Hey folks, it’s christmas shopping season again and, while I’m a little more prepared this year, I’m sure that at least a few of you still need my advice. So, this being the first thursday of december, it’s time for the third of my yearly recaps.
Recaps that, for those of you who’re new to this site, focus heavily on the giftability of the sauces and such that I’ve tried that year.
Last year, I introduced the idea of ordering those products by type, rather than time or heat, and I intend to do the same again today. So, if there’s a certain sort of item that your friends or family will particularly enjoy, feel free to skim ahead until you catch the appropriate topic heading. I’ll put them in bold specially.
But, before we get to what I’d recommend as a gift, let’s kick off this year’s summary with what I wouldn’t.
Oh, and click the sauce and company names for my reviews and their sites (if they’re in the UK), respectively.
Not So Giftable:
As the new heading of the year, I think that this one deserves a bit of an explanation. Not everything under it is bad, or even something that I wouldn’t recommend. Some are perfectly tasty but just not very special, or too misleadingly labelled to give to someone uninformed about them.
To that end, both Mahi’s sauce selection and Doctor Burnorium’s Roasted Garlic Ghost Psycho Juice have found their way here. Neither is bad but that particular Psycho Juice failed to deliver the flavour that it claimed and most of Mahi Fine Foods’ products were just solid renditions of somewhat standard flavours. They weren’t standout sauces, apart from the Green Savi, and that one would only wow the biggest of chilli nerds, like myself.
Just as with the two brands of red sriracha that I’ve had this year, I would potentially recommend them, just not as a christmas present.
And I quite simply cannot recommend Daddy Cool’s Hybrid sauce, Morrisons’ 📽️ Reaper Cheese 📽️, Grim Reaper Foods’ Sepulchre or 📽️ Annihilator 📽️, Soods’ Chipotle sauce or Rubies in the Rubble’s Blueberry BBQ, because they just aren’t available anymore. Unless you grab Sood’s in their full gift pack, I guess.
They were, however, all great products that reflect well upon their makers. You probably know Morrisons already but do give the others a look.
As for what I actually thought was bad, though, James’ Chocolates’ Chipotle “Chillies”, La Terra’s Chihuahua and Wiga Wagaa’s Coriander & Lime Sauce were all rather underwhelming. Original Juan’s 📽️ Pain 100% 📽️ was much too salty, CaJohn’s 📽️ Magma 📽️ bordered on flavourless and Bitter B🔥🔥tards’ 🔥 cocktail bitters 🔥 weren’t much better. Yet I’ll happily take that lack of flavour over the vast bitterness of Thousand Hills’ sauces or the sheer gross taste and texture of Sierra Nevada’s Chipotle Piña.
Not that even they compare to how much I suffered for my 📽️ Sonic Forces review 📽️.
Price’s Spices’ 📽️ Bombay Potato Mix 📽️ was excellent but only made a few portions so, to me at least, wasn’t particularly gifty. Just as Nestle’s 📽️ ruby chocolate Kitkat 📽️ is a single serving that would be well suited to use as a stocking filler, if York Chocolate Story didn’t do this new, pink chocolate better.
And, to end off this section, we have Pimento Gingembre’s 📽️ fiery ginger ale 📽️ and the various flavours of Nix & Kix, which would both be much better as a non-alcoholic celebration drink come new year’s.
For the Fruit Lovers:
A popular category among producers and one of my own favourite sections, this one’s going to be at least as well populated as the last but I’ll try to get through it as quick as I can.
This year saw only two mango sauces – East Coast Chilli Co’s Passion and La Terra’s Del Tropico – but both were fantastic. The E triple C’s was light, mild and refreshing, while La Terra’s used mexican mangos for a powerfully sweet, fruity and almost syrupy taste.
Then, onto our next fruit, we had a savoury and sweet, Pineapple, Scotch Bonnet & Sesame Oil Sauce from The Crafty Bustard, perfect for caribbean food. Not to mention Tubby Tom’s fantastic 📽️ ‘Nuff Love 📽️ sauce, Price’s Spices’ much hotter but still incredibly tasty, India Joywala chutney for strong curry fans and Holly and the Ivy’s fresh fruit salsa.
Edible Ornamentals and The Chillees made some really high quality marmalade for lemon lovers, while Holly and the Ivy used the same citrus in salt. If lemon is what the person you’re buying for wants, though, I’d also highly recommend Grim Reaper Foods’ Alchemy sweet chilli sauce for the marmalade-like flavour of its chilli.
You can get seeds for that aji lemon drop in a fair few places but I’d like to give mention to Victoriana Nursery Gardens this year because of everything else that they had at their chilli festival. Their numex lemon spice jalapeños would also go down really well with this particular audience but, again, you can only really give them as a christmas gift in seed form.
Yet the two weirdest fruit flavours of the year came from Dorset Chilli Shop and, making her second appearance in this section, Saucey Lady – The first with a kiwi sauce that was perfect for pouring over fish and salads or adding heat to all styles of curry, while the second was more suited to rich, dark meat dishes like burgers. In fact, only to those sorts of dishes, so far as I could tell.
Saucey Lady‘s combination of scotch bonnet, rhubarb and piña colada in her Fireman’s Watch is something that I’d only really recommend for those self-acclaimed grillmasters, due to its lack of versatility, I’m sad to say. Its rhubarb held far more potential than it seemed to reach.
For the Smoke Lovers:
If fruit is popular, smoke is ubiquitous. Almost every company out there has at least one smoky sauce but, for whatever reason, I don’t seem to have had that many good ones this year. Contrary to my expectations, this portion of my recap post is going to be quite a bit shorter.
Starting with the second salt in my comparison post, Wiltshire Chilli Farm’s was very mild but absolutely stunningly flavourful. The combination of rich anchos, roast garlic and smoky chipotle goes with pretty darn near everything so you really can’t go wrong with that one.
While Grim Reaper Foods’ inclusion of trinidad scorpions in The Raven, despite not being quite as overwhelming as in some sauces, makes for a product that people might need to be more careful with. Yet its mix of superhot chilli, smoke and savoury fruitiness is very hard to find, making it all the more special to those who might seek such an item.
Gran Luchito provided a remarkably flavourful 📽️ chipotle mayo 📽️ with a smooth texture and building smoke that was terrific for dipping chips or topping meats.
And, on the barbecue side, the Grim Reaper delivered again with their Wraith – An unusual, oil-based concoction that was deep, rich, woody, smoky and decently, but not overwhelmingly, sweet. All at a more reasonable, yet still hot, heat.
Should your gift’s recipients want hotter, though, East Coast Chilli Co created a delicious blend of sweet, dark and super hot with a teriyaki-style sauce called “Midnight 21”. Essentially an asian, soy-based form of barbecue which, in this case, also packed some serious roasted garlic. Not actually smoky but worthy of a mention alongside our other barbecue item.
For Garlic & Sriracha Lovers:
For this category, I’ve already said that I won’t be including any red srirachas since, regardless of the brand, they’re just too common in supermarkets to feel special.
Flying Goose’s 📽️ green and yellow versions 📽️, though, they’re different. Immediately obviously different, even, in a way that’s sure to excite any fan of the more typical sort.
And, of course, the above-mentioned Midnight 21 was just as garlicky as any sriracha, with a far more roasted flavour. Both it and the rest of East Coast Chilli Co’s sauce range would go down a treat with this type of person. Though I would especially recommend their “Chance”, so long as the recipient isn’t vegetarian, for its creamy texture and ability to go with so much.
For the Green Fiends:
There’s always the abnormally-coloured srirachas from the last section but green chillies, especially the under-ripe jalapeño, have far more to offer us than just them.
This year, we have seen the peppers make a 🔥📽️ mild, flavourful, multi-purpose sauce 📽️🔥 from Chilli of the Valley, a vinegary extra hot from Mahi Fine Foods, an unusually-coloured and spicy sweet chilli style from Devon Chilli Man, Grim Reaper Foods’ mildest and most thai, citrussy sauce, a smooth and slightly spicy tomatillo one from La Terra and a powerful grenadeful of green cayenne pulp, made by Smoke Hall Foods, state-side.
Personally, my favourites of these were Chilli of the Valley’s 🔥📽️ Hulk Juice 📽️🔥, Devon Chilli Man’s Jalapeño Creaper and Grim Reaper Foods’ Rookie Goblin, of which the first and last coincidentally both had a fun Marvel superhero theme.
But, if you’re going for impressive visuals and are ok with import pricing, nothing compares to the custom bottle of that Marine Green.
For the Mustard Men and Women:
This category’s going to be another small one, since I’m not the biggest of mustard lovers myself, but the fact that it also includes most caribbean sauces will help bump up the numbers a bit. And, with that in mind, we might as well start with the hottest caribbean-style item of the year: The Chilli Pepper Company’s Dragon’s Breath.
That one was a seriously strong version of an earlier sauce that they made, using the new and unstable, yet incredibly hot, dragon’s breath chilli for more fruitiness and fire. For those who want a smooth, mustard-based sauce with a tonne of heat, that Dragon’s Breath, or maybe Burning Desire’s Solaris, would be the obvious picks but I’m at least reasonably sure that you can still get the previous version of The Chilli Pepper Company’s dragon’s breath sauce, too.
A version that was far milder and came with undertones of apple to pair particularly well with meats and sausages. For the average mustard fan, that one’s a pretty safe bet.
But as said, I’m not the average mustard fan. I’m a fan of herbs, spices and specific pepper strains. My go to heat is a super hot, not medium but I’m not lying when I say that my reason for picking Hot Headz’ Mustard & Naga as my favourite in this section was purely flavour. I greatly enjoy the hints of ghost pepper beneath its earthy, somewhat floral, mustard base but, more than that, I really appreciate the touch of rosemary that helps blend them.
The Mustard & Naga won’t be for everyone but it’s a darn good blend of serious heat and serious flavour, that I can personally prove has appeal outside of its sauce genre.
But there’s one more caribbean variety that I nearly forgot to mention. Mostly because it doesn’t contain any mustard. Yet I’m putting it here all the same because alongside the other caribbean sauces is where The Chilli Pepper Company’s Witches’ Brew belongs.
Its blend of strong, savoury cinnamon and hot, fermented scotch bonnet makes for something in between Tabasco and a jamaican jerk marinade that really stands out from the rest of the market.
For the Cheese Heads:
The tip off that I got about Shahnaz Food Products’ Mr Naga brought me the first of this category’s products. A super hot pickle with a pure naga and dry spice flavour that definitely needs something to tame it. To me, this pickle belongs in an achari curry or a sweet honey glaze but, for those more used to slightly bitter, indian pickles, I could definitely see it going thinly over cheese.
There wasn’t much milder than that for chutneys this year but Simpson’s Seeds’ Arrowhead Salsa could probably function as a slightly weaker one, with its sweet, chilli and tomato base and strong overtones of black pepper. An oddly italian flavour that went great on cheesier cooking.
Unlike this year’s other italian-tasting sauce, the 📽️ Wet Fart 📽️. A sauce that actually contained at least two different types of cheese, yet went better with spaghetti bolognese than on macaroni cheese.
No, if you want a product that’ll add extra cheese to you or your relatives’ cooking, my recommendations would be for the highly mature chilli cheddars that the Great British Cheese Company produces or for Fire Foods’ delicious, yet weirdly mild, 📽️ Cheese on Ghost 📽️ spread.
For the Snack Addicts:
Cowley’s Fine Food sent a few more vegan and meat-based jerky items my way this year and their smokier sweet potato offering was honestly rather good but my personal favourites from them will still be the two mushroom jerkys that I had last year – Their jalapeño ones and their Shiiiitake! That’s Hot!.
This year’s beef jerky will still satisfy those looking for hot meat but it might be a little underwhelming if the recipient knows its chilli. It wasn’t nearly as hot or as bold-flavoured as most trinidad scorpion products.
For the Pure Heat Seekers:
Last year’s Critical Mass is still one of the hottest and most interesting natural sauces around but Hot Headz’ 📽️ Trinidad Scorpion sauce 📽️ gives it a run for its money with a ferociously fruity and acidic flavour to match.
Not that that’s the only 10/10 scorpion sauce from me this year – The Scorpion Strike imported by Aussie Hot Sauce was near identical in heat and, while not as good elsewhere, would be perfect for dark meats, roasts and barbecues. Just pick whichever you think people would prefer.
But maybe they’ve already had scorpion sauces and maybe you already got them Critical Mass last year. What then?
And of course, while I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re absolutely certain, there are the two Wilshire Chilli Farm extract sauces that I got for my birthday. Both a strong blend of bourbon, garlic and tomato with a tonne of extract giving them some extra darkness and FAR more heat than nature intended.
For the Adventurers:
Fancy a taste of elsewhere or just something really out of the ordinary? Or perhaps you know someone who does? Then you’re looking at the right section.
I mentioned back in the garlic one how Opal Sunshine’s selection of spices gave her original sauce a unique belizean depth but it really is a taste of her home country. One that’s quite different to Marie Sharp’s take.
Or, if you’d rather something mexican, Laterra’s tomatillo sauce and the 🔥 Habanero one 🔥 that Grim Reaper Foods import showcase two different stages in a uniquely mexican fruit’s ripening process, while Laterra’s Del Tropico makes use of a distinctive, regional mango strain.
Grim Reaper Foods‘ jalapeño sauce is a non-sweet, non-sriracha take on something unmistakably thai, while The Chilli Pepper Company provide a unique take on caribbean flavours with their savoury cinnamon sauce.
Not that we didn’t also see a slightly more traditional caribbean blend this year in the form of Crazy B🔥🔥tard’s Blue Label scotch bonnet sauce.
And Bunsters’ Sh🔥t the Bed is entirely its own thing but it could only ever have come out of australia.
So, doubling down on the crazy, we also have a kiwi sauce with thai chillies and inspiration, coming out of Dorset Chilli Shop, a pair of peanut butters from Edible Ornamentals and Holly and the Ivy and a grapefruit sauce from Cambridge Chilli Co that actually turned vodka into a flavour. Not to mention Edible Ornamentals’ other wacky idea, tea infused marmalade.
But, for these folks, I’d also consider looking at Victoriana Nursery Gardens for gifts. Their Chillies might not be in season right now but they should still have seeds for many of their unusual pepper strains and any adventurous eaters with a green thumb will have a great time caring for their own special chilli plants.
For Reliability & Versatility:
Out questing your way through the food world but need a little heat that you can rely on? Try Bang Bang Chilli Oil for tiny drops of extreme heat and ghost pepper flavour in a handy, travel-sized container.
Or, for a simple versatile flavour that can add a familiar taste and mild heat to your food, Wiltshire Chilli Farm’s chipotle salt and Fat Man Chilli Co’s slow roasted tomato ketchup definitely have the potential to become household staples.
For the Kitchen Alchemists:
El Yucateco’s Black Label Reserve, imported by Mex Grocer, is the perfect example of this category – A product that’s pretty awful on its own but has a tonne of potential as a way to add smoke to a dish when you’re cooking it or act as a marinade to add some serious charred flavour.
Yet most of the others that belong here do also have use elsewhere. East Coast Chilli Co’s Midnight 21 is a wonderful teriyaki-style pour on but is still at its best as a glaze. And Laterra’s tomatillo sauce only comes with the option to be used as a tomatillo substitute in cooking. It doesn’t have to be one if you don’t want it to.
I’m sure that there are others that I’ve missed but, truth be told, it’s 4am as I’m writing this and I need to be up in the morning. I’m gonna skip to the last product in this category and finish the whole post off with my usual top fives. Hope you don’t mind too much and hopefully I’ll have the time to pre-write my christmas list next year.
That final item, however, is 📽️ Satan’s Sh🔥t 📽️ , from Chilli Pepper Pete. It’s brutally hot, being an extract-based paste, but its still usable in tiny quantities, added late on in the cooking process. Its aftertaste is bitter but its initial taste is deliciously berry-heavy, so it probably has a lot of potential in the hands of a serious heat lover willing to experiment with their cooking.
There has been more this year than ever, what with the addition of my video reviews on the side, so it’s been quite a struggle to work everything into one post. I’ve done my best but do let me know if I’ve missed anything and I’ll update accordingly.
And then I’ll struggle through all this recap writing again next year, too. For now, though, here’s the final cut.
Top Five Giftable items of 2018:
-Crazy B🔥🔥tard’s Blue Label for the savoury scotch bonnet lovers and those seeking a taste of the caribbean – As long as the sweary name won’t offend them.
-And, of course, Victoriana Nursery Gardens’ seeds to please the true chilli enthusiasts who grow their own and are always excited by new, rare strains.
My Personal Favourites this Year:
-Laterra’s Del Tropico, as it really manages to make the most of a different strain of one of my favourite fruit.
-Ashley Foods’ 📽️ Mad Dog 25th Anniversary Gold Collector’s Edition 📽️ for when I really want to push myself and still enjoy the flavour. Omitted from the main post due to its lack of availability in the UK right now.
And the Best Stocking Fillers:
-The Mini Jar Company version of any of Holly and the Ivy’s excellent products, be they hot or not.