“Hi, Mom. So, you know that hot sauce gift set you got me for Christmas? Well, it’s terrible. Just awful. So bad, in fact, that I’m going to take to the internet and warn others away from it. Really, it’s just the worst, and you should feel bad for buying it. Gotta go, I think my tongue is deflating. Tell Dad I said hi.”
This, more or less, was a conversation I recently had with my parents. Because as grateful as I am to them for bringing me into the world, the “World Wide Hot Sauce 25-Pack” pictured above was among the worst gifts I’ve ever received. Not only is it a waste of packaging, shelf space, and brightly colored ink, but each and every one of its flavors fell into two categories: “chemically spiced crayons” or “water at the bottom of a trash bin.”
I’m being dramatic, of course. It’s the thought behind the gift that counts, and most of the folks who grab these from Walmart genuinely mean well. And the thing is, it’s not really their fault. If anyone is to blame for this off-the-shelf deception, it’s the shadowy manufacturers who churn out this kitsch in the first place. So, who the hell are these people, and how can we fight their evil?
Tracking down the maker of the world’s worst hot sauce
Attempting to find these manufacturers leads one down a trail of bright colors, flashy labels, and broken internet links. The hunt begins on the back of the box, which says, “Enjoy these 25 hot sauces inspired by journeys across the globe. No delayed flights, no luggage to drag around. Take your taste buds on a trip all over the world right from the dinner table!”
This certainly sounds like an adventure. All told, the packaging, glass bottles, and eye-catching labels are pretty neat. It’s not hard to see why Grandma, passing by the set on her way back from the slipper aisle, would notice this and think, “Oh! This would be perfect for little Timmy. He’s just so darned spicy!”
Yet in the fine print, we find the company responsible: Modern Gourmet Foods. It even lists a website, www.moderngourmetfoods.com. Go ahead, type that into your browser. Doesn’t work, does it? Even Google doesn’t list an actual website, although the Irving, California address and ZIP code match the description on the packaging. What Google does list are 29 reviews of the business, with an overall rating of 1.9/5. Read them, if only for the phrase “Stroke in a Bottle!”
The oddity of the ingredients label
Before I cracked the first bottle, I harbored significant doubts. Take a look at the ingredients list. I know hot sauce isn’t the most chemically complicated of foods, but how many renditions of red chile, citric acid, chipotle powder, maltodextrin, and xanthan gum can you cram into a single box? Twenty-five. The answer is twenty-five.
Compare the ingredients in, say, the Hawaiian Lava Flow and Baja Heat Mango Habanero hot sauces in the photo above. You’ll notice that they’re exactly the same. (This pattern is repeated throughout, but this instance is the most obvious, as their text lines up exactly.)
The flavors aren’t just bad, they’re a crime
All of this would be excusable if the sauces were good enough to dump over nachos or chili. But remember that scene in The Mummy (no, not that one) where a character gets eaten by bugs? That’s how my tongue felt after sampling the “Egyptian Scarab Fire Sauce.” It wasn’t even spicy—just creepy, crawly, and gross.
And “Costa Rica Lava Heat”? Please. More like “Tangy Tap-Water Drip.” Even something as simple as “Buffalo Style Hot Sauce” turned out to be more or less unpalatable. And how the hell did Modern Gourmet manage to make a simple “Green Hot Sauce” taste yellow?
Look, I’m not just being cheeky here. All jokes aside, most of these bottles aren’t just “Ha ha, gross,” but genuinely offensive. They taste of plastic, chemicals, and the soulless vats in which they were forged. And the company has the audacity to depict its products as multicultural or globetrotting. This isn’t even cultural appropriation—it’s flat-out falsehood.
But where to turn with this angst? It’s not as though Walmart is going to take back a gift box of open (and lightly spit upon) hot sauces. Fortunately, my parents were given the box set for free before passing it on to me. Big spenders, my mom and dad.
There seems to be just one route of revenge: Spread the word. There’s nothing good to be found in these 25 “Flavors of the World,” and I doubt that the “Be My Burning Love” set is any better. Let’s ensure the responsible parties are stuck with whole warehouses full of the stuff, until they’re forced to drink it for sustenance. Don’t be tempted by the bright labels and colors, even if the set is marked down from $20 to $5. Because when you stare into the void that is Modern Gourmet Foods, Modern Gourmet stares back.