A giant spider on the movie screen means trouble.
So does a small spider on a bottle of hot sauce, according to Charlie Schandelmayer. In both cases, the long-legged crawlers are supposed to scare people.
“It’s not a good idea, from our perspective, to put a friendly label on an unfriendly product,” said Schandelmayer, owner of Sauce Crafters, a Florida-based manufacturer of bottled heat. “You have to put a message on there that says, ‘This is going to bite you.’ ”
In this case, “unfriendly” means extremely hot liquid for taste buds. Charlie puts a spider on every bottle of “Widow” he makes in Riviera Beach; one drop of the potent pepper potion is the right dosage for a large vat of chili con carne or jambalaya.
While some people choose Schandelmayer’s products for their food-warming capabilities, other people just want to have dangerous-sounding labels in their pantries. That’s part of the fun shopping for hot stuff — the names are often creative, occasionally obscene and generally entertaining.
Examining names — if not sauces — may help warm people up as winter begins its stretch run in the Northeast. Here are some we can print: “Spontaneous Combustion,” “Kiss of Fire,” “Bottled Hell,” “Vampire,” “Goddess of Fire,” “Weed Killer,” “Mo Hotta, Mo Betta,” “Possible Side Effects” and “Liquid Stoopid.”
For some of the names too racy to be included in Jeff’s story, check out his blog, Type A to Z, by clicking here.
Then there’s “Day of the Dead,” “Backdraft,” “Bat’s Brew” “Vicious Viper,” “Scorned Woman,” “Deathwish,” “Mother of All Sauces” and “Hell ’n A Handbasket,” sold in a miniature wicker container. Republicans might chuckle over “Hillary’s Diet Sauce.” Democrats will enjoy “Dick Cheney’s Bird Shot.” Elvis Presley fans can pick up “Elvis Burning Love” and “Elvis All Shook Up” for their peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Some names are just plain clever. “Bee Sting” conveys the message that the habanero peppers inside the bottle are hot; it also tells the buyer that honey helps temper the fire.
Schandelmayer loves his “Widow.” The label features a black widow in a web, just below the plastic arachnid that straddles the yellow cap. Other Sauce Crafter stars include “Scorpion Venom,” “Mad Dog” and “Toxic Waste” on the “super hot” menu; “Orange Krush” and “Pure Poison” on the “very hot” side; “Fire Ant Juice” and “Habanero Punch” on the “hot” list; and the just mildly foreboding “Mad Cat” on the “medium” shelf.
“A lot of people say the package sells the first jar, the sauces sell the second, third and fourth,” said Schandelmayer, who’s been mixing peppers, vinegar and other ingredients since 1989.
Some people who buy a bottle of “Widow” have no intention of testing the spider.
“Some of them are collectors,” Schandelmayer said. “When the collector sees a wicked new product, he’s got to have it. You come out with something wicked, you’re sure to sell to the collectors.”
One of Sauce Crafters’ evil numbers is “Satan’s Blood,” another atomic-level product that comes in an ornate, genie-style bottle. The red wine vinegar in the recipe gives the sauce its blood-red color.
Schandelmayer said he’ll come up with a name, write it down and think he has a winner. The next day, he’ll take a look, and the idea seems stale.
“No matter what you do and no matter what you think about it, you really don’t know what it’s going to do until you put it in front of the people,” Schandelmayer said. “When it’s on the store shelves, that’s the true test.”
Some sauce names are too saucy for a family newspaper. It’s tough printing names that conjure up long nights of sitting down in the bathroom, enduring painful feelings in the posterior.
“‘Colon Cleaner’ is OK, you can do that one,” Schandelmayer said. “That’s not over the edge. . . . That one has brought some laughter to so many hospital rooms that are a little negative, a little gloomy. I’ve had people tell me when they were in the hospital, people brought them that sauce and doctors, nurses, patients and visitors just laugh over the bottle.”
At Le Gourmet Chef in Guilderland’s Crossgates Mall, manager Jeff Paduano carries between 30 and 40 brands. He’s got “Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Hot Sauce,” “Blair’s Original Death Sauce” — with the smiling skeleton in the green shirt on the label — and “See Dick Burn,” which features a kiddie-style stick man in flames.
“If it’s a gift, a lot of times people go for the name,” Paduano said, adding the products were popular during the Christmas season. He said besides shoppers, young people seem to like buying — and trying — the peppers.
“When I was in my 20s, I was game enough to try most of these,” Paduano said, adding that maturing taste buds have persuaded him to tackle less daring gustatory adventures. “I like hot food, but it doesn’t like me back.”
Paduano also carries some gimmicks bottles. “Fig’s One Drop” sauce comes with its own tiny eye-dropper. The cowboy star of a Western-themed product — sorry, the name is a little too risque for us — has a tiny plastic cowboy hat on the top of the box.
Bob Harris distributes from the “Hot Sauce Harry’s” business he co-owns with wife, Dianne, in Dallas, Tex. Like Schandelmayer, he knows gimmicks and good names equals best-sellers.
“Our ‘Dead Heat’ is an extract sauce,” he said, “and we package it in the ultimate collectible version, in a box that’s shaped as a coffin and then the death certificate is inside there as well.”
Harris’ “Firecracker” sauces are bottled for different states; for instance, the New York version has a “New York” reference in the name. Same thing goes for the 40-plus collegiate sauces Harris sells. They’re all the same formula, but labeled for places such as Penn State, Florida and Notre Dame.
Sometimes, good ideas happen by accident. Harris said during a hospital stay, a member of his graphics department brought him a gag container of hot sauce masquerading as an intravenous fluids bottle. Hospital personnel got such a kick out of the joke that Harris decided to market the bottle for hospital gift stores.
Popular names and sauces are also stored at Saratoga Salsa and Spice Co. on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Fans shop in the “Ring of Fire” and “Pain is Good” lines, among the 500 hot sauces in stock. With thoroughbred racing a big part of the city’s appeal, Saratoga Salsa also carries hot sauces with equine accents. “Photo Finish,” “Best Bet,” “Giddy Up,” and “Jockey Juice,” are in this group.
“Hot sauces have got that kind of on-the-edge personality to start with,” said store owner John Knotek. “That market is based on personality. . . . I think hot sauce has an element of fun to it, and that’s what these labels are all about.”
Heat levels in hot sauces are measured in “Scoville units,” a scale that measures piquancy developed by chemist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. An outrageous Scoville number may impress people who view some collections, but the names are easier to understand.
“When you’re showing off your collection of hot sauces, the crazier and more outspoken the label, the more your friends are going to say ‘Wow,’ ” Knotek said.
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