Monday, June 27, 2011

Panama Red Hot Sauce Review -- 2011 Scovie Award 1st Place and Triple Category Winner

Today I am going to review the Panama Red Hot Sauce from Pan Cali Foods. Do you remember the song?

"Panama Red, Panama Red
He'll steal your woman, then he'll rob your head
Panama Red, Panama Red
On his white horse, Mescalito
He come breezin' through town
I'll bet your woman's up in bed with
Panama Red" -- from Panama Red by Peter Rowan 

Luckily, this stuff is Orange. Otherwise I might be worried. Still, I couldn't hear the name, Panama Red, without thinking of the old Jerry Garcia/Pete Rowan song as played and recorded by both The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Old and in the Way so long ago. Also note there is an implied analogy to a particularly potent cannabis cultivar that had a rep for #$!!$@ing you up! But in a good way ... LOL.

Anyway, I've been waiting while this stuff for quite a while, and anticipation has been building -- I am glad to say, not in vain. This stuff is very, very good. Locally distributed in California in the San Francisco area, it is also available directly from Pan Cali Foods and is a good value at 8 bucks for 8 oz.

Winner of the 2011 Scovie Awards in 3 categories, 1st Place Authentic Caribbean, 2nd Place Habanero, and 2nd Place Specialty Chile (Aji Chombo -- I guess), the Panama Red certainly has the credentials to pique my interest. Due to shipment delays from, dare I say it, Panama, it took me over 3 months to get my hands on the stuff. When the package came in the door, I didn't even wait for a moment to do an objective review, just ripped open the box, yanked off the plastic cap, and poured a teaspoonful into my mouth. It has a big, intense, bright and complex flavor and I was happy to have my long anticipation satisfied.

So, I recapped the bottle and allowed myself the luxury of waiting 'til the next day for a proper review.

Panama Red Hot Sauce Ingredients:
Vinegar, Habanero, (Panamanian Aji Chombo), Onion, Mustard, Water, Garlic, Celery, Culantro, Salt, Black Pepper, Raw Cane Sugar

There seems to be some ambiguity over the actual peppers included -- variously on the website linked to above, the names Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, and Aji Chombo appear, and it isn't clear if all 3 are present or if, since Aji Chombo is a Habanero cultivar, only Habanero is present or maybe Habanero and Scotch Bonnet. Whatever. The point is also made by Pan Cali that the heat of the Aji Chombo does not persist as long or as brutally as that of the Habanero. OK.

I do have a bit of a prejudice against hot sauces for which the principal ingredient is Vinegar, since, in many cases, that means the principal flavor is vinegar, and to the exclusion of most of the other flavors. Happily, that is not the case here. There is still a strong vinegar flavor, however.

OK, to tasting.

The nose is of bright acid and spicy pepper, and that is the first note on the tongue as well, along with some salty sweetness, earthy mustard, and sweet spicy onion. As the taste fades, some sweetness remains along with a substantial and classic needle-like Habanero heat. The texture is chunky with discrete bits of the ingredients adding to the intensity of the flavor. Very pleasant overall and interesting from beginning to end with a robust and complex flavor -- great intensity.

Because of the amount of vinegar in the sauce, it might not be the best choice for foods already bright with acids such as lemon or vinegar, so certain soups might not benefit, nor perhaps would some delicate foods go well, for instance, scrambled eggs. That's not to say you won't like the combination -- I know plenty of people who slather Tabasco all over their eggs. Oh, well.

But for fried foods and hearty foods, this sauce is great. I tried it in Braised Short Ribs, on a Bacon Cheese Burger, on Deep-Fried Catfish in an Aioli made with Hellman's Mayo and this sauce, and loved it.

Very Highly Recommended. In spite of the fact, I think there is too much vinegar. IMO.

Yours in Heat and Flavor,


PS Try the Panama Red  mixed with Hellman's Mayo, say, 4 TBS to 1 cup mayo, or to taste.

Photo Credit: Pan Cali Foods


  1. Thank you Ted for the wonderful review, very kind of you. Peter Rowan/N.R.P.S. are favorites of mine and this plus the nostalgic "Cannabis Cultivar" Panama Red was always my inspiration. If I may make a correction and an expansion, we actually won four 2011 Scovie Awards, you missed the "All Natural" category which we won 1st place as well. To expand on the pepper, we do use the Panamanian origin Aji Chombo pepper, but knew that this being a rare pepper most would be unfamiliar with it and so decided to include Scotch Bonnet and Habanero for recognition. All credit goes to cousin Delvar in Panama City, Panama for staying true to the authentic family recipe.


    Mike, Eddie, and Delvar
    PanCali Foods LLC
    Panama Red Hot Sauce

  2. I stand corrected -- Panama Red is a 4 Scovie Winner. As you can tell from the review, I really like Panama Red, and I am happy to know those are real Aji Chombo peppers in there, and not some inauthentic substitute! Tastes very Habanero like to me! But no doubt in an Aji Chombo sort of way.

    Great Stuff!


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