By Adrian Luna
Does pain usually feel this good? My mind was filling with anticipation as I tried to sleep the night before the Albuquerque International Fiery Foods and BBQ Show. Like an impatient child waiting for the gates of Disneyland to open, I was counting down the hours and minutes until I could taste the scalding fury of chilies from around the world. Being born and raised in the great state of New Mexico, when I get cut, I naturally bleed Red and Green. So believe me when I say, I can handle the heat, or so I thought. A quick and interesting fact. Chile peppers heat content is measured on a chart known as the Scoville scale. A bell pepper ranks the lowest with a 0 on the scale. A Peperoncini ranks around 100.
Many different peppers climb the Scoville scale, but only one ranks as the Guinness Book of World Records “Worlds Hottest”. The Infamous Bhut (Ghost Pepper) Jolokia, with its whopping 1,000,000 heat units, was dethroned as champion several times in the past few years. The new kid on the block is known as the Carolina Reaper. Just when you thought things couldn't get any hotter. The Reaper was measured at a staggering 2,000,000 heat units. In my years going to the show, when the Ghost pepper first hit the spotlight, many companies were sacrificing flavor in favor of heat. So for quite awhile the market was flooded with what I like to call “Prank Sauce”. Absolutely no flavor at all and it felt like you just ingested a hot coal.
This year, I was pleased to say, was completely different. Not only has some companies perfected the fine balance of heat to flavor ratio, they broke it down to a science. You have to admit, you just can't throw in a couple of Habanero peppers or a Bhut Jolokia in a bottle and call it hot sauce. First of all, the Habanero and Ghost Chilies are definitely not the greatest tasting peppers around. And if I wanted that kind of feeling, I would rather drive all day on my friend's Harley, then quickly hop off and start licking the red hot exhaust pipe. After only a few hours of sleep, I woke up, took a shower, then inhaled my cup of French press coffee. I grabbed my press badge, jumped into the trusty “Mom Mobile” and traveled the strenuous two minute journey to Sandia Casino. I forgot to mention that I put clothes on before I left! The first thing I thought to myself was, “Why am I standing in line, when I have a press badge?” Like a knight in shining armor rushing to save his damsel in distress, I did nothing of the sort, and calmly made my way into the conference hall, keeping the Scoville Scale in mind as a sort of sick and twisted blue print of self torture.
I started out from the bottom to the top. I stumbled upon New Mexico's own, The Old Windmill Dairy. Making award winning artisan cheeses, the Old Windmill has an amazing selection of cows and goat milk cheeses. Five different flavors of Triple Cream Style Brie, Fresh Cheese Curds, Mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses and a various selection of cheese spreads. A definite must try for the lovers of all things dairy ( http://www.theoldwindmilldairy.com). Next we have Scorpion Gourmet Hot Sauce. Using the Scotch Bonnet pepper as the main ingredient in their hot sauces, this was my first example of heat perfectly balanced with flavor. Scorpion Hot Sauce is offered in Medium or Hot, it's 100% organic, has no preservatives, completely vegetarian and is gluten free (http://www.scorpiongourmet.com).
Finally my curiosity was getting the better of me. As I walked the floor sampling the plethora of tasty salsas, hot sauces and various confections, several people quickly ran past me with tears streaming down their faces, making low guttural moaning sounds and mumbling what sounded like the word “Grinders”. This, my friends, is where my story gets a little hazy. I tuned to the nearest person and asked them, “Point me in the direction of where those people just came from!” With a sinister smile on his face, he gladly pointed me in the right direction. Based out of Kansas City, Missouri, we have Grinders Signature Hot Sauces (http://www.grinderspizza.com). I cautiously approached the booth as I saw the gentleman produce four bottles from behind the counter. Like a sideshow carny, he began to give his “Step right up” speech and he started handing out small spoons. I swear I heard him say that these bottles were lined up on a level of pain scale. First we had Wimpy Sauce, a standard Mild sauce great on flavor very little heat. Next, we had Molten Sauce, almost the same flavor as the Wimpy, but with a bit more of a kick. Thirdly, we had the Near Death Sauce, not the same texture or flavor as the first two. I was expecting just heat, but instead I was greeted with an amazing, bold, and flavorful hot sauce, with an even bolder heat trail. It hurt a little, but was still bearable.
Lastly, we have Death Nectar. Instead of squeezing a little dab of sauce on our spoons, he starts to pass out toothpicks. He squirts a dab of death nectar into a small cup and he asks us to dip the toothpicks and lick. Without hesitation, I dipped and licked. Instantly, I felt the top of my head start to heat up. Before I even had a chance to say anything, my vision began to twist and turn like I was in a 350 degree oven. I was seeing heat trails floating off of everything! My knees got weak as my body turned on the autopilot and I made my way to the 94 Rock Ice Cream and Popsicle booth. Biting into ice cream sandwiches and rolling the pieces around my mouth to ease the pain, I felt like I just ate Satan's tube sock filled with thermite!
After what seemed like an eternity, the pain went away. That is when I came to the conclusion that I had enough of the self-induced suffering. As I stumbled back to my car, I could only tell myself, “I can't wait to come back and do this again tomorrow.”