Some like it hot - top eight spicy sauces

Valentine's Day falls next Thursday, a school night when we may not have a lot of time to prepare and tempt our loved ones with complex bites and treats.

Hot food for a night of passion, generated by the enlivening effect of the natural chemical capsaicin, inspired me to look at chilli-flavoured sauces and pastes to add to dishes. They can easily make an ordinary dish special and exciting, and our most tried and tested ones can quickly be given a burst of passion by adding a teaspoonful of some of these products.

It’s easy to overdo chilli, so if you find yourself with a burning mouth or throat, don’t drink water — it won’t do much good. Instead eat something fatty – a little cheese, yogurt, nuts, a little oil, or even smear a little butter on your mouth or palate — it may be all that is on the table when in need. We need fat to absorb the capsaicin so these options will provide a quick solution. If making sauces from scratch, remove the white fibre that holds the chilli seeds as well as the seeds which have a hot coating too.

Be careful after chopping chillies as touching sensitive body tissue will hurt — not ideal for Valentine’s night.

Plenty of products to thrill here. We looked for least additives, good texture and depth of flavour.

Iago Arrabiata sauce 480g €6.80

A pulpy tomato base has lively chilli, onion, garlic, pepper, herbs and no additives for lots of fresh, natural flavour. Use this for pasta, rice, quinoa, pizza, on bread. Heat the sauce with raw fish or thinly sliced meat/meatballs to cook gently for 10-15 minutes for an easy supper. Enough for four, it can be frozen. Tasters approved. (Note: Arrabiata is Italian for angry).

Real Olive Company Harissa 180g €3

This fiery, natural, chilli paste is a rescue remedy for dull stews and pastas. A teaspoon can be enough for a two-person portion to add to dishes on Valentine’s Day for heat. Smear a fillet of fish lightly before grilling, add to a vegetable stir fry, to mackerel pate or cream cheese for a toasty starter. In a screw-top jar, the gritty chillies, garlic, olive oil, salt and spices will keep for months.

The Scullery Vine Tomato & Jalapeno Pasta Sauce 360g €2.99

For the more faint hearted, this mild chilli flavour is free of additives and has a fresh tasting and natural, pulpy tomato base with garlic, salt, herbs and spices. The less adventurous liked this one more than some others. Also good on bread/toast. I bought in Tesco.

Loyd Grossman Classic chilli sauce 350g €2.95

Well integrated flavours here with a medium amount of chilli in a tomato base with red kidney beans which thicken it nicely. A little sugar, lime juice and ground herbs are discernible, and the beer listed may have added to depth of taste. An easy option for the chilli wary.

Tesco tomato & chilli pesto 190g €1.95

A small jar has plenty of flavour with the chilli softened with sundried tomatoes, red peppers, Grana Padano and Pecorino cheeses and cashew nuts. The latter three provide substance for use with pasta or even better on chunky bread as a starter. The oil is sunflower which is not traditional, but does no harm to the lovely, rounded taste.

Mic’s Chilli Inferno 165g €4

Giving Tabasco a run for its money, this Wicklow-based brand has a number of levels of heat. The ‘chilli lite’ was quite enough for two tasters who felt no need to try the hot version. Our noses ran as we got the strong chilli kick — try it for clogged sinuses! Use in small doses in stir fries and stews as a condiment.

Rebel Chilli 250ml €3.85

An interesting import substitution for the many sweet chilli sauces coming from all over the world, this is made in Cork. Chilli, ginger, lemongrass, sugar, vinegar, tamari are thickened with a little cornflour. Very hot, thin, but fresh tasting, with nice lemongrass flavour. Add to stir fries or as a marinade for fish or meat.

Green Saffron Indian Hot Curry 300g €2.89

Lots of flavours here with a long list of spices in a pulpy, natural tomato base. The chilli is softened by warm turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, rose petal, so the chilli hit comes at the end at the back of the mouth. Use for an easy supper by adding to meat or vegetables.


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