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Last night, Morgen and I met in his apartment to test samples. He hadn't tried any of the spicy honey yet and I was excited for him to get a taste.
Raz, our heroic designer, and his fiancé, Caro, live in the apartment below so they came up with beer and cheese in hand, ready to join in on the judging.
The first sample was red pepper flake infused, which I felt was the most broadly appealing. Delicious, but nothing daring. The others enjoyed it and without debate we agreed it would be a great product.
Next was fresno pepper. I use fresno in a different hot sauce I've been making for a couple years, but I wasn't sure how the pepper would translate to a spicy honey. In my opinion, it doesn't work at all. All I can taste up front is the distinct bitter flavor of a pepper, which overshadows the sweetness of the honey. The spice also sits in a very forward part of the mouth and I was looking for an overall effect. Raz, on the other hand, loved it. Each time he tried some, his eyes would light up with an enthusiastic, "Wow!" Caro enjoyed it too, but agreed with me about the pepper flavor being too distinct. Morgen agreed we could probably rule that one out.
We then popped open the Thai chili honey. Thai chilies are small peppers, so their spice is powerful. This one started off strong right away and lingered on the tongue for a while. It was another easy one for me to rule out, and the others agreed.
Next up was the jalapeño. I loved this one as a flavored honey, especially mixed with lime juice, but a jalapeño is a jalapeño is a jalapeño. We want our spicy honey to have some mystery and a lot of versatility.
Chile de árbol was quickly ruled out for its simplistic and discreet spice. It just tasted like plain honey.
Finally, we got to my favorite: the habanero. What I liked about this pepper above the others was the progression of flavor. The immediate impact was a sweet burst of honey and then slowly and gently the heat crept in and hit all areas of the mouth. It was like slowly turning the volume up on a stereo. When I first sampled the chilies, this was my clear favorite, but I know habanero is a risky choice. To my enormous satisfaction, the other three agreed that there was something really special here.
Ultimately, all four of us had divided opinions on our favorite chili. We went back and took many repeat samples, debated the merits of this and that and the other, and ultimately landed on a combination of three peppers. Now it’s back to the kitchen to test the balance and find a perfect final recipe.
Action: Let us know if we missed your favorite pepper!