I knew they were popular, but I didn’t grasp the scope of that popularity until I started doing some research. Now I know. It seems about the only thing hotter than the temperatures in Kansas City during the summer are the sauces we are consuming.
Hot sauces are really hot. According to market research I found online, the U.S. hot sauce market has grown by a staggering 150 percent since 2000 — more than the sales of barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard combined. Hot sauces now make up a billion dollar industry, and even though market growth has slowed to a more manageable 5 percent annually, the rise in popularity for the spicy sauces has no end in sight.
The meteoric rise in hot sauce popularity is the result of two trends: the continued growth of America’s immigrant population, especially those from Latin American and Asia who have a much longer and more natural relationship with spice in their diet, and the enormous growth in the consumption of hot wings. Yes, chicken wings, folks. We Americans now eat some 25 billion “hot” wings per year!
I reached out to some local “hotties” to get their perspective on the phenomenon. First up, Born With Seoul creators Angela Hong and Nick Crofoot whose Korean Gochujang sauces, original sesame and sweet and tangy, have become a permanent part of the pantry at the Eckert house.
Hong and Crofoot, who created the sauce in their Prairie Village home, say it’s not just about spice, it’s about flavor.
“While I do like a kick and that warm feeling when the heat starts to creep up on you, I don’t like sauces that are hot just for the sake of being hot. What I like are the flavors that accompany the heat and the way it all works together to enhance whatever dish it’s being eaten with,” Hong shared.
“If I had to pick one, my favorite way to eat our Gochujang is in a lettuce wrap. I sometimes use more of it than actual lettuce. Hey, there’s no shame in a little mid-meal forehead sweat,” Crofoot stated.
Hong and Crofoot say they started toying with the idea of creating sauces about four years ago after experiencing amazing, traditional Korean food created by Angela’s mom. The couple wanted their kids to embrace their Korean heritage and learn how to cook traditional dishes. A staple of Korean cooking is Gochujang.
Hong and Crofoot say after countless test batches in their kitchen, they came up with two gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan and free-from-high-fructose-corn-syrup Gochujang sauces, both of which got the nod of approval from her mom, and recently, the recognition of Southern Living Magazine in its Best of 2016 awards issue.
I next turned to Marisa Wiruhayarn of Tasty Thai, maker of the Primal Cry sauce. Wiruhayarn fits the demographic of an Asian immigrant who brought her love of a spicy Thai sauce with her. For Wiruhayarn, though, Primal Cry was decades in the making, as she arrived in the U.S. in 1987, but didn’t bottle her sauce until 2013.
“We thought about bottling the sauce three years after we opened our first restaurant,” Wiruhayarn recalled. “Customers kept telling us how good the sauce was. So, we starting bottling it in 2013 and sold it as the customers checked out.”
Wiruhayarn describes Primal Cry as having a balance between hot, sweet and sour sauce that enhances rather than overpowers food. She says it’s great with steak, shrimp, or crab, and adds, “When you have a cold, add a little Primal Cry into some chicken noodle soup.”
Like Hong and Crofoot with their Korean Gochujang, Wiruhayarn isn’t interested in a sauce that sears palate and leaves you crying and grasping for milk (milk soothes the burn, not water). For her, it’s about layers of flavor, the right amount of heat, and the authenticity of a Thai hot sauce that would feel as at home in her native Thailand as it does here in the U.S.
“I want the customers to know that this sauce is locally made right here in Kansas City with fresh ingredients. I also don’t want them to be afraid to try it because it really does have a nice level of spiciness,” Wiruhayarn shared.
I was going to delve into the area of how scientists measure spice levels, with something called carbon nonotubes. That discussion would have included a detailed look at the relative heat value in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), named In honor of Wilbur L. Scoville, and would have at least touched upon the substance that makes hot sauce so pungent, a group of chemicals called Capsaicinoids. Perhaps those four lines will shed some light on why I ultimately decided to leave my discussion of hot sauces at the surface, on the palate, exactly where it should be.
You can learn more about Primal Cry and Tasty Thai by visiting https://www.kctastythai.com/.
Born with Seoul products can be explored and purchased at http://www.bornwithseoul.com/#bornwithseoul.
Here’s hoping you have a smoking hot summer!
Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.