup up some pho became beloved and then famous.  It got its own cook book.  It started showing up on chips and on t-shirts and in our fridges.  Souping up whatever needed to be souped up:  mac n’ cheese, deviled eggs, chicken, popcorn.  Sriracha had gone main stream and all the better for us and our ability to tolerate heat. To demand it! Yay Sriracha!

And now…what?  What kick in the pants condiment is lurking on peoples’ tables just waiting to steal the limelight?  What new heat delivery system could be next? Let’s ponder, shall we?

How about Harissa?

A North African and Middle Eastern chili pepper paste of hot peppers, which are sometimes smoked, garlic and a mix of spices which might or might not include cumin, coriander, caraway, mint. Occasionally tomatoes, lemon juice and even rose petals are added. Rose petals!  All this is ground together with enough olive oil to make a paste and to taste good.  It’s very hot and earthy.  A dab is added to soups and stews or to couscous and shawarma.

What about Gochujang?

A Korean hot chili pepper paste made from red chili powder called gochugaru, glutinous rice powder, fermented soybean powder, and a little fermentation.  It tastes hot, a little sweet from the glutinous rice, and salty with a little bit of funkiness or edginess from the fermented soybean paste.  It mixes well with honey, vinegar, and sesame seeds. It’s found in bibimbap, kimchee, dipping sauces, marinated meats like Bulgolgi and anywhere you want to add a little heat along with a little sweetness. 


A Mexican company, Empresas Tajín makes the Tajín seasoning.  It’s a mix of hot chili peppers, salt, and lime juice powder.  It bright, citrusy, and hot and salty.  It perks up fruits and vegetables like mango and jicama slices.