FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Aroostook County couple Jason and Jennifer Grass make and sell the hottest pepper sauces in Maine — Phoenix Fire measures in at 2.6 million Scoville units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat of chili peppers against pure capsaicin, which is 16 million Scoville units.
The Grasses, who have been running Hill Gardens in Fort Fairfield since April 2021, have been gardening their half acre of land for about five years and fermenting peppers for three. They began making sauces as a way to preserve some of their produce from their 16 garden beds.
With a seemingly endless string of spicy food challenges and talk shows online, it’s no secret that hot sauce has become popular. There are several businesses in Maine that produce sauces, but none are hotter than those at Hill Gardens. In just a few months, the Grasses’ sauces have reached 19 stores in Maine and are shipped to other states as well. Since beginning to sell last April, Hill Gardens has expanded its market to Maryland, Texas, California and Florida.
“Not only do our sauces have heat, but they have flavor as well,” Jason said. “We have had a lot of people who say they don’t like spice, but they end up liking the sauces that we produce.”
Hill Gardens produces a wide range of sauces, from its more mild Serrano Poblano and Spicy Teriyaki sauces, to its hottest sauce by Scoville rating, the Phoenix Fire. The company has 16 licensed sauces, meaning the Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale and distribution of them. The couple hopes to license a total of 36 sauces.
The sauce that feels the hottest when eating it is The Grimm, with a 2.03 million Scoville rating. The sauce, while already having a combination of spicy ingredients, including dried scorpion pepper, also has a citrus element that makes the spice hit you hard and fast, Jason Grass said.
Then there’s the Phoenix Fire, which targets more parts of the mouth, including lips, cheeks, and the back of the throat. Finally, there’s Stupid Hot Buzzards Breath, which measures in at 2.1 million Scoville with a strong chili flavor, Grass said.
When the couple first began making sauces, they shared them with friends who kept telling them they needed to start selling them. The couple needed to obtain a food processor license in order to make and sell food from scratch, which took about eight months and a kitchen renovation.
Almost all of their ingredients are locally sourced — only the bottles come from elsewhere. Jennifer Grass handles the bottling and starting sauces, while Jason Grass handles the administrative and marketing side of the business, as well as finishing sauces.
All the sauces are vegan with no chemicals or preservatives. A big reason the company uses natural sweeteners is because of a food allergy that doesn’t allow Jennifer Grass to have corn or artificial sweeteners, so when the two were making sauces for themselves, they had to look at alternate options.
Hill Gardens is always looking to expand, and has reached out to popular internet personalities such as Sean Evans from “Hot Ones” and Rhett and Link. They have also taken to FaceBook, and provide different recipes for their followers online, such as ramen, homemade mayonnaise and vegetarian nachos.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the number of hot sauces Hill Gardens has licensed and how many it hopes to license.