From sweet to atomic, there are hundreds of hot sauces on the market today – and many of them are made in Western New York
FEEL THE HEAT
By Janice Okun
Updated: 05/02/07 7:22 AM
When does a “barbecue sauce” become a “hot sauce?” When is it a “salsa?” When is it a “marinade?” How about a “dip?”
These may well be questions for the ages.
FDA is silent on the subject. So, for that matter, is Webster. No one really knows what distinguishes one of these spicy liquids from another – but one thing is sure: There are a lot of them.
George Booth of Adventures in Heat estimates he sells some 250 varieties of hot sauce in his store on Main Street in Clarence, including his own Angry Buffalo brand.
And Mike Haas, grocery manager at Premier Gourmet on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore, gets very specific: “Let’s see,” he says thoughtfully. “We have 22 on the top shelf and we have six shelves.” You do the math.
If the number of hot sauces in general is an interesting thing, the number of locally based sauces is even more so. A surprising number of the hot sauces featured at area stores and farmers’ markets are made in Western New York, an area once thought to have what some experts called a “typical Northeastern USA palate,” i.e., a predilection for bland food.
Everyone on the planet, it seems, knows about the Anchor Bar Wing Sauces. They come in varying degees of heat and are best sellers in most condiment departments. But there are countless other local sauces made and distributed on a smaller scale.
Bear-Man sauce, for example, was developed by the husband and wife team Winanne and Barry C. Conway of Grand Island.
Bear-Man has three different sauces. Growlin’ Grizzly, which Conway describes as “complex with a lot of flavors going on”; Black Bear Boogie — “a little more traditional with a tomato base”; and Sap-Happy Golden Maple, which is actually based on maple syrup. Conway describes it as “nice and sweet with a little kick at the end.”
“Specialty Sauces are what I like to call them,” Barry says. “They are not typical sauces, they are full of flavor. I know a little girl who likes them on her mashed potatoes.”
The products have been on the market for 15 months. They are packed by Nelson Farms in Central New York and sell in at least 12 states including Alaska. They do particularly well at outdoor shows in the Adirondacks but are available in specialty stores throughout Western New York.
And the big news is that Bear-Man Growlin’ Grizzly has been selected as a finalist in the 35th annual product awards competition at the Fancy Foods Show to be held in New York City in July. The contest, very important in the grocery business, is sponsored by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. The association, on a semantic note, has entered Grizzly in the “Outstanding Cooking Sauce or Flavor Enhancer” category.
Barry is the creator of the sauces, Winanne the marketer. “They are all my own sauces; all my own products,” Conway says. He’s left his job in sales to market Bear-Man full time. Conway says he has always been “obsessive” about cooking, especially with what could be described as southwestern flavors.
In 2003, his Taco Pot Pie was one of four winners in the Emeril’s Pie Contest and was featured on the Food Network. It called for half a cup of salsa, unnamed at that time since it was before Bear-Man existed. Conway has also developed recipes for Bear-Man which can be found on his Web site — www.bear-man.com. Local offerings
Another local hot sauce maker is Ron Glatzhofer of Angola, who was in the music business for 20 years before coming to Buffalo as a tour manager for Rick James. He met and married Judy and finally settled in one place.
Besides music, Glatzhofer loves cooking, and he packs what he calls “salsa” under the Saltamonte label. (“Glatzhofer” means grasshopper in German; “Saltamonte” means grasshopper in Spanish.)
The sauce comes in two gradations of heat — mild and atomic. “There is no middle ground,” Glatzhofer says. On the market for five years, it was developed at the Massachusetts Avenue Project and sells in specialty stores as well as at the Farmers’ Market on Bidwell.
Why does he use the term salsa? “Until recently ‘barbecue sauce’ didn’t have any real heat to it,” says Glatzhofer. “Nowadays, barbecue sauce may have a lot of sugar in it and if applied too early in the cooking process, it may burn.”
Then there’s Orchard Park resident Clifford Rieman, creator and marketer of Clayton’s Habanero Pepper Sauce, which has been on the market for 12 years. Rieman sells abut 100 cases a year, handling sales and distribution himself. “It’s very small scale,” says Rieman. “Very much a hobby.”
Rieman’s sauce lists the very hot habanero as its first ingredient, but the second is — surprisingly — carrots. He suggests sprinkling it on top of soup or adding it to other salsas to make them more flavorful.
The love for spicy condiments affects both men and women. Most Western New Yorkers are familiar with Krista (Van Wagner’s) Jamaican Jerk Sauce and Jamaican Hot Sauce, based on habaneros, which also are known as Scotch Bonnets in the Caribbean.
Van Wagner, who with her husband, Kirk, are co-owners of Curly’s Restaurant in Lackawanna, started out making a yellow sauce (from the Scotch Bonnets) but soon turned it red so her customers would “understand” it.
“People are enjoying spicy food more these days because they travel more and are more educated about them,” she said.
Debra Dechert of Deb’s Delights of East Aurora prepares her Hari-Kari and Hidden Death sauces from her certified kitchen in her basement.
“People are definitely into spicier sauces these days,” she believes. “What was once ‘mild’ has turned into ‘medium’ and what was once ‘medium’ into ‘medium hot.’ ”
How hot is it?
The “heat” in foods can be a very subjective thing, of course. Calling a pepper “hot” may be as imprecise a term as determining what’s a barbecue sauce or a marinade. One supposedly scientific way to measure heat is on the so-called Scoville Scale, sometimes used by sauce marketers and expressed in numbers ranging from 10 down to 1 — with 10 being the hottest.
But many experts consider the ratings to be flawed, and some manufacturers dispense with them entirely.
And at least one chili expert thinks that sweat-inducing quality should be called “zest” rather than “heat.”
According to Chris Hearn, one of the founders of an exhaustive Web site called www.peppers.com, the purpose of spicy sauce — no matter what it is called — is definitely not to send taste buds into oblivion or burn them. No — that’s all wrong, Hearn says. “You want to make the food better, not drown it.”