April 28, 1995
The alleged crime: assault. The setting: a late-night Denny’s in Lebanon, N. H. The weapon: Tabasco sauce.
Some like it hot.
Unfortunately for Michael A. Towne, some don’t. Formerly a cook at the Denny’s Towne became a pepper perpetrator as of Feb. 7, when he was accused of dosing the ham-and-egg orders of two Vermont state troopers with said red-pepper sauce.
The mean seasoning has earned Towne, 20, a day in court; he is scheduled to be tried June 6 on simple assault charges. To which hot-pepper fans respond: Tabasco? You gotta be kidding.
“I’d put a little nipple pacifier on (“the Tabasco bottle),” said Lisa Lamme, owner of Le Saucier, a Fanueil Hall purveyor of 10-alarm sauces. “It’s for babies.”
Melissa Stock, the managing editor of Chile Pepper magazine, dismissed Tabasco as “a wonderful …middle-of-the-road sauce.”
The numbers would seem to bear them out. On the official, 10-point heat scale, the staple of Louisiana cuisine rates only a 5. Tabasco sauce, say, experts, have a Scoville-unit rating of 4,500 (a pepper-pungency measurement developed in 1912 by W.L. Scoville, a Detroit pharmacologist).
By way of comparison, dry, ground paprika rates a measly 1 on the heat scale (150 Scovilles); the hottest pepper on record, the perfect-10 habanero. Peter Decato, who hopes to file a motion for dismissal within a week, maintains his client did not spice the trooper’s food, which can’t be entered as evidence anyway (the cops ate it). Decato also noted that Tabasco is a “legal condiment.” Over at Le Saucier, where few pepper sauces dip below an 8 on the heat scale, Lamme labeled Tabasco “pretty much a wimp seasoning.”
If Towne really wanted to cause heartburn and indigestion, Lamme could fill a police lineup with unusual suspects: a dash of habanero-based Hot Sauce From Hell (a 10), a sprinkle of Pickapeppa’s habanero-and-scotch-bonnet pepper sauce (9), or the mother of all meltdowns, Mad Dog Inferno, a habanero sauce with an over-the-top rating that is made, improbably, in Boston.
“An 11,” said Lamme. “Pour a drop on. They wouldn’t have finished their eggs.”
So potent is Mad Dog that Lamme keeps it behind the counter and refuses to sell it to minors. On the tamer side, she does carry Trappey’s Chef-Magic jalapeno sauce (2 on the heat scale), a condiment Stock recommends for beginners.
“It’s a mild green sauce,” said Stock. “Maybe these folks need to give that a try. It’s like training wheels.”