I gasped for breath and a bead of sweat trickled down the nape of my neck. The burn became so intense I wanted to jump out of my own skin. What had I gotten myself into?
Normally, I leave the chili peppers to my Mexican husband, but I had recently discovered an online shop called Habanero.cz which sells hot sauces and other spicy goodies.
Product names like Satan’s Shit, Sphincter Shrinker and Original Death piqued my curiosity, so against my better judgment, I decided to organize a hot sauce tasting party; it’s no fun suffering alone.
As I navigated the website, I alternated between the product descriptions, in Czech only, and Google translate to glean as much information as possible, but even the translated version doesn’t make much sense unless you know a few things first.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The spice levels of hot sauces on Habanero.cz are indicated in Scoville heat units (SHU). The Scoville scale measures the amount of capsaicinoids—the compound that causes the heat—found in a chili pepper. Though this method is highly subjective (results are based on a panel of taste testers) and ratings differ for each individual pepper, it’s still widely used.
Ex. Bell pepper – 0 SHU; Jalapeño – 5,000 SHU; Habanero – min. 200,000 SHU
Look closely at a hot sauce’s ingredients to see if it’s spicy on its own merit or riding high on capsaicin extract—it could mean the difference between a trip to the emergency room or just enjoying a pleasant burn in your mouth. Sauces with extracts often come with an eye dropper because you only need one tiny drop to spice up a whole batch of whatever you’re cooking. Habanero.cz divides the sauces into pálivé omáčky and pálivé omáčky s extraktem, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.
Lastly, see which chili peppers are heating up the sauce. According to the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico and The Guinness Book of World Records, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (1.2 million SHU) has usurped the Naga Bhut Jolokia (or ghost pepper) as the world’s hottest chili pepper. Prior to that, the Red Savina habanero held the title.
CHOOSING THE HOT SAUCES
Back on the Habanero.cz website, I decided that Satan’s Shit, which is so spicy it comes with a buyer beware disclaimer, was out of the question. At 6.4 million SHU, I didn’t need to try Sphincter Shrinker to know it would make good on its name.
After scrolling through pages of sauces with evil and death references—who thinks of these names?—I eventually settled on a more spiritual brand called El Chamán (The Shaman). The bottle depicts a skull wearing a bandana with feathers, floating on a sea of flames.
There are four hot sauces in the series, but I by-passed the first two—El Chamán 999, pure capsaicin extract which rates a flaming 999,000 SHU, and El Chamán 666 ( 666,000 SHU). (Remember, your average jalapeño pepper is only 5,000 SHU.)
I ordered El Chamán 333 (333,000 SHU)—touted as the spiciest hot sauce on the market without extract—and its baby brother El Chamán 111(111,000 SHU). Both are produced in Costa Rica and contain Naga Jolokia and habanero peppers.
For the weaklings in the group (like myself) I got an Ecuadorean sauce, Ají Casero X-tra (still a respectable 10,000 SHU), and Alchemy, a sweet chili sauce with cognac.
THE TASTE TESTING
Though the hot sauces arrived by post on Tuesday (within two days of my online order), I managed to keep them safely unopened—not an easy feat with a Mexican in the house—until Sunday, when the party was scheduled.
Everyone showed up at the appointed date and time, some with looks of trepidation, others with anticipation. I was just determined to see it through until the spicy end.
On the table, I had arranged the six bottles in a row, from mild to hot, with a bowl of tortilla chips for the test tasting. In case of emergencies, I had also prepared shots of milk and pieces of bread.
Estelle, my brave French friend, volunteered to go first. She squirted a dab of Alchemy on a tortilla chip and cautiously put it in her mouth. We leaned forward, expecting an adverse reaction—nothing.
But thirty seconds later the initial sweetness gave way to a lingering burn and she downed a shot of milk faster than you can say Ježíš Maria.
The first couple of sauces weren’t so bad, but by the fourth one, I could hear cries of “My tongue, my tongue, my tongue…”, and the facial sweating began in earnest.
They all attacked your mouth differently. The Ají Casero, for example, immediately scorched the back of your throat and then crept forward, whereas El Chamán 111 gave you a one-minute reprieve before the slow torture set-in.
Estelle’s American husband, Ben, was first in the hot seat for El Chamán 333—the last and spiciest hot sauce. We observed his face change from white, to pink to a red color. He didn’t cry out, though he did blow his nose several times.
Just when you thought you had endured the worst of the 333, a new wave of fire engulfed you. Even after some milk, the heat smoldered in your mouth for a good thirty minutes.
I had thought that I would be too busy stuffing my mouth with bread and gulping milk to dwell on any nuances in taste, but the degustation really showed me that all hot sauces are not created equally.
Of the two non-Habanero.cz sauces, the Shalamar green chili sauce stole our taste buds. It was the most flavorful and freshest of the six, though it might be disqualified in a stricter competition since it had a thicker consistency, bordering on an actual salsa.
Disappointingly, the La Costeña habanero sauce tasted like a second-rate Tabasco sauce—it wasn’t a surprise to see that water, carrots and vinegar were the first three ingredients on the label.
For something sweet and tangy with a touch of spice, Alchemy definitely satisfied. We all agreed that this hot sauce would be perfect on some chicken wings.
If you can handle El Chamán 333’s heat, it had a slightly better flavor than the 111. The Ají Casero tasted similar to the latter two (albeit less spicy), even though the main ingredient is the Ají chili pepper instead of the Naga Jolokia. All three of them contained habanero peppers, which leads me to believe this was the dominant flavor.
Overall, I’m proud to say that I survived the ordeal unscathed and have a fridge full of hot sauces to show for it. Though it might be too early to gloat—I’ve heard rumors that extremely spicy things are just as punishing on the way out as on the way in.
El Chamán 333- 175 CZK
El Chamán 111- 148 CZK
Ají Casero X-tra – 96 CZK
Alchemy – 149 CZK
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