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"You know the marriage has lasted when they buy the second bottle of Tabasco,” went a 1950s expression. That was of course before white, bored North Americans discovered there was a world beyond macaroni and cheese and TV dinners. Way back then, a drop or two of Tabasco would be used ceremoniously to embellish the requisite Sunday brunch Bloody Mary. A bottle of Tabasco in the cupboard, a clove of garlic in the fridge—my weren’t we adventurous.

These days there are hundreds of hot sauces on the market. Many are packed with papaya, sugar, tomato purée and even concentrated capsaicin, the peppery ingredient that gives these sauces their masochistic punch.

Hot flavours are measured in Scoville units and Tabasco measures 40,000 on the Scoville scale. This may sound hot but many high octane products with super-saturated capsaicin have Scoville units of a million or more! Does the world really need Dave’s Insanity or Blair’s After Death sauces? They are perfect for any recipe created by the Marquis de Sade.

Tabasco was where it started for most of us; and, after venturing into the million Scoville nuclear wasteland, it is worth getting back to. The sauce has been made by the McIlhenny family on Louisiana’s Avery Island since the end of the American Civil War. Here are the ingredients: red tabasco peppers, salt, and vinegar. The flavour is salty and earthy with a sweetness that emerges under the heat.

You can make a similar sauce at home—I use a quarter-cup of mashed fresh hot peppers, a half-teaspoon of sea salt, and a half cup of vinegar. It’s a decent table sauce that brings out a few drops of sweat on my forehead, but it will never have Tabasco’s depth of flavour, colour and fiery sweetness; and it won’t age for three years in oak barrels, as Tabasco does, before it gets served.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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