Eating slap chips at a restaurant in Mozambique while on a family holiday back in 2011, Stephanie Pais had no idea that the piri-piri sauce served with her chips would set her on a career path she couldn’t even imagine.
“I couldn’t get enough of it! It was delicious, something I’d never tasted before,” she says laughing, adding that they bought all the bottles of the sauce the restaurant had and devoured them on the rest of their holiday.”
I’d tasted nothing like it back home in South Africa, I was hooked!
Stephanie admits she’s always been a bit of a sauce fundi having discovered Mrs Balls chutney as a child. “My brother loved HP sauce, so those two condiments were at every meal!” Her tastes for hot and spicy flavours developed over the years thanks to her Portuguese father who, through his cooking, introduced her to lunch time treats of tabasco sauce and green peppers and the punchy flavours of chilies and garlic found in sriracha sauce.
Coming home after their Mozambican trip, Stephanie decided to try and recreate the flavours, she’d experienced on holiday. “I did a lot of experimenting and developed my own recipes, but back then I was working as a musician so didn’t have the cash to set up a business.
For years her recipes lay idle while she followed her music career, performing at Barnyard shows and teaching music, specifically the trumpet, at local schools. She also did a stint as a sound engineer at the Sneddon Theatre and cruise ships. “I released three solo albums on iTunes, which was a lot of fun but took a lot of work and time. I also added the sax to my musical instruments repertoire!”
Fast forward to 2015 and Stephanie was on the banting wagon. “At the time I was using a range of commercial hot sauces until I looked closely at the ingredients list and realised they weren’t banting friendly.
It was then that she dug out her original recipes that offered a healthier option in line with her nutrition lifestyle. Stephanie’s recipes called for natural, fresh ingredients, a good olive oil with no hint of alcohol, sugar, gluten, animal products or preservatives.
“It was only when Christmas came around that I decided to make up some of my sauces and give them away as gifts because I was too broke to buy gifts!”
Stephanie came up with four different sauces, made in her kitchen in Drummond . Her brother was the first recipient of her spicy sauce hamper which included the Mozambique Piri Piri, a mild Chilli Mint, Devil Chilli made with the African Birds Eye chilli and guaranteed to make you sweat and a Jalepeno sauce with subtle hints of ginger (which is great with avo on toast by the way!)
She printed her own labels, stuck them on the bottles and posted a picture on Facebook. Her friends started ordering and that was that, her Spais Sauces business was launched.
Knowing that her business need more customers than her Facebook friends list, Stephanie took her products to the Shongweni Farmers’ Market and gained a loyal supporter base who still visit her stall at the market every week to stock up on their favourite sauces and any new additions to the range.
“All in all we have 13 flavours in the range, but six of them are limited editions because they rely on seasonal ingredients.”
The sauces are more than just accompaniments to enhance flavours in meals. They can be used as marinades – think hot and spicy chicken wings, marinated in Smoked Chilli sauce or plump and juicy chicken thighs marinated overnight in yoghurt and Chilli Mint sauce, grilled in the oven or over the coals … delish! The sauces work well as basting sauces and the results never disappoint, packing meats and veggies with punchy flavours.
In 2017, Stephanie added the Afro Chlli sauce to the range for those who like their sauce hot and chunky. “It’s made using local hot peppers,” she said, adding that she sources the more exotic peppers from the Ishogo Pepper Farm in Pietermaritzburg and regular green and red chillies from the fresh produce market on the Bluff.
“My favourite chili to work with is the Habenero. It’s got a lovely fruity flavour so mixes well with fruit. The one I have the most respect for is the Caroline Reaper – that one packs a punch, even for me!”
Working with chillies comes with its own dangers and Stephanie has a collection of ‘war’ stories to share.
“I remember one time I was making up a batch of sauce and had to blend about 20kg of green chilies. As I was adding the chillies into the blender the juice splashed up onto me. By the time I was done, I was splattered with chili juice and went and had a shower. “
In the shower, Stephanie said she felt a bit of a tingle but didn’t pay it much attention. It was only while she was sitting out on the patio that she noticed the tingle had become an uncomfortable burn and noticed burn marks over her hands and arms where the juice had splattered on her skin.
“It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I learnt my lesson and am more careful nowadays!”
Besides the Shongweni Market, Spais sauces can be found online at www.spaischillisauce.co.za or at selected butcheries, Spar stores and delis. Check out their website for a full list of stockists in KZN.
FUN FACT: If you have chilli burns and your mouth or skin is on fire, use olive oil to cool it down. Rub it into the skin or swish around in your mouth. Chillies are oil based, so using water to extinguish the burn is no good. Fresh cream also works.
FUN FACT: Some people believe that by deseeding a chili you are removing the bulk of the heat. Not so says Stephanie, the actual heat is found in that translucent membrane the seeds are attached to.
FUN FACT: Dried chilies don’t lose their heat. Whether fresh or dried, the chili peppers retain their heat.
FUN FACT: Chilli pepper plants are easy enough to grow from seed and do well in pots. They don’t like a lot of moisture and prefer dry soil. Some varieties are slow growers.
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR CHILLIES?
The heat: A tangy party in the mouth
Native to South Africa it has a unique taste with hints of spice and sweetness, and is very mild with a Scoville rating of 1100 to 1200. It can be stuffed with cheese, sliced and used on pizzas and in bread, pasta, salads and more.
The heat: A mild bite
You’re still in safe territory if you’re eating a Poblano chilli. Ranging from 7 to 15cm in length, it packs a Scoville rating of 2500 to 5000, and hails from the Puebla state in Mexico. More potent when ripe and red, as they mature, Poblano chillies turn a dark, almost brown in colour and are a good for drying. They are renowned as the chilli of choice for use in a spicy chilli sauce enriched with very bitter dark chocolate.
The heat: Getting warmer
The Guajillo, rating between 2500 and 5000 on the Scoville scale, is often sold dried, and most commonly deseeded, soaked and ground into a thin paste to be used in salsa, soups or stews because it adds a rich, aromatic taste.
The heat: … is on!
The Jalapeño has a Scoville rating that ranges from 1000 right up to 20 000. The older a jalapeño gets, the hotter it becomes. You can slice them up and bottle them as relishes, use them in salsas, on nachos or on pizza toppings, but we love them stuffed, battered and deep fried.
The heat: The Cheech & Chong of chili
The word chipotle means smoked chilli, and just like the name says, these little bombs of flavour, are smoke-dried jalapeños. Medium to hot with a Scoville rating of 2500 to 10 000, these are great for salsas, stews and soups, as well as any other dishes you want to add a spicy, smoky kick to.
The heat: Hot enough to make your nose run
With a Scoville rating of 10 000 to 25 000, the average length of a serrano pepper is about 5cm. The smaller the serrano, the more potent it is. Usually eaten raw, they are also great for salsas and sauces and a variety of savoury dishes.
The heat: Fire of a dragon
Fiery hot with a tangy and acidic flavour, the Cayenne pepper is often used in salsas, soups… and in pepper sprays! Also known as the red hot chilli pepper, it is rated at around 30 000 to 50 000 on the Scoville scale.
Piri Piri (African Bird’s Eye or Peri Peri)
The heat: The ring stinger
Said to have been brought in by the Portuguese from Goa, and spread by birds, this aromatic and pungent butt-burning little chilli has comfortably found its home in the dish of peri peri chicken. Although small, they pack a massive punch with a Scoville rating of 100 000 to 225 000. They also have surprising health benefits including helping to control arthritic pain, stomach pain and toothaches.
The heat: Refrigerate your toilet paper
More than 10 times hotter than the Jalapeño (with a Scoville rating of 100 000 to 350 000), when prepared correctly (deseeded and cored), Habaneros have a wonderful fruity and smoky flavour which makes them great ingredients for flavouring oils, vinegars and hot sauces.
The heat: Handle with braai tongs and protective clothing
Also known as the Bhut Jolokia, before the Carolina Reaper came along, the Ghost Pepper was rated as the hottest pepper in the world, at around 1 million on the Scoville Scale. It is so potent that, in its native India, the chilli is put into hand grenades made to combat terrorists, used to combat heat (from excessive sweating) and as a quick-acting laxative. It is killer hot, so why anyone would want to eat it or cook with it is beyond us.
The heat: You may as well call an ambulance before you put it in your mouth
Crowned the hottest chilli in the world by the Guinness Book of Records, the Carolina Reaper is a mean, gnarly and pointy-tailed looking pepper, which makes total sense given its devilish demeanour. Described as the kind of chilli that bestows ‘the wrath of hellfire on anyone who dares eat it’ it is rated at between 1.5 and 2.5 million on the Scoville scale. It is man-made pepper, and not an original product of Mother Nature – the crossing of a ghost pepper and a red habanero resulted in this evil spawn that grips you from head to toe with a tidal wave of scorching fire. How anyone can describe it as having a fruity, sweet taste with a hint of cinnamon and chocolate undertones, we can’t possibly tell you!, If you are seriously considering eating one to confirm this, we suggest you think first about how much you value your stomach lining.