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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke

The Legend of St. Salsa

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: tasty travel , history


Ruins of the Basilica of St. SalsaOn the summit of the eastern hill, Koudiat Zarour, and about 300 metres beyond the ramparts, may be seen the remains of a large church, the most interesting monument in the place, the basilica in which was interred St. Salsa. Her parents were pagans, but Salsa had been baptized, and though only fourteen years of age, she was animated with the most enthusiastic faith. One day her parents took her, in spite of her reluctance, to a feast in honour of the brazen serpent. She protested fearlessly against the sacrifices and impure rejoicings which took place, and when the spectators had finished their rites and were sunk in a drunken sleep, she took the head of the serpent and cast it into the sea. She returned with the intention of throwing the body in also, but it made so much noise in falling that it awakened the sleeping populace, who rushed upon the girl, stoned her, pierced her with swords and arrows, and cast her body into the sea that it might be deprived of burial rites. The waves, however, carried it into the harbour, close to the vessel of a certain Saturninus, who had just arrived from Gaul; a tempest suddenly arose, and Saturninus, then asleep, had a vision that if he did not give burial to a body in the sea near his vessel, he would certainly perish. At first he paid no attention to this warning, but the gale increased, and as all hope of safety appeared gone, he leapt into the water, and his hand was miraculously guided to the girdle of the saint. He took the body in his arms, rose to the surface, and immediately the storm was succeeded by a perfect calm.

From: Sir Robert Lambert Playfair, Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis. London: J. Murray, 1895.

Editor's Note: This story took place in Tipasa, Algeria around 400 A.D. Today, in Tipasa, nothing remains of the basilica except ruins. In this case, “salsa” has nothing to do with chile peppers. In Latin, “salsa” is plural and means salted foods.

Altoids BBQ
Mini BBQ from Instructables

You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate something as cool as a BBQ grill made out of an Altoids container. The model pictured is just one of many DIY designs that have been featured all over the Web. This grill is made using an Altoids Sours tin,  some sheet metal screws, metal nuts, and a couple of computer fan guards. Once constructed, place a briquette on the lower rack and light it from the bottom.  (Other grills have been made using gas and rectangular Altoids tins, too.) The grill heats up quite a bit, and it really can cook mini hamburgers or a full-size hot dog cut into segments. It may not be completely practical, but it sure works as a conversation starter at your next BBQ!

Try your hand at making a mini BBQ grill – check out the Instructables website for an easy-to-follow tutorial.

Full Judging TablesA  record number of judges showed up for our 15th annual Scovie Awards judging on October 4, 2010 at the County Line Restaurant in Albuquerque. More than 100 food industry professionals—plus foodie media people—crowded into two sessions with six tables each and tasted about 650 products. This means that the average product entered got tasted and judged by six or more judges, an all-time record for us.

The real surprise of the judging were the eventual scores for Grand Prize Winner—the highest recorded score out of a perfect 50. For the first time in Scovie history, we had a tie to three decimal places and were unable to break it, so congratulations to our co-Grand Prize Winners, Barhyte Foods’ Saucy Mama Creamy Horseradish and Poco Dolce’s Super Chile Toffee Squares. The Advertising and Marketing Grand Prize Winner was Crazy Uncle Jesters’ Company or Product Logo/Label. A Grand Prize Winner that’s a sweet heat product is not unusual at all, as fully half of our Grand Prize  Winners have been in that category.  But horseradish finishing so strongly, that’s simply remarkable.  Complete Scovie results are posted here.

Spicy Mama Creamy Horseradish Super Chile Toffee Crazy Uncle Jester Logo

Journalist and author Larry Greenly claims he has been a judge at every single Scovie Judging—and I have no reason to doubt this. Thanks, Larry, you’re a loyal chilehead!

Break an EggAt this fairly new restaurant, the idea and decor are better than the food.  But what a great idea!  The name is a pun on that stage encouragement, "Break a leg," so the restaurant (breakfast and lunch only) has a movie theme.  Film strips decorate the walls, along with movie posters and TVs showing classic films.  When I ate there with Kristina Martinez of the NMSU Library, they were showing "The King and I," which has nice spectacle but doesn't fit the theme.  "The Egg and I" (Fred MacMurry, 1947), "Breakfast at Tiffany's,"  "Humpty Dumpty" (1935), or anything starring Kevin Bacon would have been better to show.  "The Amazing Omelette" (2005) would have been perfect because every actor wears pancake makeup!  Its menu is a "script" with numerous "acts," like "Egg-Cademy Award Winners," "Scene Stealers," and "Box Office Hits."  There are an incredible number of breakfast options with titles like "The Gaffer" (Eggs Florentine) and "The Cinematographer" (Eggs Rellenos).  They have a separate Southwest menu, and I had the "Machaca Skillet," but it was quite ordinary pulled beef with a mysterious-looking sauce that was spicy without having much flavor.  Even their coffee is just average.  That said, their pecan muffins were great.  I would rate it an "A" for decor and a "C" for food quality.  It's at 201 South Solano in Las Cruces, 575-647-300.

Color Change in Bhut Jolokia

Harald Zoschke, our key chilehead correspondent in Europe, reports:

  • Our Calabrian-grown 'Bhut Jolokia' tested at 818,386 SHU (twice the result of Assam-grown 'Bhut' analyzed at the same lab in Hamburg, btw.!)
  • The Indians' superhot 'Chocolate Bhut' that I had tested gave only 417,888 SHU at the Hamburg lab.
  • This year, red 'Bhut' powder from Assam (directly from the grower/producer) traded to Germany as having "850,000 SHU," was tested in Hamburg and it delivered only 373,821 SHU - even some Chocolate Habaneros are almost that hot.  
  • Harald also notes: "Returning to my 'Fatalii' theory... A customer who purchased original Assamese 'Bhut' seeds from our shop complained that the pods weren't red but yellow. Bhut MutantHe was kind enough to send me some of those pods, and here's a red pod from my test plant, and his yellow mutant (both grown from from the same seed batch). While red is a dominant gene, obviously this (recessive) yellow gene came through on that other plant. Looks quite 'Fatalii', doesn't it? So who knows.... A friend of mine from Italy also reported about a yellow Bhut  just a few weeks ago. I sent our customer  a replacement pack of seeds, but I'll sure test-grow seeds from that yellow pod next year.  When comparing Scoville results, it is important which HPLC standard is used. Our food lab in Hamburg, Germany uses the defacto standard ASTA 21.3."


Jonah 7 Superhot ChileFor the 5+ years that the rumors and then stories about the  superhot 'Bhut Jolokia' from Assam in northeast India have surfaced, I've wondered about its origin.  Pods of Capsicum chinense are found all over the Caribbean, from the Scotch bonnet in Jamaica to goat peppers in Haiti to bonney peppers in Barbados.  However, it is the country of Trinidad & Tobago that seems to have the largest number of land races of that species, including the Congo pepper, the Scorpion, the 7 Pot, and now the Jonah 7, pictured here.  Of all of these, it's the Jonah 7 which most resembles the 'Bhut Jolokia', and the India connection to Trinidad is very clear: 40% of the people have an Indian ancestry, as compared to 37.5 % with an African ancestry.  So it's my theory that sometime after the Indian migration to T&T began in 1845, some enterprising person took Jonah seeds to India and they ended up as Bhut Jolokia, or "ghost pepper" in Assamese.  Recently, Marlin Bensinger, a friend of mine and the world's foremost expert on capsaicin extraction and testing, performed HPLC tests on the Jonah 7, and it was in the precise heat range of 'Bhut Jolokia'.  So maybe a mystery has been solved!  Thanks to Jim Duffy in San Diego, who grew out the pods and photographed them.

My esteemed colleague in Germany, Harald Zoschke, comments: "My theory is that Bhut evolved from Fatalii (which, of course could very well come from Trinidad, brought home to Africa by returning slaves). Please take a look at the attached picture - a Bhut Jolokia and a Bhut and Fataali ComparisonFatalii pod from my greenhouse. To me, they look like close relatives (and there's a Red Fatalii around, too). Now, what if Bhut is a Red Fatalii that trade ships brought from its home, Central Africa, to India, hundreds of years ago. And there, it just got cross-pollinated to receive the C. frutescens gene traces that Paul Bosland's DNA test revealed. Or maybe those genes were in the Fatalii already, which a DNA test could easily prove, providing evidence for my theory. Remember, besides C. chinense, Bhut's Innards of Bhut and FataliiDNA includes 7% of C. frutescens. Fatalii could have picked this up from Malagueta, which had spread early in Africa, becoming pili-pili or peri-peri. Also, while Fatalii isn't quite as hot as Bhut, both share that intense "instant burn," as opposed to the Habanero's delayed burn. And as my pic #2 shows, both share the poor innards, with very few seeds.  Who knows, maybe all three are very closely related."                                                  Fat Bhut

My comment back is that in this particular instance, Harald's 'Bhut' certainly does resemble a 'Fatalii', but pod variations within a land race are common, and sometimes the pods on the same plant have different forms.  See another pod shape of the 'Bhut' at right.  This is because they are land races--adapted varieties that have been growing in the same geographic area for hundreds of years--and not recently bred-to-be-true varieties.  The only way to really figure this out is to compare the DNA of all these varieties.


Rocoto Pods Needed!

Posted by: Dave DeWitt


Rocoto PodDoes anyone out there have any rocoto pods (C. pubescens) that they could send me?  I need them for a photo shoot for our new digital magazine, Burn!, but I didn't grow any this year.  If you have four or five that you could send, please email me here.


Scovie Awards JudgingThe judging of our 14th annual Scovie Awards Competition was held yesterday at the County Line Barbecue Restaurant in Albuquerque and we were astonished by the response from the judges.  Usually we have an attrition rate of 10 to 20% for judges because these food professionals are such busy people.  But this time, nearly every judge showed up, and they brought friends!  About 90 judges showed up in two sessions and the tables were packed.  Fortunately, we had enough drinks and cool-downs for everyone, and although some tables had a slight delay because the judging 600+ products took a while, when it was all said and done, every product got tasted by more judges than usual.  Part of the delay was due to the diligence on the part of the judges, who took time to make a lot more comments than usual.  Thanks to everyone who participated, and the results will be announced in about two weeks.

Myron Mixon with USO Troops
BBQ Pitmaster Myron Mixon with troops

John Markus, Pitmaster and Executive Producer of TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters is leading award-winning Pitmasters Myron Mixon, Johnny Trigg, Jaime Geer, Nicole Davenport and George “Tuffy” Stone on their first USO tour. This September, the Kings of BBQ served up more than 2,000 pounds of beef brisket and barbecue sauce, 4,500 pounds of chicken leg quarters, and 210 gallons of barbecue sauce and all the fixings to feed more than 3,000 deployed troops during two events in Kuwait.

“A trip to the Middle East to feed our troops barbecue has been a dream of mine for more than five years,” says John Markus of the trip. Markus, an Emmy-award winning writer, apprenticed under world champion Pitmasters Paul Kirk of Kansas City (aka The Baron of Barbeque) and Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson. He cooks regularly on the New England BBQ circuit, garnering many awards along the way, and has been bestowed a PhB by the Kansas City Barbecue Society—an honorary status awarded to only a handful of Pitmasters.

“Having the opportunity to come to Kuwait and cook for the troops is such a tremendous experience,” adds George “Tuffy”

Johnny Trigg

Pitmaster Johnny Trigg greets the troops

Stone, owner of Q Restaurants, a chain of Virginia-based restaurants, and Sharper Palate Catering Company, an award-winning premier caterer in Richmond, Va. “As a former Marine, there’s nothing more I would have enjoyed than some American barbecue. The smell of barbecue in the air seems to be quite the attraction over here, bringing smiles to troops that we haven’t even fed yet.”

The 210 gallons of barbecue sauces and 100 pounds of rub used during the tour were provided by Head Country Barbecue, an Oklahoma-based company that has been producing award-winning barbecue sauces since 1947. Ole Hickory Pits, a Missouri-based manufacturer and seller of state-of-the-art wood burning smoker ovens provided the barbecue pits. In addition to barbecue brisket and chicken, troops feasted on coleslaw, beans and potato salad.

Myron Mixon, one of the most awarded men in competitive barbecue and chief cook at Jack’s Old South Competition Team, says, “The troops couldn’t be [greater]. Some of them have seen the show and know us. They have concerts and entertainers come through to see them, but what we’re doing is getting their bellies full and puttin’ them to sleep!”

Learn more about the USO here.


GMO Salmon from Aqua Bounty
Genetically engineered salmon (top) compared to natural salmon.

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel will decide Monday, September 27 whether the first genetically engineered food animal proposed for public consumption will be safe to eat and safe for the environment. The fish in question is a salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate, making the journey from inland fish farm to the table twice as fast.

The salmon’s maker, Aqua Bounty Technologies, Inc., based out of Massachusetts, has said the gene inserted has not mutated over multiple generations of fish and does not harm to the animals. Based on recent taste test, Aqua Bounty claims the fish is similar in almost every way to natural salmon and tastes the same.

Aqua Bounty Chief Executive Officer Ronald Stotish told the FDA's panel that the fish could provide the "healthy kind of diet that Americans are used to.” Overfishing and increased demand have put a strain on many fish species in recent decades. Industrialization in the Northeast has seriously impacted the Atlantic salmon’s habitat, and most Atlantic salmon now comes from inland fish farms. Aqua Bounty has said it will sell its salmon eggs to fish farms in Canada and Panama, and eventually in the U.S., if the FDA panel grants approval.

How the public will react is not yet clear. Critics have voiced concerns over the amount of time allowed for testing the salmon, as well as concerns over how to label genetically engineered animals in supermarkets. Current FDA rules require special labels for altered food when there is a vast difference between natural and genetically modified food (most genetically engineered crops are not labeled).

Genetically engineered vegetables such as corn, rice, and peppers have been sold in markets since the early 1990’s.

Read more about the controversy surrounding genetically engineered salmon here.

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