Could a Hot Sauce from Rwanda be as Cult-worthy as Sriracha? (A Review)
Sriracha chili sauce. You either love or abstain from its spiciness, but there’s no doubt that it’s becoming a standard condiment at many a dining table these days. Inspired by southeast Asia, the long red chili pepper-based sauce — particularly the Huy Fong Foods brand’s Tuong Ot Sriracha, with its signature green-capped bottle adorned with a rooster — has gained such a popularity in parts of America that it now has a sort of cult status, akin to bacon. However, sriracha isn’t the only hot sauce worthy of a cult. If you’ve tried one particular hot sauce from Rwanda, you might be convinced that it has real potential to be the next “hot” item.
Meet Akabanga, a hot sauce so spicy that you only need one or two drops of it — and conveniently, it comes packaged in little eyedropper bottles. Akabanga is similar to other hot sauce recipes in sub-Saharan Africa calling for African bird’s eye chili peppers, otherwise known as “peri-peri” peppers — or “piri-piri” or “pili-pili,” depending on what country you’re in. When dining across sub-Saharan Africa, it’s not uncommon to find jars of these chilies infusing with oil on a dining table. However, you’re less likely to see one of these homemade blends in Rwanda because one local businessman, Sina Gérard, has perfected the golden recipe and mass-produced it under the brand “Akabanga.” When traveling through Rwanda, I encountered the peculiar eyedropper bottle of Akabanga at virtually every restaurant.
The recipe is simple: 80% pili-pili extract (when the peppers are yellow), and 20% vegetable oil. With that high percentage of peppers, there’s no doubt that Akabanga rates high on the heat index: in the range of 50,000 – 100,000 Scoville Heat Units. That’s quantitatively 20 times hotter than Tuong Ot Sriracha! However, like any hot sauce, that intensity can be controlled by the individual eater, by the amount put on food. When I was introduced to Akabanga, I could barely tolerate one drop but, over time, have worked my way up to as much as three — but not more.
I say “over time” because I have it in my kitchen; I actually brought two dozen little eyedropper bottles of Akabanga home to America with me, after a vacation in the now peaceful central African nation known for its gorilla trek tourism. But I wasn’t the only one; at the airport in Kigali, I overheard other travelers bragging about how many little Akabanga bottles they had packed in their check-in luggage to bring home. Akabanga is only limited exportation out of Rwanda — and only to places like Japan and the UK — so if you have the means of getting your hands on a bottle of Akabanga, know how special that is, and use its heat wisely.
Speaking of heat: is it merely the heat in Akabanga that could make it cult-worthy outside of a Rwandan airport? No. Akabanga does in fact, have a distinct, unique flavor to it — one unlike any found in a red chili pepper-based sauce — that’s hard to describe. It’s partly smoky and a little bitter when it registers with your taste buds. Whatever it is, it’s great on eggs, meats, stews, soups — anything that could use a little kick. Obviously, there’s a shock to your system with the initial hit of its heat, but it doesn’t linger like other hot sauces out there.
Look out, sriracha. If Akabanga ever makes it to the U.S.A., the heat will definitely be on. I mean, its little eyedropper bottle packaging alone could be cult-worthy, not to mention its unique flavor and kick.
Erik Trinidad is the author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog.