An Ode to Crystal Hot Sauce
One writer’s hot take on hot sauce superiority.
Okay, people: It’s time we talk about the unsung hero of hot sauces.
For too long we’ve put Tabasco on a pedestal. Sure, Frank’s is fine. Texas Pete is too, I suppose. But I’m just gonna say it: Crystal puts every other hot sauce to shame.
We’re not talking about Mad Dog 357 and its contemporaries that reach a million Scoville units and higher. For those, there’s a time and a place. (Side note: If you’re interested in learning more about ridiculously hot, set-your-mouth-on-fire hot sauces, check out Hot Ones, a First We Feast web series. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn.)
No, we’re not talking about the hottest hot sauces—we’re talking about the best.
Tabasco is too vinegary and overwhelms whatever you’re seasoning. I’ll use it in a pinch, but it’ll have to be a real tight pinch.
Don’t even talk to me about Sriracha. It’s delicious on wings and is great for adding some rounded heat to certain dishes, but that’s pretty much where it ends. I know it has a cult following and that’s fine, just don’t try to convince me that it’s good on everything. It’s just not.
Crystal, however, is brilliant. It’s ingredient list consists of cayenne pepper, vinegar, and salt. Granted, Crystal is a Louisiana-style hot sauce, so cayenne as the main ingredient is a given. But Crystal’s beauty is in it’s simplicity. It doesn’t overwhelm your senses and it serves its purpose nobly.
Put it in your soups, your sauces, your pastas. Use it to add flavor to your chicken salad or pimiento cheese. I can’t think of a vegetable that couldn’t be improved by Crystal. Heck, carry it in your purse and put it on your turkey sandwich. The point is, Crystal actually works on everything.
Crystal, a history:
The Holy Grail of hot sauces was born in New Orleans in 1923, when Alvin Baumer borrowed some money from his future father-in-law to purchase “Mill’s Fruit Products,” a small shaved-ice company. Included in the sale was a recipe for a hot sauce made with cayenne peppers, called Crystal Pure Louisiana Hot Sauce.
By the ‘40s, Baumer Foods was prospering. The Baumers moved to a more central location and its “Crystal Preserves” sign became a New Orleans landmark.
The famous sign stood proudly until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed Baumer Foods’ building. The family-owned business relocated to its original location and replicated and replaced the sign, this time 9 feet above sea level.
Today, the sign remains a local landmark and the hot sauce remains awesome.