The Scoville scale is a measurement of the spicy heat of a chili pepper. The number of Scoville heat units indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes.
The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. A bell pepper rates a zero on the Scoville scale; banana peppers are between 400 and 500; jalapenos can range between 3 and 10,000 units; habaneros fall somewhere between 100,000 and 350,000, and ghost peppers can top out at 1,000,000. Most pepper sprays used by law enforcement and hunters range between 2 and 9 million Scoville units.
What drives people to take an otherwise inoffensively flavored food item, douse it in hot sauce, and set their mouths on fire? It may be repulsive to some, but to others, food doesn’t begin to taste good until its fire quotient is kicked up a few notches. Though one associates hot sauce with places such as Mexico, the Southwestern United States, Louisiana and even Thailand or China, there are plenty of Mainers who enjoy the higher end of the Scoville scale, courtesy of any number of varieties of chili peppers.
The Bangor Daily News did a little research into Maine-made hot sauces, and we came up with a short list of fiery concoctions to taste test. We found that they’re all very good — from the sweet-and-spicy tang of Captain Mowatt’s Canceaux Sauce out of Portland, to the ghost pepper-infused El Beso del Diablo from the folks at Deer Camp at Waterville’s Buen Apetito restaurant.
We filmed the results of our taste test, which you can watch online at bangordailynews.com. Read on to get a little more information on these Maine-made spicy treats. If we missed something, please let us know, though we did specify that the sauces had to be available to buy online and/or in stores.
Captain Mowatt’s, Portland
These guys have been at it since the late 1990s, producing 18 different varieties of hot sauce, along with seasonings, barbecue sauces and rubs.
The name Captain Mowatt comes from a real historical event — the pre-Revolutionary War burning of Falmouth in 1775, which took place in what is now Portland, with the real life Captain Mowatt.
Their signature sauce is the Canceaux Sauce, which isn’t too hot but is pleasantly sweet and makes a great topping for chicken or pork.
There’s plenty of others, from the avocado-laced Greenie, to the strawberry-infused Hot Pink.
And then there’s the hottest sauce we taste-tested: Jolly Roger, which continues to burn in your mouth for nearly 10 minutes after trying it and provokes reactions such as sweating and, in some cases, openly weeping.
They’re a fixture at food shows and fairs statewide year-round, but you can also buy their products online at wohesperus.com.
Lost Woods Hot Sauce, Westbrook
For a straight-up traditional hot sauce — hot but not insane, and easy to eat with anything — the folks at Lost Woods have the recipe down pat.
The story on their website, lostwoodshotsauce.com, goes something like this: the guys at Lost Woods went camping in the Maine woods one day. They got lost. Very lost. They began foraging for food, found some plants that looked edible, and once they found their way back to civilization, they started making hot sauce with it. That secret ingredient is still a secret.
Deer Camp by Buen Apetito, Waterville
Deer Camp makes six varieties of hot sauce inspired, in part, by hunting, fishing and going up to camp. They come from the mind of chef Gary LaPlant of Buen Apetito Mexican restaurant in Waterville.
The second hottest of the sauces we taste tested is their El Beso Del Diablo, made with a trace amount of the legendary ghost pepper, or Bhut Jolokia pepper, a Bangladeshi chili that’s only surpassed in Scoville units by a few others.
But their ginger and agave nectar-laced hot sauce is also a big winner, as well as their Blueberry Buckshot variety. In fact, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.
You can buy the sauces at Barrel’s Community Market in Waterville, or online at buenapetitorestaurant.com.
Mother’s Mountain, Falmouth
A little different from the traditional hot sauces, Mother’s Mountain — made for 30 years by the friendly Carol and Dennis Tanner — makes a mean mustard-based variety called Habanero Heaven that’s hot and spicy, and would be spectacular on burgers and hot dogs.
They also make Fire Eater Hot Pepper Sauce, that’s perhaps not deadly, but is hot enough for everyday use. It’s available online at mothersmountain.com (along with mustards, jam, jellies, dressings and more).
Tiger Teeth, Biddeford
Tiger Teeth makes a Fiery Habanero hot sauce that comes in a jar, rather than a bottle. It’s very hot, though it maintains a nice flavor throughout the burning. It’s a particularly good accompaniment for hot Thai or Chinese food.
Available online at tigerteethpepper.com, and in stores like A&B Naturals in Bar Harbor, The Cave in Brooklin, State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport and Whole Foods Market in Portland.