Greetings everyone and welcome back to another tuesday chilli review.
Now that we’re well into my third year, I’ve covered a lot of condiments and struck a healthy balance between local and imported foodstuffs but there’s one respect in which I’ve been a little remiss: The vast majority of my imports have come from a single company. From Hot Headz.
And sure, they are the UK’s largest chilli product importer but they aren’t the only one. So today, as a small start to setting things straight, I’m going to look at a couple of sauces from Mex Grocer instead.
Now, if you don’t know about Mex Grocer, they’re an online store who’re totally worth checking out for their 100% corn tortillas and other such authentic mexican ingredients. Ones that are nigh impossible to get hold of elsewhere.
They don’t specialise in chilli products but they do stock a decent little range of popular mexican sauces and today’s are exactly that – Mexican sauces imported into the country through them that I have never seen sold anywhere else. And that’s pretty much all that they have in common.
One’s a popular store brand in the states and the other I’ve never heard of before. One’s habanero based and the other simply uses serranos to compliment its traditional mexican main ingredient, the tomatillo – A distant relative of the tomato that’s popular in salsa verde.
The second uses a clear label to show off its seed-filled green sauce, while the first hides its dark grey contents behind even darker packaging. And that seedy tomatillo sauce comes in a whopping 250ml bottle, compared to El Yucateco’s mere 120. Yet it’s also worth noting that El Yucateco’s bottle is a custom design with their logo extruded from the glass, just below the neck.
Both have put a lot of effort into presentation but again, they’ve gone about it quite differently.
Laterra, the makers of the tomatillo sauce, seem to be all about getting that authentic, traditional feel and letting the product do the talking, while El Yucateco focus more on simple, bold-coloured designs that promote brand recognition.
And, while they both look good in their packaging, I can’t really say the same for out of it:
Laterra’s Savoury Mexican Tomatillo Sauce is relatively transparent once it’s on my spoon and looks very fresh, with clearly visible herbs. Almost like a dressing, despite being rather thicker than one. It flows easily, still, and it looks rather inviting, almost as though it was made for salad.
Whereas El Yucateco’s Black Label Reserve is an opaque and sickly-looking shade of grey, with fine, ashen-black specks floating in it. It doesn’t look like it’s meant to be eaten at all and the lack of any smell but intense smoke to it does nothing to change my mind.
I’m not so shallow as to let its appearance sway my final judgement, though, so I fight back my instincts and down the spoonful, regretting it immediately.
Sometimes looks can be deceiving but, when it comes to this black sauce, they’re pretty dead on. Its initial flavour is a strong vinegar tang with mild habanero hints but that very quickly gives way to an intense, long lingering taste of smoke and ash.
I’ve heard some people liken extract sauce to licking an ash tray but, to my mouth, the Black Label Reserve is far more like that than anything else that I’ve tried. It is, quite simply, disgusting by itself or as a pour on sauce.
Yet it’s also far from unusable.
In small quantities, spread throughout a meal, it gives a wonderful smoky char and, to my surprise, its high
carries really well.
Stirred into a con carne, this sauce adds both a satisfying burn and some lovely dry smoke for extra depth of flavour. As a marinade to meats, it grants them a great barbecue char without any of the effort and it makes tofu far more enjoyable, too.
In particular, I’d recommend the now-smoked tofu in a szechuan sauce or some marinaded chicken in enchiladas but there are plenty of other things to try out if those don’t take your fancy.
As a sauce, today’s El Yucateco one isn’t good but, as an ingredient, it’s fantastic! It’s basically a better liquid smoke with chilli.
So how does Laterra’s concoction compare? It doesn’t. It’s a completely different style of product.
It’ll work as an ingredient in place of fresh tomatillos, I suppose, since it is so heavy on their smooth, green, gently vegetably, yet also almost creamy taste. But that’s not what it’s meant for, or all that it has going on.
No, its flavour may be mostly tomatillo but it also has a decent
to it and you can tell that it’s been preserved with vinegar.
It does not, however, have the flavour of any particular kind of vinegar. I’m getting none of the vaguely garlic-like, savoury molasses taste that I usually find in cane vinegar, nor any fruitiness. Just that little acidic zing.
I don’t particularly taste the spices, either, but I most certainly am getting the herb. A healthy dose of coriander leaf that blends gorgeously into the already smooth, green and fresh flavour of the sauce.
A flavour that lends itself to use on fish, chicken or maybe something with a little bit of fresh veg sweetness to it, though I’ve personally found it a tad too tangy to top my tacos.
It’s a great way to experience the classic mexican flavour of the tomatillos, which is completely unlike that of their tomato cousins.
So, to Mex Grocer: Thanks for importing today’s two enjoyable items into the UK. I would never have had chance to try them without you.
And, to everyone else reading, I hope this review has been both enjoyable and informative. Here are the ingredients lists to finish off.
Laterra’s Savoury Mexican Tomatillo Sauce contains:
Tomatillo (82.15%), coriander, serrano chilli, water, salt, cane vinegar and special blend of Laterra spices.
Which doesn’t really require any further explanation. Unlike the list for El Yucateco’s Black Label Reserve:
Water, habanero peppers (40%), salt, antioxidant (330), acidity regulator (260), stabiliser (415), garlic, onion powder, preservative (211) and antioxidant (385)
Those numbers, while not listed clearly as such on the original mexican ingredients list (Mex Grocer’s stick on one solves this), are E numbers. Ones for Citric acid, acetic acid, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate and calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetate.
I’m familiar with the first three, being vitamin c, the component of vinegar that gives its acidity and a common, naturally produced sauce thickener that also acts similarly to an emulsifier. All of those are relatively harmless ingredients that I went into more detail on in my green sriracha comparison.
As is the sodium benzoate I mentioned during my scorpion jerky review.
For calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetate, though, I had to do a little more research. It’s an antioxidant, as the label stated, that’s also known as ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid, or EDTA for short.
It’s a purely synthetic compound that prevents air-based food spoilage and is also used to treat heavy metal poisoning. It is banned in australia because high quantities cause vomiting, muscle cramps and internal bleeding but it’s totally safe in smaller amounts and is the very last ingredient in this sauce.
It’s not a big deal to me and shouldn’t be for the average consumer but it is another reason to recommend sparing use as a flavouring for your cooking over slathering it on at the end. And, if you suffer from anaemia or food intolerances of any sort, you have a very real reason to avoid it, since this compound is known to aggravate both of those.
For those of you without such existing conditions, though, there’s no reason to be put off by this preservative. Just don’t try eating El Yucateco’s Black Label by the spoonful like I did for this post.