Published in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday September 15th, 2018
Audacious Australians looking to spice things up in the kitchen are turning to hot condiments to add some fire to their home-cooked dishes.
Meanwhile, the more adventurous — or in some cases plain crazy — are buying ultra-hot sauces online, while others are growing specialised chillies in their backyards to manufacture their own tastebud-killing concoctions.
Fiery foods in Australia are becoming more popular as consumer tastes change, coinciding with an increase in the number of chilli festivals, hot chicken-wing eating competitions and chilli- chomping challenges around the country.
According to market research firm Euromonitor, chilli sauce sales in Australia have more than doubled from $24.4 million in 2003 to $51.3 million in 2018.
Furthermore, research by Nielsen Homescan has found that the total chilli sauce category grew 13.9 per cent in dollar sales in 2017 versus 2016.
This sales boom has resulted in chillies and chilli sauces entering mainstream popular culture, both here and abroad.
Actor Ray Meagher has his own Ray’s Flamin’ Hot Sauce, Coles supermarkets now stock an Usain Bolt branded Usain’s Insane Hot Sauce and YouTube channel First We Feast — which has more than 3.9 million subscribers — is the home of the popular Hot Ones TV show, in which host Sean Evans interviews Hollywood celebrities while forcing them to eat a platter of increasingly spicy chicken wings.
Blow-your-head-off spicy sauces made from specially cultivated hybrid chillies are now becoming popular with punters who favour a peppery palate.
Carolina reapers, ghost peppers and Trinidad scorpions are the new breed of exceptionally hot chillies, which are replacing the classic bird’s eyes, habaneras and jalapeños as ingredients in these sauces.
Online chilli sauce retailer House of Scoville sells 44 handcrafted Aussie sauces made by small producers across the country on its website, with 33 of the brands being established within the past five years.
“It’s often the same story. Someone makes hot sauce for their own consumption and shares it with friends and family,” House of Scoville owner Hadrien tells Saturday Extra.
“All of them want to buy more. They start selling at weekend markets and then decide to scale up.”
The website has just had a motza month of sales, with revenue growth in August up 47.15 per cent compared with July and up a red-hot 554.73 per cent compared with August 2017.
“House of Scoville’s growth is also testament to a changing market,” Hadrien says.
“We started in early 2017 and by August 2017 we were selling about 50 bottles per month. We now sell close to 400 bottles per month.”
While exceptionally hot sauces such as Ruby’s Reaper, Hallucinator and Widow Maker may be growing in popularity, milder classics such as Tabasco still have a place on most pantry shelves around Australia.
The famous red sauce made by McIlhenny Company in the US has just turned 150 years old, with fifth- generation McIlhenny family member Harold “Took” Osborn recently in Australia for a visit.
Osborn is an executive vice- president at McIlhenny and the Avery Island-based sauce producer’s head of international sales.
He tells Saturday Extra that the food culture in Tabasco’s home state of Louisiana, which is very open to spice and trying new foods, has many similarities to Australia.
“In the southern United States the most famous people in the area are chefs.
“Everyone talks about what they are going to have for dinner that night,” Osborn says.
“For us, the interest in the Australian market comes from the opportunities of the Australian palette, which is open to spice and new foods. What we like to see is people modernising their food, or fusing it with other cultures.”
Tabasco now sells more than 2.2 million bottles a year in Australia.
Osborn, the great-great grandson of McIlhenny Company founder Edmund McIlhenny, says the ingredients and the process used for making the original sauce hasn’t been tweaked in 150 years.
“If we change a pump or change a hose we have to go through a whole process of testing to make sure there isn’t a change to the flavour of the final product,” he says.
Osborn says Tabasco is focused on introducing its sriracha sauce into the Australian market next year, and perhaps its spiciest product yet — the scorpion chilli sauce.
“The people that really like it, we call the lunatic fringe. It’s very, very spicy,” he says.
“We were taste-testing it with toothpicks. We were testing the mash and the peppers and this stuff — once you tasted it — was so powerful your tongue couldn’t take heat for four hours afterwards.
“When we introduced it about a year and a half ago, mostly through internet sales, we thought we had made a six-month quantity, but we sold out in two hours.”