Much of what I do around here involves sampling and writing about products that are derivations on a common theme. Within a given lineup of hot sauces, you may find four or five products that consist of almost entirely the same ingredients, with only a few changes here and there for flavor and heat. This is true across brands as well. And why shouldn’t it be? If something sells well, then there’s little risk in using it as a template for other products. Sometimes, though, I have the pleasure of reviewing something that takes that common theme and throws it out the window, something that dares to do new and exciting things. Folks, there’s a difference between change and innovation, and the latter seems to be what Race City Sauce Works is going for with Zen Sake & Kumquat Dipping Sauce.
White Wine Vinegar, Orange Habanero, Kumquats, Rice Wine Vinegar, Sake, Ginger, Spices, Xantham Gum
This list is short and sweet. Although Zen has a vinegar as its first ingredient, it is worth noting that wine-based vinegar is less acidic than many of its counterparts, meaning this sauce won’t necessarily have that vinegary taste that many people don’t like. Of course, I cannot go on without mentioning the two titular ingredients, sake and kumquats, neither of which is exactly an old standby in the hot sauce business. You can bet that this sauce will taste different than your average hot sauce. Finally, let’s not forget the mighty orange habanero, wbich comes in as the second ingredient here, hopefully lending a decent spicy kick to this product.
Zen Sake & Kumquat is a somewhat sticky light brown liquid of medium thickness. Bits of pulp from the peppers and kumquats are evident within the bottle. That’s really all you need to know here.
Smell and Taste:
I’m not terribly big on sake, but I can smell its influence on this product. It isn’t terribly strong – the habaneros take care of that – but there is a slightly sour smell, one that isn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, it fits rather well with the citrus scent that emanates from the kumquats. And speaking of citrus, I had to double-check the ingredients after I first tasted this, because it reminds me so much of oranges. I thought for certain that there would be some orange zest, at least, but no dice. The ginger and assorted spices give Zen a rather herbal flavor that is at once delicious and soothing, letting the product live up to its name
The principles of Zen speak of harmony and peace, something I alluded to above, but there’s also an interesting dischord within this product. Despite the soothing flavor that comes from the herbal ingredients, this dipping sauce is actually pretty spicy. I’ll go so far as to give it a Mean. It’s a little on the low end of the Mean range, but I wouldn’t want it to surprise an unsuspecting consumer with too much heat. As far as the that peaceful flavor goes, I’ll give it a Nice. It doesn’t quite crack my own personal requirements for scoring any higher, but it is good enough to recommend to anyone looking for something rather different in the hot sauce business. (And yes, for those of you keeping score, that means, amusingly enough, the Zen Sake & Kumquat Dipping Sauce receives our Bipolar Rating.)
This is another one of those products that is more for situational use than general table use. I wouldn’t throw this on just anything. The label recommends a variety of seafood dishes, including sushi, but that’s not really my thing. It is, however, good on chicken, and I’d be willing to bet that, as the label also suggests, it would make one delicious stir fry sauce. This isn’t a sauce you can pour over vegetables to hide their flavor; rather, give it a chance to complement the veggies.
Kumquats are olive-sized citrus fruits that bear resemblance to oranges. Lately, their use in cuisine and products outside of traditional Asian and Indian cooking has grown in popularity, and they have found their way into main dishes, desserts, and even liqueurs. Dade City, Florida even has an annual Kumquat Festival.