OGDEN — For as long as he can remember, James McBeth has enjoyed the jolt that comes from splashing his food with hot sauce.
“I love the sweat,” he said. The preservatives and other chemicals many hot sauces contain, though — not so much.
Thus, he and wife Julie McBeth went into the kitchen and put their cooking skills to the test, aiming for a sauce that was long on flavor and heat but short on fructose and other chemicals. “We kind of try to watch what we’re eating,” said Julie.
The Ogden couple ended up with a range of sauces, which they’d serve to friends and blend into meals. And some 10 years later, those initial efforts have led to a business, Z’s Hot Sauce, launched last year. They offer a line of several sauces — some spicier than others, two with mustard bases — and say sales have steadily trended upward.
“It’s definitely a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it,” Julie said. They sell from their Facebook page, at local shops and at farmers markets.
There’s a niche out there and room for growth, maintains Roger Damptz. He operates Burn Your Tongue, a hot sauce stand at The Quilted Bear inside Newgate Mall here that offers scores of products from around the country, some with ominous-sounding names like mind flay and Mad Dog 357.
“Hot sauce is going along the same lines as the craft beer craze,” he said. Just as craft beer aficionados don’t focus solely on alcohol content, there’s a growing cadre of hot sauce connoisseurs — chile heads, says Damptz — who want and appreciate the condiments for their distinctive flavors, not just the heat.
‘It’s like a drug’
Ask James McBeth and he doesn’t deny that heat is part of the lure for hot sauce aficionados. Once some acclimate to a certain heat level, they seek out spicier and spicier experiences. “You have to keep eating hotter and hotter. It’s like a drug,” James said.
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Damptz has studied the subject and says the heat in hot peppers creates a physiological response, an endorphin rush.
But James reached a plateau, got tired of dealing with heartburn. “I actually had to cut back. It was getting kind of ridiculous,” he said.
And Julie says they aren’t aiming for novelty — a product that’ll just set your mouth on fire and serve as fodder for occasional dares between adversaries to see who can handle the most heat. “We want everybody to enjoy it, not to just buy one bottle and have a contest one day,” Julie said.
In that vein, James notes the relatively low heat level in the small company’s namesake original product. “This one isn’t really that hot. It’s more of a flavor enhancer,” he said.
Still, the rush hot sauces offer can’t be underestimated.
Ian Dominguez was inspecting the varied offerings at Burn Your Tongue’s Newgate Mall stand one Saturday, trying different samples Damptz had set out. Damptz had several jugs of milk on hand just in case, to help douse fires caused when customers tried a sauce that was just a bit too much for them.
“I grew up eating a lot of spicy food, a lot of Mexican cuisine. I just enjoy the kick you get,” Dominguez said. He keeps a bottle of hot sauce at work — “You never know if someone brings in a pizza” — and uses spicy condiments on most everything.
Indeed, these days he regards jalapeños somewhat dismissively. Jalapeños — far down the scale in terms of heat compared to, say, the Carolina Reaper, one of the hottest peppers out there — have about as much bite as bell peppers, he sniffs.
“They’re pretty mild for me. I eat them with pretty much anything,” he said.
‘As far as we can’
For now, James is holding on to his main job as owner and operator of a Salt Lake City tattoo parlor, House of Ink. Julie handles piercings there. They use the kitchen at a friend’s restaurant to make batches of their hot sauce, thus complying with government regulations governing food preparation.
But they’ve been thinking about opening up their own location and are preparing a nutrition label to put on their bottles, a legal requirement to sell in larger quantities. They dream of turning the hot sauce operation into a full-time thing, taking the goods on the road to hot sauce festivals and farmers markets.
“We want to take it as far as we can,” James said.
Meanwhile, they experiment and make new concoctions — one of the latest containing cherries — trying to figure out what the next big product will be.
“We spend a lot of time in our kitchen,” Julie said.