Hellfire and Salvation

Don Button is a true believer.

He wants you to believe, too.

Don is an evangelist, preaching about Hell Fire.

And habaneros . . .

Recently, while shopping at Holiday Market in Canton, I overheard a man talking about Scoville units, capsaicin, and Hell Fire. I approached the table, and met Don Button, the owner of Hell Fire Detroit.

Don believes in capsaicin, the chemical that creates the heat in hot peppers. Capsaicin and chili peppers have been used medicinally for centuries. Ironically, its primary use has been as a pain remedy.

Capsaicin has been used as a therapy for arthritis, to fight inflammation, and to suppress appetite. It also is commonly used to create a euphoric feeling, as the body reads the heat from capsaicin as “pain”, and releases endorphins to combat its effects.

Endorphins are the neurotransmitters your body releases when experiencing stress, fear, or pain. Endorphins are responsible for “runner’s high,” the euphoric feeling during exercise. They’re responsible for the rush of relief after watching a horror movie. And they react to capsaicin, creating that same feeling of euphoria, after eating hot food or peppers.

Don wants everyone to feel that, and he’s started a company to bring capsaicin to the people. Hellfire Detroit is a hot sauce company, producing four very different hot sauces: Poblano, Cherry Bomb, Manzana, and Habanero.

From a small facility in Warren, Don and his co-packer, Al Pronko of Pronko Enterprises, craft each batch of hot sauce, using only four ingredients: peppers, distilled water, apple cider vinegar, and salt. The resulting sauces are gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian. They’re also about as natural a product as can be.

The process starts with the peppers. On this day, Cherry Bombs, brilliantly beautiful red peppers, are the main attraction.

After coating with olive oil, the peppers are loaded into a small drum roaster.

The propane burners light with a roar, and the drum begins rotating, tumbling the peppers past the furious flame. Immediately, the peppers begin popping, as the stems burst from the heat.

The tumbling continues for a few minutes, until the peppers have achieved an overall char, and the roasting has deepened the flavor of the peppers.

The roasted peppers are stemmed. Since most of the capsaicin resides in the seeds and pith, both are left in place.

The roasted peppers are loaded into a large pot, and mixed with three other ingredients. The mixture is blended to a puree, then cooked for some time. The puree is allowed to cool slightly, and is loaded into the dispenser.

Rows of sterilized 4-oz. jars await.

Each jar is individually filled, inverted to set the seal, then labeled.

Jars are available for individual sale, or in 4-pack gift boxes:

But most importantly, how does it taste?

We tasted all four sauces, working from the most mild (Poblano), through the hottest (Habanero). One thing to keep in mind: the hotness does vary between batches. The team is using a natural product, and the peppers can vary in heat from batch to batch. That’s why the Scoville units on the label are shown as a range, rather than a number.

The Poblano has a very vegetal taste. It tastes very green, and has little heat. It is a good starter sauce for someone who is just getting started in capsaicin culture.

The Cherry Bomb is more flavorful. It has a deeper taste, from the roasted peppers, and the seeds provide a noticeable level of heat. This is a good hot sauce to add to a cheesesteak, or pour on some nachos.

The Manzana remains my favorite. Manzana peppers are a bit more exotic. In fact, the color varies significantly, and quality control requires the team to occasionally reject a shipment for that reason. However, the chartreuse color is appealing, the peppers flavorful, and the heat level . . . appreciable. This seems a fine condiment to add to recipes. I believe it would be a great add to a tomatillo salsa.

We saved the Habanero for last, mindful of the Scoville units shown on front. At 100,000 to 300,000 units, this sauce is 75 – 100 times hotter than your average jalapeno. And it is.

The heat does not hit immediately. In fact, after a few seconds I thought, “Wow, that’s not really that hot!”

Twenty seconds later, I realized I was wrong. This sauce is hot. Not mind-numbingly hot, not crying-over-my-poor-decisions hot, but genuinely hot. It’s uncomfortable, and you will be reaching for that glass of milk or water.

This is the one you give to that friend who claims nothing is ever too hot for him. It may not change his mind, but he’ll know you were thinking of him.

Interestingly, about twenty minutes after eating the Habanero, I did notice a smile on my face. Whether the endorphins, or the fact the Habanero burn had finally stopped, I was definitely in a better mood. Perhaps there’s something to this after all.

Hell Fire Detroit hot sauces are available on-line and in 90 Michigan grocery stores and gift shops.

Click over to hellfiredetroit.com to order, or to find the store closest to you. For our readers, simply enter the discount code “iwriteforfood” for free shipping on orders over $20.