“Here’s mud in your eye.” Where did that celebratory toast come from? What does it mean? (The “mud” reference will make more sense as you read on.) Well, even though I would NOT recommend putting El Yucateco’s XXXtra Hot hot sauce in your eye, it is tasty, to be sure, and I would recommend people put it in their mouths. This sauce, which is made in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, has a very distinctive flavor, yet it throws me for a loop because I’ve had it hundreds of times, and somehow I still have trouble deciphering the taste for the uninitiated without using the rather vague descriptors “earthy” and “savory”. (Btw, El Yucateco’s “green” sauce is also an all-time favorite, and I’ll be putting that one up soon.) Indeed, even after all this time, I still find the taste perplexing, and am at a loss as how to satisfactorily describe it. About all I can do is appeal to the ingredient list as a guide: habanero pepper, water, tomato, salt, onion, acetic acid, vegetable oil, spices, citric acid, sodium benzoate and xanthan gum. (Apparently, along with their contributions to mathematics, architecture, and astronomy, the Mayans also proved to be ahead of their time for using acetic acid, sodium benzoate and xanthan gum in their sauce recipes.) I can taste the traces of tomato, onion and the tartness that probably comes from the citric acid, and of course the habaneros; but, the sum of the ingredient parts do not seem to equal the whole of the unique flavor of this sauce. And when I say distinctive and unique, I do mean flavorful, and in a good way. One of the reasons I use the word “earthy,” is that to me it connotes a rustic freshness, and every sauce I’ve had from El Yucateco has an exceedingly fresh, vibrant taste. These sauces are about as mass produced as one could get while still retaining an authentic, hand-made flavor and feel. And with the great flavor, there is also more than sufficient heat for chilehead newcomers, but not so much for the experienced fire-eater. Yet, at 11,600 Scoville Heat Units, this product is a bit warmer than the modest heat rating suggests, and even journeymen heat lovers should find its burn a pleasant one.
As far as looks go, it’s not the most appealing sauce, and the word “earthy” could also be used to describe its color because it definitely resembles mud. But don’t let that put you off. Besides mud, I guess the only other association I could draw for someone is if they’ve had Pico Pica sauce. To me El Yucateco Xxxtra Hot is the next step up in heat and authenticity, because it’s much hotter than Pico Pica, and because it is actually made in Mexico. Either way, I would recommend this sauce because it’s one that I rarely see mentioned, and it’s pretty much under the radar in the much of the chilehead world. Not only that, it’s cheap and widely available. I picked up my current bottle at the Mexican market down the street for two bucks, but you can also find it at grocery stores for usually $3 or less. If someone doesn’t like it, then they didn’t shell out too much, and it need not be a total waste, because it can still be used to great effect in almost any Southwestern type dish where it plays a supporting role, and is not the main flavor.
p.s. Okay, I did some quick research on “Here’s mud in your eye,” and it can be viewed as a self-congratulatory toast, because it may be a reference to the horse track where the leading horse would be throwing clods of mud up into the eyes of its pursuers. It could also be an allusion to the Biblical narrative where Jesus healed a blind man by applying “mud” to his eyes; or it could be from the idea of dust or grit collecting on the bottom of one’s drink, and when they throw one back, they’re looking through the dirty bottom of their glass. That’s free trivia, no extra charge!