Scottish Syrup

Another week has arrived, dear readers, and it’s time for another review. But, this time, it isn’t just any old tuesday. It’s shrove tuesday – Now more commonly known as pancake day – and that’s my favourite food-based holiday. So you’d better believe I’ve got something special, sweet and spicy to slather over my breakfast, lunch and dinner:

This is Mack Chilli’s Ginger Ninja and, as much as it may look like a thai sweet sauce, the label assures me otherwise. Because it is, in fact, a chilli syrup, made from the pride of Mack’s home country and mine. The bright, orange, scottish soda that is Irn Bru.

With its appropriately orangey and almost bubblegum fruit flavour, the Bru might not be my favourite fizz but it certainly is an iconic one. And one that I still very much enjoy, despite its touch of bitter quinine.

Yet a huge part of its identity comes from that very quinine and how the subtle bitterness is brought out by the drink’s bubbles. In order to provide a sharp quality which contrasts with its sweet base flavour.

Can today’s chillies do the same?

I don’t have the highest of hopes, if I’m honest. Our last item from Mack wasn’t the best and the look of today’s does little to change that first impression. Its art may not cover two thirds of the label, this time, but it’s certainly still a chaotic mess.

The background follows a typical tartan pattern of overlapping lines of various widths, creating not quite squares in a variety of black, orange and in between shades. With an actual orange in black ninja garb, right ontop, practically guaranteeing that the art gets lost in the mix.

And, while you could perhaps argue that getting lost in the background is on brand for the fruit’s profession, it’s hard to say the same for the dark blue portions of the scottish flag patterned text. Making it hard not only to make sense of the imagery but to interpret any part of the product’s packaging.

Not that it would help much if I could, mind you, because close inspection of the back throws up set of ingredients that doesn’t even star the ginger that Mack’s syrup is named for. Instead listing:

Irn-Bru, Oranges, Sugar, Gelatine, Habanero Chillies, Lemon Drop Chillies, Scotch Bonnet Chillies.

Which does explain the fruit on the front but leaves the “Ginger Ninja” name connected only by the hair colour. And, personally, I’m not sure that’s too tasteful.

Yet it isn’t the only thing which strikes me as odd on that list. Because this is the first time that I’ve ever seen gelatine in anything spicy, other than gummy bears. And, with the number of natural gums used in hot sauce, it’s a pretty bizarre move of Mack’s to actively cut out both the vegetarian and muslim markets over a simple thickener.

Though it does make a little more sense when I see and taste the contents, themselves:

It’s a clear orange in colour, only slightly darker than the Irn Bru on which it was based, and that makes it look quite thin. Which, for a syrup, it actually is.

Yet it’s still thick enough to suspend shreds of red pepper and sticky enough to coat my pancakes, french toast and tongue. With a texture that’s noticeably enhanced by its gelatine but nothing like the horrible gumminess of excessive xanthan gum.

So, while I do still wonder if there wasn’t a way to do the same thing without the animal products, not using the usual suddenly makes a lot more sense. As does the name.

There may not be any ginger in here but the blend of lemondrop, habanero and scotch bonnet chillies provides a surprisingly similar feel to the product’s

heat. Warm and slow in the back of my throat, with a great blend of golden, fruity and citrussy flavours, in order to pair with the Ginger Ninja’s orange undertones and bubblegum Bru base.

It does wind up lacking the original drink’s quinine kick but that rooty, golden, fruity blend from the chillies works wonders to replace it and take the product in a different, yet just as welcome, direction.

And that spice, paired with the tang of the oranges, does a lot to balance out the syrup’s inherent sweetness. Which is somehow still no stronger than it was in the Jalapearno.

So, to my surprise, I would actually recommend Mack Chilli’s Ginger Ninja. At least to those of you without any dietary restrictions to get in the way. Because it makes a great addition to many desserts and will glaze meats wonderfully, as well. Albeit probably better suited to chicken, duck and fish than to the beef that Mack suggests.

And I’m not exactly sold on its use in salads, either, but it’s certainly going to liven up this year’s pancake day festivities!

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