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Keeping things spicy

INSTAGRAM.COM/ALEROSPH/

A LONGING for the warmth of home is what made Radi Custorio create very hot sauce.

Late last year, we met up with Mr. Custorio among the many holiday bazaars in the city, where his hot sauce, WAP! (as in the pop song), was sold under his brand, Aleros N’ Sauces, along with a display of chips with which one can sample his sauces.

Mr. Custorio is Filipino, but was born and raised in Latin America — a hotspot for spicy food. There, he sprinkled his meals with Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, a product from Belize made of Habanero peppers and grapefruit. To give in to a craving after his sauce ran out after moving to the Philippines, he tried to replicate the experience, taking note that it was made with fruit. From there, he experimented with different peppers and fruit. “Latin (American) culture is very hot, very spicy-food oriented,” he said. “I kind of missed that.”

Four of his sauces made an impression on this writer, namely Apple Desire, Oh Dalandan, one made with watermelon, and another inspired by Mexican mole (which had cacao in it). The one with apples was smoky and sweet with a light kick, while the one with watermelon, also infused with Japanese sake, had a taste one can describe as juicy, slowly releasing the heat of the world’s spiciest chili, the Carolina Reaper (with about 2 million Scoville Heat Units; the scale for which they measure chili’s heat). Oh Dalandan was complex and oddly fresh, while the Mole was hot! The immediate rush smolders down to a pleasant ember, and despite all the hot sauce we had consumed, we were still able to stand and talk to Mr. Custorio.

The ability to still stand after consuming something made with the world’s spiciest chili is a mark of Mr. Custorio’s mastery and sense of balance. It’s hard to say we’re only flattering him, considering he already won The Fiery Cup (a competition by the Philippine Hot Sauce Club) in 2020; as well as placing in the Ultimate Taste contest in 2021 and 2022. His secret is combining the lightness of fruits with the heat of peppers: “I just really like highlighting tropical fruit. No one’s really done it, and then it’s kind of a good entry-level way for people to jump into hot sauce,” he said.

“My goal is never to just have a painful hot sauce. I try to balance flavor with heat,” he told BusinessWorld in an interview.

He sources the local fruit at wet markets himself, but the peppers are a different story. Bred in other countries (the ghost pepper derives from India, while the Reapers were first developed in South Carolina, as its name suggests), he had to find local suppliers to get his fix. “I have four or five local suppliers that grow their own peppers,” he said. “They acclimate the peppers here. Took them maybe a few years.”

He knows his peppers well: each sauce is meant for specific purposes. For example, the one made with dalandan, a local citrus, is meant for red meats and chicken, while the pineapple-passionfruit variety is made for breads, cheeses, and pizza. Apple Desire is meant for Asian dishes, the watermelon sauce is for lighter fare like salads — it looks like he has a sauce for every dish.

He talks about his own take on Filipino cuisine, and how hot sauce fits in with it: “Filipinos kind of like slight heat to their meals,” he said, citing the appearance of chilis in sawsawan (dips). “It’s not something too far and unrecognizable.”

To purchase Mr. Custorio’s sauces, contact instagram.com/alerosph. — Joseph L. Garcia

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