James Lileks
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On TwitterX — or whatever you call it — I saw a map by Instacart of the most popular hot sauce for each state. You will, of course, want to know what Minnesota likes. Patience. All will be revealed.

I am a hot sauce fan. But I am not one of those pain-chasing freaks who looks for something with an ugly Day-Glo-hued label with a name like Boom Satan Pain Fluid or Carolina Bowel-Murder Cha-cha or Beelzebub Barney's Fundament Flamethrower. They have mottos like "Die now, pay later."

Those are for people who have no palate left, just a dead tongue with all the sensitivity of an oven mitt. One of the more popular national hot sauce brands has an ad campaign with the slogan "I put that [bleep] on everything," which sort of admits that its fans are uninterested in the flavor of actual food, but just want to be whacked in the mouth with a wooden ruler instead of savoring the complexities of a dish.

"For monsieur, the truffles, cooked to perfection with an accompaniment of saffron-dusted rice, and an aioli infused with shallots and garlic."

"Great! You got any Frank's Red Hot?"


"Franks! I put that [bleep] on everything!"

"Monsieur, our chef does not permit Frank's Rouge Chaud in the house. In fact, Chef wears an ankle bracelet because of the way he corrected a man who brought his own Frank's."

Minnesota is not a Frank's state. According to Instacart, our preferred brand is Cholula. This is a fine sauce and speaks well of us.

In an utterly just world, though, our sauce of choice might have been local fave Cry Baby Craig's. I hate to say that because the sauce snobs who pride themselves on starting every day with a ghost pepper suppository and a napalm smoothie will sneer, and say that Cry Baby is the choice of people who don't really know hot sauce. But they are tiresome dorks whose flavor receptors are equivalent to an asphalt road, so never mind.

Iowa was identified as a Sriracha state. Good choice, great sauce. No, the sauce bros say, it's never been the same since the great Pepper Supplier Fracas of 2017! Silence, sauce bros. Let Iowans enjoy things.

North Dakota: Village Hot Sauce. Ah, well. Here's a good lesson in why these surveys, and indeed the very concept of a state as a meaningful distinction, should be questioned.

I know Village. As a native Nodakian, I know it and love it. It's about as hot as noon on the moon, but it's good. But I doubt anyone in Minot or Bismarck or Williston is ordering it. Grand Forks and Fargo sales are skewing the survey, and making it look as if the preference of some lazy Instacart patrons on the easternmost part of the state speak for everyone in the great prairie beyond. The borders of a state do not prescribe the parameters of the human soul.

Which brings us to the great mystery of another neighbor. The state we don't think about much at all: South Dakota. Their preferred hot sauce, according to the Instacart map, is …


I don't know where to start with this. What do they mean? The cocktail sauce, with its faint intimation of horseradish? Or — and I dearly hope this is the case — do they think that Heinz 57 is hot sauce? Because that's the role it played when I was growing up: Lutheran Tabasco.

If nothing else, the hot sauce map makes me glad to live in a land with so many ways to smack your mouth and make you weep.

Even though they've tried to make new Frankenstein ketchups with mayo or Sriracha, ketchup has been ketchup for decades. Our mustard worlds were turned upside down when we got the Dijon variety, but most of us still squirt some French's or blurt the Plochman's. Forty years ago there was nothing but Tabasco, and the average Minnesota family, if they had it at all, never finished a bottle. They barely drained the neck. Now we have a profusion of flavor faves, and it's marvelous.

But I wonder why hot sauce got so popular? I think it's because fewer people smoke. When the tongue sludge was gone, people realized the tongue was good for something other than moving bland hot dish to the alimentary canal, and wondered "Well, what else can this thing do? Howl with glorious flavor pain? Sign me up for that."

It just occurred to me that "heinz" may be the sound South Dakotans utter the morning after they ate a lot of Cholula.