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The Five Best Hot Sauces in Auckland

Ben Polkinghorne from Auckland Burrito Review gives us his entertaining thoughts on New Zealand's Hot Sauce scene.

By Ben Polkinghorne
February 28, 2013
By Ben Polkinghorne
February 28, 2013

We are spicing things up here at Concrete Playground. Self confessed connoisseur of the burrito Ben Polkinghorne (Auckland Burrito Review) takes up his next challenge and singles out five of the top hot sauces in the Auckland hot sauce scene, giving us his entertaining insights into the Kaitaia Fire, Gringo Killer, Huffman's, Fire Dragon and Culley's hot chilli sauce.

What I’ve learnt over the years is that there are all kinds of different scenes in this country. The golf scene. The clubbing scene. The burrito scene.

The New Zealand hot sauce scene.

And often people in their respective scenes aren’t aware of how intricate and passionate people are in all these other scenes – or that these scenes exist at all. For instance, what I understand about the New Zealand finance scene could be written on a postage stamp.

But enough about that nonsense.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have a burgeoning local hot sauce scene and most of us aren’t even aware of it. There are die-hard chilli fans right here in God’s own.

However this article is pitched at the average Joe. Hey Joe, you’re average. Though you shouldn’t ever let anyone ever tell you that. You may know a little about hot sauce, or you may know nothing at all. For the purposes of this article though; I will treat you like an idiot.

An idiot named Joe.

I originally got into blowing my head off with hot sauce a couple of years ago, when I took the plunge and got jalapenos with my Subway. This naturally progressed into ordering a beef vindaloo curry. Partly because I didn’t want to be another european getting a butter chicken but mainly because I enjoyed consuming numerous beers with dinner.

Then I entered the NZ chilli champs, came last and nearly died. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. And I think that’s the crux of the issue here.

You see, while others opt to run marathons or go to the gym, others still get their endorphins (i.e. happy juice) by putting hot sauce on their meals. What happens is the heat causes discomfort so the body produces beta-endorphins to counter the pain and cause pleasure.

How fantastic is that? Truly magical. Not only that, but your tolerance quickly builds and you can go hotter. It’s like you get fitter by eating.


Einstein would have a field day.

A god damn field day.

So from my limited understanding of it there are mild sauces all the way to really, really, really, really hot sauces. No, really. This hotness can be measured with our friend the scoville scale (SHU). Named after American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville - Willy Bum-Bum to his friends - it measures the spicy heat of chilli peppers.

Your stock standard jalapeno is around 2,500 Scovilles but the hottest chilli can get up to 2,000,000. Pepper spray sits at 2-5 million. Pure capsicum? 16,000,000. Growers of chilli are always trying to out do each other and claim the world’s hottest.

They’re mad for it.

I’ve recently become aware of the numerous local hot sauces and being a bit of a fan, wanted to use my position of power to get some free product. In exchange, I would write an article. You are reading that article.

Today I want to talk to you about five sauces. They are, in alphabetical order:

  • Culley’s
  • Fire Dragon
  • Gringo Killer
  • Huffman’s Hot Sauce
  • Kaitaia Fire

There are more, yes. I might try them at a later date. To be completely honest I don’t know the first thing about reviewing hot sauces. I’m actually making this up as I go along. Bear with me.


The first time I heard of Culley’s was at the Taste of Auckland food show in November. I was intrigued to stumble across them and grabbed a business card, though it wouldn’t be until writing this that I’d do anything with it.

Making an educated guess (I did a few years) I’d argue Chris (Culley) knows what he’s doing when it comes to shaking the PR fist. Recently I ran into the sauce once more, in a double page editorial in Bite (NZ (New Zealand) Herald’s) weekly food magazine that was doing a Mexican scene roundup. Yours humbly did not get a mention in that publication and while initially this was the cause of much concern, you’ll be pleased to know I’ve since gotten over it. Ay que la chingada, as they say in Mexico.

But what of the sauce?

I received three in an attractively packaged gift box type arrangement. You can go buy your own at your Farro’s.

The Bhut Jolokia, Chipotle and Tijuana sauce had different heat rankings but I was disappointed to find the Bhut Jolokia - supposedly the hottest of the three – not that hot. Disappointment also struck when I went to pour some out due to the gaping hole beneath the lid. You remember gaping holes from your last Google search, don’t ‘cha? Anyway, this design meant I always got more than I bargained for.

Also like the internet.

The sauce was tasty enough, sure. But it lacked the donkey punch I look for in a hot sauce. Next up was Chipotle. I found it to be thicker and tastier, but at only half the Bhut’s hotness. I’m afraid it would never be more than a tomato sauce substitute at a BBQ for me.

The third sauce, the Tikuana Green Chile was delectable. Again, a mild sauce but one that was quickly being poured on everything in sight. It just picked up at the Cuisine magazine 2013 artisan awards and we can see why. Taste is what Culley's are going for, and we think they hit the nail on the head with this one.

Which is why Culley’s would make a good Father’s Day present.

And I mean that in a good way.

Fire Dragon

“The first time I tried this I thought someone had kicked me in the mouth. After my first bottle, I was hooked” - someone whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry).

Fire Dragon claim to have NZ’s hottest all natural chilli sauces and in the five years they’ve been going, no one has challenged them on that.

You could say that they run the hot sauce scene.

Starting in 2008 with 30 plants and now with around 800, they were the first local company to use the Bhut Jolokia. That particular sauce, aptly named Deadly, coincidentally just won the 3rd best hot sauce in Australasia at the Mr. Chilli awards. That’s out of the 100+ sauces that entered. Credit where it’s due, their Xtra Hot variety came in at 5th equal.

Clint, the great man that he is, actually has a bit of a screw loose. Here is a video of him from last year, out the back of his place eating a very hot chili:

It’s actually a ‘Trinidad Scorpion Butch T’, currently the world’s hottest according to Guinness at 1.5 million SHU. Try it for yourself – albeit in smaller dose – in both the Deadly and Dragons Fury sauce, two of the five available. They’re also growing some new hybrids this year that are supposed to be even hotter. We’ll have to wait and see.

Every month they make a fresh batch of sauce.

Oh and you’ve just missed out on the collab Fire Dragon did with Liberty Beer. It sold out. The good news is they’re doing a bigger batch soon so do keep an eye out for ‘Dragons WHAIA Golden Chilli Ale’. For now we’ll turn our attention to the annual NZ Chilli champs, which Fire Dragon organises. Heats are held around the country in what appears to be a rather bizarre way to get the most insane people you’ll ever meet into a confined space.

It’s great fun; I’ve entered a few.

The first was by chance, at a pub in Ellerslie.

Look at me now huh.

Things start getting underway for this again in April/May, with the final in early July. Keep an eye on it by liking their Facebook page.

Back to the sauces.

I must point out that while they’re warm, they do retain flavour. At the hotter end of the scale you could cry tears of pain, but you’ll still be able to appreciate the taste. Their online shop is where you’ll find the full range, ranked in heat so you can purchase accordingly.

Gourmet Hot is a 5/10

Xtra Hot is 8/10

Deadly 10/10

Bhuty Black 10/10

Dragons Fury is 10+++/10

You can also buy chilli seeds if you’re into that sort of thing.

Or think you might be.

To sum up, any person in New Zealand who appreciates hot sauce that doesn’t have a bottle or two of Fire Dragon’s has no idea what they’re talking about.

See you at the chilli champs.

Gringo Killer

This is a nice sauce, but one that doesn’t really leave any impact on me. Again it has a very liquid form with no easy way to dispense it, though it does have an OK flavour. The hotter variants leave a pleasant burn that sticks around for a bit, and I must confess it gave me a good sniffle. So it’s a nice sauce. But who has time for nice?

Regrettably, I just don’t think it stacks up with the rest of the competition.

Having said all that, they get points for being spray free and offering chilli products such as such chilli jam. You’ll also learn a thing or two on their website.

A pleasure to deal with, I’m afraid the best I can do is only recommend them if it was an impulse buy at a farmers market where you felt like spontaneously buying a local hot sauce.

Huffman's Hot Sauce

These fellows came widely recommended and were keen to get involved with the project. To get right to the point it’s a bloody tasty sauce and became my default until I ran out. It’s hot enough to give you a tickle yet still allows you the taste of sun-ripened sweet peppers, distilled white vinegar, pure sea salt and smoked Spanish paprika.

My girlfriend also enjoyed this sauce.

Why not? It sets out to be an all-purpose food and beverage invigorator, something that works as a seasoning or condiment. Not sure if this is the case with the rest of the sauces here, but after being cooked by hand they age the sauce for three months to give the seeds and skins full contact, much the same way people produce wine. Huffman’s then strain it before bottling.

No artificial stabilisers or preservatives.

They claim on their website that it responds differently to different foods. French fries gives you the salt and vinegar whereas a splash into a chicken before roasting and a little on the skin twenty minutes before it’s done gives it a Mediterranean warmth and smokiness coming through.

We can all agree it’s a well-written claim.

Get yourself a bottle at your local Hells store. Make a point of driving past one after work if you have to.

Kaitaia Fire

Kaitaia Fire would have to be the most popular sauce in New Zealand. The sort of heat most can handle, the sauce is incredibly versatile in the same way tomato sauce is.

Some call it the Heineken of hot sauce, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. They were by far the hardest to deal with and I’m still yet to figure out how someone that sells hot sauce can be so arrogant.

Having pondered for a moment, it’s probably because they’ve got the supermarket deals in place, the sauce tastes good, appeals to many and exports are a sizeable chunk of their business.

I mean, who am I?

There is hope though.

If you like Kaitaia Fire, you’ll love Huffman’s. It’s better in every single way. I actually wish Huffman’s had the lucrative supermarket contracts. They deserve it more.

A Final Note

You must try spicy food if you haven’t already. It’s a relatively easy way to push yourself and is enjoyable when treated with respect. Even the plainest of meals can be made interesting and it’s an easy way to make your day more exciting.

Educate your pallet with Huffman’s. I see as a great sauce no home should be without. Then get yourself a bottle or two of Fire Dragons for when you feel like testing yourself.

Believe it or not, it’s common to have more than one hot sauce; indeed it’s fun collecting them.

In the meantime, let me know of any other local sauces you’re aware of. On my radar is Orcona, Hot Samoan’s and a sauce two people I respect greatly swear by ‘Waha Wera – Kiwifruit and Habanero’.

Oh and uh, welcome to the scene.

Ben Polkinghorne is the founder and respected leader of Auckland Burrito Review.

Published on February 28, 2013 by Ben Polkinghorne
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