Welcome back to the second installation of the Defcon Sauces op-ed piece. I am your glorious host, John Dilley, Dark Overlord of Defcon Sauces, purveyors of the time-tested, time-proven best Wing Sauces, Habanero Horseradishes and Dry Rubs this planet has to offer. Check out www.defconsauces.com and stock up, after all, it is football season.
Ok, I thought I’d touch on a trend that I’ve seen growing for the past few years. Since I joined into the Legions of Manufacturers within the hot sauce industry over a decade ago, I have seen a few trends come and go. As of late, it seems the borders of imagination are being pushed with some really cool ideas, from spicy peanut brittle to spicy cream cheese. Well, it seems we’ve hit the radar screen of the big guys.
10 years ago, besides Blairs Death Rain potato chips, there weren’t really very many spicy snacks. There was only one type of Tabasco, and wings were pretty much exclusively made with Franks. Within the last 2-3 years, there has been a deluge of spicy stuff hitting the market from the big conglomo companies like Frito-Lay. Hell, now there’s like 10 different types of Tabasco as well, and wings, well, Defcon arrived on the scene and changed the world, bettering the overall human condition.
Now, before everyone starts jumping all over me about the fact that you don’t find anything made by the big conglomo dudes hot at all, I’m way ahead of you. I don’t find them hot either, but besides just saying everything sucks, step back and look at it through a different set of glasses. WE, the hot & spicy manufacturers, through our infinite imagination, have transformed this industry in such a big way. We have forced the big boys to take notice.
The American palate is changing, for the better. Gone are the days when one had no choice when they wanted something hot, as there wasn’t really a selection at all. Even hot peppers were an oddity in supermarkets. Well, as of late, people are getting more and more curious about the infernal land of hot & spicy. That being said, those that think anything below the heat of a Scorpion pepper sucks, well, you are a very small minority in the grand scheme. At hot sauce shows, yeah, you have a concentration of heat seekers, but in the real world, you don’t. For many, a Jalapeno is as hot as they have ever had. Are they wimps? No, they are just beginning their quest, just as you did at some point. I have had customers, that through the years, have gradually increased their heat level, and are quite proud of this accomplishment. For some weird reason, many chileheads feel that anyone who can’t chomp down a Habanero is a pussy. It is you that gives this industry a bad name. How? Put it this way, if I gave everyone that came to my booth the hottest product we make, it would scare them away from not only Defcon products, but perhaps from the industry as a whole. How is THAT good for business? Right, it’s not. It is incredibly simple to make something hot, add some friggin’ peppers and you’re done. The trick is to make it taste good.
Same goes with the current product releases by the big boys. We, the small manufacturer, are in the deep end of the pool, while the big boys are just getting their feet wet on the shallow end of the pool. When the Third Degree Doritos came out a while back, albeit in very limited supply, I thought they were pretty good for a mass production run. Many people I had try them thought they were too hot (none of them were chileheads). Perhaps, that’s why you can’t find them on the shelves anymore. Oh yeah, if they are available by you, please let me know, I’d like to stock up on a few bags.
So, getting back to the current trend, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more involvement from large companies, including of course fast food joints. You got Popeye’s Chicken kind of heading up the hot & spicy, with a number of items on their menu made with Ghost & other peppers, same goes with Wendy’s. Once again, are these the most awesome offerings on the planet. Well, no, of course not. It’s the small manufacturers job to make the awesome stuff, but I’ll give the big boys a little credit for giving it a shot. Give it time, they will learn from their mistakes.
In the last year or two, at many events I’m set up at, I am fielding a lot more questions about specific peppers from the general public. Not just questions about heat, but the flavor of the pepper in question as well. It seems more and more people are beginning to understand that peppers aren’t just about heat. This is a good thing, and shows a trend that I think will continue to grow very quickly. I honestly don’t know much about actually growing peppers, as I was cursed with the Black Hand of Doom upon birth. It is fun when someone asks me what type of peppers I grow, and I just reply, “Dried”.
The fact that we, the small manufacturer, have been able to get on the radar screen of the big conglomos shows we are making major in-roads into the industry. It is our job to continue to push the boundaries of hot & spicy to new levels, which I have seen being done on a regular basis for the last few years. From spicy brittle to spicy cream cheese, the only limits are our collective imaginations. We, the small manufacturer, are a rare breed. With an inherent taste for adventure, both on the gastronomical side as well as the risk-taking bookkeeping aspect of small business, we are a group that does not give up easily. We are the creators of cuisine that piques the interest of the masses, and it is up to us to keep challenging their taste buds. The big conglomos will remain in the rear-view, as we push forward striving for ever better gastronomical compounds, skirting the limits of insanity, with a wanton desire to amaze the masses with our skills.