The hot sauce folks who get it, get it. NPR reported back in 2012 that people who love the spicy sauce tend to be more adventurous and thrill-seeking, and that many actually crave that back-of-the-throat stinging sensation. There's also the popular YouTube talk show series Hot Ones (now in its 17th season!) where a surprising number of (masochist) celebs take on the challenge of eating chicken wings accompanied by fiery sauces that gradually increase in Scoville levels. As a heat lover who grew up on spicy Korean foods, it's even incredible for me to see specialty hot sauce shops like Heatonist and artisanal chili oil brands like Fly By Jing finding a strong audience in a rather polarizing marketplace — especially because the folks who can't do hot sauces are very much out there and very anti. But, for true "hot" heads, spice is life — and we won't have it any other way.
The main concern, however, especially for those who strive to eat cleaner, is that many of these condiments and sauces are packed with artificial flavorings, concentrates, thickeners, and powders. It's that weird mouthfeel you get when a sauce coats your tongue with that "chemical"-y aftertaste. So hot sauce and seasoning brand Zesti sought to handcraft small batches using real food ingredients — think: actual fruits, vegetables, and spices — to concoct "freaky" fun flavors like Freshly Grated Parm Garlic and Rum Boat Banana Chipotle. And, for our readers who wanna dip their tongue in these concoctions, Zesti is offering 15% off sitewide with the code REFINERY15, now through June 13.
Colin McGuire, founder of Zesti and a bonafide spice man told me, "I love dipping sauces, hot sauces, and sauces in general — I'm just a sauce lover who was always mixing hot sauce with ranch to make spicy, garlic ranch specifically ... for pizza and Italian food. The chefs I hired came up with amazing recipes for my first two ideas and then the company was started." As the concepts guy, McGuire will come up with different flavor mixtures he's considering and then tell his team of six chefs and commercial kitchens something along the lines of, say, "'I want a spicy BBQ sauce made with real whiskey and real spicy peppers but I don't want all the sugar that BBQ sauce typically has' and then the chefs come up with different ideas. Then, I select what I think is a delicious concept and we get into testing for that flavor," McGuire tells me of his process.
I had the pleasure of testing two hot sauces — both of which threw a party in my mouth. The Freshly Grated Parmesean Garlic, as you can imagine, leans savory and complements a cheesy pasta dish with supreme excellence. The Rum Boat Banan Chipotle, which I think I enjoyed more for its unique blend of sweet banana and fiery habanero, was similarly fantastic on pasta, but also on pizzas, guac, and rice bowls. While these aren't exactly the spiciest hot sauces I've ever had, the real treat comes from being able to actually taste the medley of flavors, and not have it overpowered by the heat of the peppers. In other words, Zesti hot sauces aren't made to ruin your meals, which I know some hot sauces do.
Hot sauces are basically pumping through my veins at any given hour, but the most delightful and surprising Zesti product had to be the Egg Enlightenment Breakfast Seasoning. Normally I am fine with just salt, pepper, and cracked pepper flakes on my avocado toasts and eggs — but a dash of this Zesti mix really took things to another level. (I'll also say that this seasoning tastes divine when sprinkled on popcorn.) And for summertime grill masters and picnic planners, Zesti also offers a variety of ranch, BBQ, and mustard flavors infused with standout ingredients like craft beer, whiskey, honey, apples, and brown sugar (along with packed-in punches of sport peppers, habanero, and even ghost peppers) that should be on every cookout list.
When I ask McGuire what kind of challenges he faces as an all-natural ingredients sauce maker, he tells me that using real chunks of food often clogs the machines, which is why he prefers to get his flavors out to the world the old-fashioned way — by hand. "[Clogged machines] is the reason why 'big sauce' companies don't really make sauces that has chunks of food in it and they rely on powders, concentrated, and artificial flavorings. Humans make our sauce in small batches, not automated machines." He goes on to say that while Zesti sauce might be a tad more expensive than the generic brands in the supermarkets, it's because "real food is more expensive than using artificial flavorings and concentrated flavors [...] We can't make huge volumes of sauce as efficiently as the big sauce companies. But that is why we've sold out 10+ times since we launched just one year ago. We'll always make sure that we use real food in our sauce."
If you want to treat your tastebuds to a sizzling and tangy experience (especially for all the summer BBQs that are around the corner), use our exclusive 15% off code REFINERY15 at Zesti to give your tongue a taste of what true heat can taste like — without any of the sus stuff.
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