Best Hot Sauce Maker


Photograph by Lisa Romerein

Best of LA, August 2008
Almost 30 years ago, JD Cowles began experimenting with different spices to use in a sauce for his homemade buffalo wings. Today his small Venice-based company All Spice Café makes the best hot sauces we’ve ever had, in robust flavors like chipotle-garlic and cayennehabanero. Not a drop of flavor is sacrificed for the sake of heat—but the peppers will leave you panting. Cowles’s sauces can be found at gourmet shops around Southern California.

How does an independent sauce get into stores? 
For me, it came down to giving away a lot of free hot sauce. I gave the owner of Stroh’s Gourmet, Jason Stroh, a bottle of my cayenne-habanero to get his opinion. The next time I saw him, he asked for a couple of cases. The bigger stores are trickier, but individual Whole Foods stores will give local purveyors a shot.

What’s the right balance between heat and flavor? 
It has to taste good and then have plenty of heat. I’ve had too many sauces that are so hot, you can’t finish your meal—and they don’t taste very good. What a waste! Start out with good flavor, and the heat can be added later. The reverse isn’t true. If it’s too hot and doesn’t taste good, it’s hard to recover.

Can you judge a sauce by its label? 
Those wacky labels are more of a novelty than anything else; you have no idea what the sauces taste like. Many of the gourmet stores will have some open bottles in a refrigerator for you to taste. Make sure to read the ingredients before you try. Many of them have pepper extract, which is superconcentrated. Be careful!

What is the world’s hottest pepper? 
The bhut jolokia from northeast India was confirmed by Guinness World Records as being the hottest chile in the world. It’s about twice as hot as the previous world-record holder, the red savina habanero that’s cultivated in Walnut, California.

Is hot sauce a fetish? 
I think addiction is more like it. When hot peppers reach the tongue, endorphins are released, which creates a feeling of euphoria. Your mouth can be on fire, but you can’t stop eating.

Is there anything hot sauce can’t go on? 
A true chile head will say no, but we know better than that. » 

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