Names of Hot Sauces: Mad Dog Inferno Hot Sauce; Blair's Death Sauce; Liquid Sky; Firemist Spray Hot Sauce; Hot Lava.

Have you ever browsed through a specialty kitchen shop and stopped in front of the hot sauces? In almost every store you can find shelves of incendiary bottles with concoctions that will sizzle your pallet.

While Evie looked at kitchen utensils and hot pads, my eyes looked more closely to the section on hot sauces. One by one, I picked up the bottles and read the labels. What a fascinating world this was! As a "meat and potatoes Pennsylvania Dutchman" whose idea of hot sauce is "Louisiana's Crystal Hot Sauce" for tacos and "McCormick's Crushed Red Pepper" for pizzas, I found myself as an alien in a foreign country.

My interest really heated up when I noticed nearby Jennifer Trainer Thompson's The Great Hot Sauce Book (1995). I almost felt my fingers burn as I turned the pages of this "guide to liquid fire."

Thompson has been a collector of hot sauces for years. Her pantry is filled with shelves of bottles: Last Rites; Pain is Good; Armageddon and many others.

According to Thompson, "As people look for ways to eliminate salt and butter from their diet without sacrificing flavor, they are discovering that hot sauces - a liquid blend of chile peppers and fruits, vegetables, or herbs - are a healthful way to enliven food."

You can read about the history of hot sauces in Thompson's previous cookbook, Hot Licks. In the late 1400s Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean, where natives used pepper juices to preserve meats. "Pepper-based sauces are an integral part of Mexican, Asian, African and Caribbean cooking," Thompson observes.

The trend seems to be "the hotter the better," although taste also matters. Thompson is always asked "What's the hottest sauce on the market?" It seems there are a few people seeking revenge, others like being macho while some people just can't seem to get their food hot enough.

The heat of a chile is measured in Scoville units, developed by Wilbur Scoville in the early 1900s. Jalapeños, for example, range from 2,500-5,000 Scoville units, while the incredible habanera weighs in at 150,000-326,000 units.

Here are a few "hot sauce-savoring tips":

* There is a huge variety of flavor in hot sauces.

* Antidotes to heat include milk, yogurt, and other dairy products.

* As a general rule, the wider the bottle, the more interesting the sauce.

* Many collectors buy two sauce bottles: one to keep and one to trade.

* Anything salt can do, hot sauce can do better.

How many hot sauces are there in the world? Tens of thousands. If you want to read a comprehensive guide to many of the best Thompson encountered - the most flavorful, the hottest, the wittiest, and the rarest - you will want to read her book.

Capsaicin is the hottest ingredient available. It is a pepper extract made by shooting hexane through a pepper mash and extracting the capsaicin. It is so deadly the FDA won't even allow you to possess it without a permit.

A guy named Dave added it to hot sauce in 1991, and the hot sauce world hasn't been the same. We all know people who say "nothing is too hot for me." One of six brands Thompson lists in her chapter called "The Untouchables" is labeled "Dave's Insanity Private Reserve, Limited Edition." Twice as hot as his "Dave's Insanity Sauce" (which was banned from the Fiery Foods Show after a guy started hyperventilating and organizers had to call 911), it measures 320,000 Scoville units and is wrapped in a crate sealed with yellow CAUTION tape.

Although I find this world of hot sauces fascinating, I prefer just reading about it and leaving the tasting to someone else. My culinary world is already hot enough. Hand me the ketchup, please.

Think about it.

Editor's note: Dr. Meyer is president of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville. Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu

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