Key Ingredient

The 7 Virtues of Heat

By: The Local Palate

Hot enough for you? For those of us here in Charleston, South Carolina, the answer is self-evident. It is August. We have our very own outdoor, citywide, steam sauna. We know hot. Here at the TLP offices, we’re still sampling the wide variety of southern hot sauces that poured in for this issue’s hot sauce feature. Suffice it to say that lunch will never, ever be boring again. So, in honor of this fiery condiment, we’ve rounded up the top seven reasons we love it so.

  1. Hot sauce is good for you.
    Just check the label. Many sauces use natural ingredients, free of dyes or preservatives, some with no added salt, a healthy way to flavor your food. Hot sauces are rich with vitamins from chiles (vitamin C from green chiles, vitamin A from red ones). Hot sauces speed up your metabolism and stimulate endorphins.
  2. Hot sauce cools.
    It might seem counterintuitive to ingest hot foods on a sweltering day, but think about it: why do people who live in the hottest regions of the world eat so much spicy food? Hot sauce makes you perspire. Perspiration cools you down.
  3. Hot sauce is social.
    Not necessarily in the sense that hot sauce can gather a bunch of laughing people around one person crying in pain (sadly true), but in the sense that hot sauce elicits debate. There’s a wide world of chatty addicts out there. Check out the conversations on the Ring of Fire website, a chileheads chat room. Here in Charleston, when I picked up a load of peppers at Limehouse Produce, owner Jack Limehouse disappeared in the back and came out with his own homemade jalapeno hot sauce for me to try. Turns out there’s a secret chilehead in all of us.
  4. Hot sauce is democratic.
    Anyone can make it. The ingredients aren’t that pricey, especially if you’re growing peppers yourself.
  5. Hot sauce is unapologetic.
    It dares us to take risks and to live a little more boldly. It is nature’s answer to all things bland and timid.
  6. Hot sauce is addictive.
    Maybe it’s the “happy drug” effect of the rush of endorphins triggered by hot foods. Maybe it’s the fact that once you experience such a dramatic culinary experience, you don’t want to go back to the status quo. Some folks dash hot sauce on virtually everything they eat. Some wake up in the middle of the night to take a swig straight out of the bottle (now that’s extreme!). I would caution restraint, but at least this addiction won’t kill you.
  7. Hot sauce makes you laugh.
    Yes, sometimes at another person’s expense, or your own, but I’m talking hot sauce labels. Somehow the hot sauce industry gets away with the most twisted and provocative (or downright offensive) branding. Go hang out in a hot sauce store like Tears of Joy in Austin, Texas, for a solid chuckle, or stock your own shelves and invite some friends over—chances are everyone will convene, giggling, in your pantry. What other food item has that effect?

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