“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”
~ from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1600
Control, sweet control…
There is something screaming from within that every time the food industry pushes unnecessary ingredients on me, I just have to push back. The most recent round came from wanting to buy a jar of Thai-style sweet chili-garlic sauce. Reading the labels just made me want to scream because genetically engineered corn is one of my pet peeves. Just Google it if you want to know more.
US laws don’t require labeling of genetically engineered products, so anything made from corn that isn’t labeled organic is suspect these days. And the thing is, a lot of ingredients in prepared foods don’t actually admit to being or coming from corn.
Every brand of the locally available sweet chili-garlic sauces I could find contained one or more of the following ingredients that are derived from corn:
Xanthan gum: Simply put, this is a byproduct of fermenting cheap sugars (including those from corn) to be used as a thickening agent.
Caramel: Watch this one. It is made by cooking a random sugar source until it browns. The resulting product is added to processed foods as a coloring or flavoring agent. It could be made from corn, but sometimes it is made from milk sugar. If that is important to you, then it is best to be careful and watch for the “May contain traces of milk or egg” disclaimer.
Citric Acid: Is chemically produced in a process using cheap sugar (again with the corn), mold spores, and sulfuric acid. Really guys, you couldn’t just squeeze a lemon for us?
Vinegar (also listed as acetic acid): Unless it is specified otherwise, this is likely to be distilled white vinegar that comes from the fermentation of our old friend corn.
Modified corn starch: Obviously from corn, the “modified” part in the name doesn’t come from it being genetically modified – but also doesn’t exclude it. What it is saying, is that the properties of the corn starch have been changed using an undisclosed process which can be as simple as boiling, or as aggressive as using chemicals. That part isn’t disclosed.
Disappointed, home I went to explore the intricacies of making my own sauce, only to discover how very easy the task is. Boiling to reduce the mixture thickens it naturally, just like a homemade jam, and I was able to use all readily available organic ingredients.
The inclusion of six jalapeno peppers might scare you into thinking this sauce is very hot, but it really has just a tiny bite, controlled by how many seeds you allow in. Go forth without fear!
Thai-style Sweet Chili Garlic Sauce
Makes 1 ½ cup
Time: 5 minutes active prep + simmering and chilling time
Cut the tops off the peppers (use gloves and do not touch your mouth or eyes) and remove the seeds as best you can. We aren’t fussy about leaving in a few, but they can add significant heat. Slice the peppers open to get at all the seeds, if that is important to you. Save the tops for another use (e.g., vegetable broth), if you wish.
Put the seeded peppers and remaining ingredients in the blender and cover snuggly. Start at slow speed and work your way up to medium-high and run until the peppers and garlic are very finely chopped – about 30 seconds with an average machine.
Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stirring often, simmer until the sauce begins to thicken – you will be able to tell by a change in the appearance of the bubbles. Mine took exactly 45 minutes, but it will likely be faster at lower altitude.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Pour into a jar, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. The mixture will thicken considerably as it cools and tastes best when the flavors have blended overnight.
Use the sauce for dipping fritters or eggrolls, or spoon a bit over a bowl of veggies and rice. Just remember that this is a condiment high in sugar, so easy to overdo – and even easier to become addicted to!