Boutique hot sauce producers are changing the landscape of the industry, tempting palates through their own combinations of heat and flavor. No longer are companies restricted to one style of hot sauce; many infuse exotic ingredients like tamarind, shallots, mangos, tequila, blueberries.
The hot sauce business is booming nationwide. The yearly Scovie Awards (named after the chili pepper heat scale invented in 1912 by pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville) which take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico bring together nearly 100 professional judges to rank and rate competitors in the hot sauce market.
Locally, there are a handful of small companies working to put Northeast Florida on the Scovie map.
Evil Seed Hot Sauce began in 2012 and they have already made a huge impact with several award-winning hot sauces. Evil Seed’s sauces have been featured on The Food Network, mentioned in The New York Times, and written about in The Huffington Post.
Some of Evil Seed’s flagship sauces include the world’s first pure black sauce, the “Big Evil Bacon BBQ” sauce, and their “Mighty Monsters & Mortal Men” which is a Blueberry Mango Hot Sauce containing the world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper.
Evil Seed’s motto, “Live Good. Eat Evil,” is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the inner heavy metal head in all of us. Co-owner Patrick McGill with his big beard, dark sunglasses, and occasional devil outfit lends his image to the brand’s marketing cause.
“We want people to laugh with us as they repeat the name … and we relish the chance to tell them of the benefits of Hot Sauce & spicy foods,” says McGill. “We live by our motto because food, like life, should be spiced up, and enjoyed to the fullest. We like people to know that we don’t make sauces hot, just for the sake of being hot, we want you to enjoy your meal, with some added heat.”
B and D Sauce Company takes a grassroots approach to creating hot sauce — they’re growing their own specialty peppers called Bahamian Bird Peppers. Inspired by the food and flavors they experienced on a vacation in the Bahamas, co-owners Danny Colon and Barry Skitsko tested their green thumbs and grew a small batch of the peppers. The pair then hand-funneled their harvest to make a small batch of hot sauce. The response was favorable, so now they’re growing an acre of peppers that will be ready for harvest and production in October.
In addition to growing their own peppers, Colon and Skitsko insist on fermenting the peppers in ceramic crock pots for a month to extract maximum flavor before blending with ingredients and apple cider vinegar. The uniqueness of pepper and process make a difference.
“Most artisan hot sauces, for the most part, are pretty different,” says Danny Colon. “The pepper that we are using is very labor intensive so it’s pretty hard to find. There are not many hot sauces made with it. Nothing against the [corporate hot sauces], but anyone who asks for hot sauce at a restaurant or for dinner is not looking for the corporate sauces — they’re looking for something unique.”
B and D’s flagship recipe “Batch #5” is crafted for more of the general hot sauce enthusiast. But, for heat enthusiasts, a “XXX” version of the batch is in the works that will have approximately three times the amount of heat.
A staple condiment at many Northeast Florida diners, Cowgill’s Hot Sauce keeps it in the family. “Big D” Danny Cowgill and his wife, Brenda are the patriarch and matriarch of the Cowgill’s Hot Sauce brand and legends of the Palm Valley area. Originally the house hot sauce for the Palm Valley Fish Camp, the demand for Cowgill’s soon grew beyond the demand of the restaurant. The company has grown into a full-fledged family operation as the next generation of Cowgill sons and cousins have joined in the family trade. Cowgill’s flagship recipe is a datil pepper sauce, but they’ve expanded their line with a habanero, a datil mustard, and jalapeño hot sauces.
As Northeast Florida continues to cultivate its foodie culture, these hot sauce companies, as well as those coming onto the market, stand a good shot of becoming staples in local kitchens and beyond.
For more information on any of these hot sauces, visit their websites: