Cultured Heat takes hot sauce to the next level by not just making things spicier, but more flavorful. Founders Francesco Conti, the chef, and Mandy Trichell create fermented hot sauce, which give their spice something unique.
For years Conti has worked in the food industry, which led him into working with wild fermentation, a traditional method that encourages the yeast and microorganisms in the air to produce and develop to eat the sugars and ferment the vegetables.
“I was doing that, and I really got into it. I thought, ‘I wonder if anyone has ever done this with hot sauce,’ because I enjoy hot sauce but I’m not a big fan of the ton of vinegar that they tend to put into hot sauce because it works great as a preservative,” Conti said.
So, he gave making hot sauce with the fermentation method a try and it created such a great sauce he had to share it with others.
Trichell began taking bottles to her day job as a personal trainer. They received positive feedback and many people telling them they should sell the sauce.
“[Conti] was very resistant to the idea of selling,” Trichell said.
Conti defended himself by saying because he’s familiar with the industry he knows how hard it can be to launch a product and create a business.
“When we started there was no other known fermented hot sauce commercially available in Texas,” said Trichell.
At the beginning of the year the pair took a goal setting class together where they had to write and share their goals for that year. When Trichell read aloud that one of her goals was to create a hot sauce company, all Conti could do was give a nervous laugh.
Since they already knew what kind of bottles they needed from giving the hot sauce away during Christmas time, they started small by simply buying another box. It sold out on the first day that Trichell took it to her job.
Then as Conti put it, they put the cart before the horse. Conti was able to give Alison Cook, a lead restaurant critic for the Houston Chronicle, a sample of the hot sauce and she raved about it on social media.
Suddenly they were delivering hot sauce orders around town before they even had branding.
The licenses required to operate a food manufacturing company were acquired, but to be able to sell at farmers markets they would need to produce their product out of a commercial kitchen. Luckily, things fell into place and they’ve been able to use the commercial kitchen at Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room.
But what makes their hot sauce different than what’s on the shelf at a grocery store?
“The thing that makes it really unique is that you really get to taste all of the ingredients that’s in it,” Conti said, “I can’t stand when a hot sauce is so intense that it just burns your mouth and you can’t taste anything. I do have a spicier one, which is the red one, but even that is tamed down because the whole point of it is to add spice to your food but not overwhelm it so that you can’t taste it.”
When other hot sauce producers use vinegar to preserve it, that flavoring gets into the food. By not using vinegar, Cultured Heat’s hot sauce is more food compatible because it accentuates your food and not overwhelms it.
“The other thing that happens with the fermentation process it really puts a lot of umami into your food.
[Umami is] the fifth flavor profile,” Conti said.
Traditionally in food there are four flavor profiles, sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Japanese scientists discovered that a fifth one existed naturally in food that enhances the flavor. Umami is also known as “savory taste.”
“When you ferment food, the way we make the sauce, it has sort of that umami quality to it,” Conti said.
Cultured Heat features three types of hot sauce. The green, which is inspired by salsa verde, contains green jalapeños, serranos, shishitos, chilaca peppers, yellow onions, garlic, fresh cilantro, oregano, and pink Himalayan salt.
The yellow has Caribbean flavors with orange habaneros, caribe chilis, banana peppers, yellow onions, garlic, Caribbean spices, and pink Himalayan salt.
And lastly the spiciest is the red, which contains red habaneros and jalapeños, cherry bomb chilis, fresnos, red and yellow onions, garlic, Szechuan peppercorns, and pink Himalayan salt.
“Every batch is going to be a little bit different than the last one because were getting our food from local farmers and just like you get a peach that’s really sour and sometimes you get a peach that’s really sweet, peppers are the same way,” Trichell said.
Producing fermented hot sauce is a labor-intensive process, as the team spends hours in the kitchen chopping, blending, hand bottling, and hand labeling. It takes a lot to create a small batch handmade product.
For your own bottle of hot sauce, you can catch Cultured Heat at Eleanora’s Market and Blue Field Market on Saturday and Heights Morning Market on Sunday. Or stop by The Height Grocer at 4525 N. Main Street where you can buy a bottle.