I’ll admit it: I am not much of a hot sauce fanatic, and I can not handle the spice. My Korean ancestors are probably shaking their heads at me unfortunately, but it is what it is. With ketchup as my main condiment of choice for over 25 years, I have only recently decided to let my tastebuds venture to more flavors that fall under the same red color, but with scorching differences. From Sriracha to Tapatio to Tabasco, these new hot sauces were such interesting experiences in my mouth. However, when it was time to try Cholula, my friends enthusiastically and passionately gushed about how it was the best hot sauce. They would pull out mini bottles from their purses, and coworkers would reveal full-sized ones from out of their desk drawers. Clearly this wasn’t just a hot sauce — this was a lifestyle. Thus, you can imagine that when the opportunity came to go straight to the source for a Cholula-filled weekend, I absolutely jumped on that Cholula train straight to Mexico for my first official taste.
Two plane rides and three in-flight movies later, I checked into my hotel in Guadalajara, freshened up, and headed to cocktails and (most importantly) appetizers. Warm empanadas, seasoned chips, and fresh ceviche were spread across the bar beautifully, with the edges lined with Cholula bottles. I picked one up, only to realize that there were different flavors of Cholula, a concept I hadn’t even thought of before this moment! I took this as my opportunity to get the perfect first taste, when I bumped into a vivacious woman with a raspy voice. Araceli, who I later found out is the Director of Public Relations for Jose Cuervo as well as our generous hostess for the evening, exuded her genuine love for Cholula, her work, and her heritage as a whole.
“If you ever want to be the life of the party, always carry a bottle of Cholula with you in your bag. Take it out during a meal and you will for sure be the center of attention – I carry mini bottles in all of my purses!”
After I expressed that I had yet to actually try Cholula, she warmly encouraged me to taste it, handing over a bottle of the original flavor. I decided to drizzle it lightly onto a plain tortilla chip, and with my first bite, I was in Cholulove. There was a certain kick to the sauce that I had yet to experience with any other hot sauces, and the flavor didn’t overpower; it added dimension. It was spicy and complementary, and I knew this would be the first of many bottles I’d consume over the weekend.
Bright and early the next morning, we made our way down to Chapala to visit the Cholula factory, where we were given a quick history lesson, as well as a tour. We put on our gloves, hairnets, and facemasks, and were warned that the first room is extremely hot and that the spices might be a bit much for our senses. As we walked into the room with the highest quality arbol and piquin peppers, I choked back tears and held my breath (because I ain’t no baby). The peppers had already been sun-dried under constant supervision for about three days, and I watched as two workers drained a huge vat of the sun-dried and soaked peppers, conveying them over to another worker who had a hose in one hand and a brush in the other. He carefully washed and separated each pile of peppers in a way that retained quality and flavor, and then sent them off to the facility’s mill where they’d be meticulously ground into a paste.
Moving downstairs, we saw huge metal chambers where the peppers were being mixed for consistency, and blended to achieve that signature flavor. Once the blending is complete, the sauce undergoes a rigorous quality control process. Once its fully met the brand’s highest standards, the Cholula is sent to the bottling area.
If you could imagine Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory but with Cholula, that was basically what I walked into. I was absolutely mesmerized by the huge contraptions lining up bottles, evenly distributing sauce, slapping on labels to perfection, and capping each bottle with Cholula’s distinctive wooden cap. Each bottle was separated by hand on the conveyor belt before moving on to final packaging, and it was hypnotizing to see it go from the peppers straight to our tables for a fresh tasting.
Using jicama, popcorn, chips, and cucumbers as neutral tasting foods, we tried each of the six hot sauce flavors on the patio of the factory: Original, Green Pepper, Chipotle, Chili Lime, Chili Garlic, and Sweet Habanero. The crowd favorite was Green Pepper, which I understood in a larger scope of things, as it tasted like salsa verde with a little kick, but my favorite had to be the Chili Lime. With a perfect blend of heat and tang, the Chili Lime took the win, and the Chili Garlic came in close second. After tasting five out of the six, we had the Sweet Habanero left, and I was not ready for it, as I took a hefty dip into it with my jicama. My taste buds felt betrayed, as the sweet chili flavor hit my lips innocently, only to have the habanero heat come at me without any warning; it basically took over my lips, mouth, tongue, and throat, and it was a wild ride that I did not sign up for.
Nevertheless though, it was pretty lit (get it).
From our evening cocktails to our American-style brunch at the Cholula La Fonda restaurant in Tequila, Cholula was a part of any and every dish you could possibly imagine. The flavour was never overbearing, but rather complementary (even in the cucumber-habanero sorbet we had at the Cholula restaurant – yes, you read that right). Having never tasted Cholula before, I was absolutely spoiled with my flavorful adventures in Mexico, but I am confident in being a self-proclaimed Cholula connoisseur for life!