A Grand Rapids resident is hoping indigenous peppers from South America will help his pepper sauce stand out from the crowd of hot sauces.
Perry Alburg, founder of Eransean Inc., created Madame J’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce, which contains Madame Jeanette peppers, water mango purée, distilled vinegar, salt granulated garlic, xanthan gum and spices.
Madame Jeanette peppers are in the same family as habanero and originally are from the South American country Suriname, where Alburg’s parents are from.
“What we are doing is bringing craft batches of these peppers that have never been brought to the table before, outside of this one indigenous area they are familiar with,” Alburg said. “There are over 3,000 varieties (of peppers) grown all over the world. (Americans) are essentially familiar with (three): a habanero, chili, jalapeño and that is it.”
Alburg, who also is the general manager for Veolia North America-Grand Rapids District Energy, originally is from New Jersey, where he and his family grew peppers in their backyard and used it in their meals.
Now, Alburg is working with farmers in Florida and Michigan to grow Madame Jeanette peppers. He began his first production in June and did the second production in August. He said he has an inventory of around 10,000 bottles of Madame J’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce.
Although Alburg has bottles available, he said he is not in a rush to get them to market.
“I am prepared to take those baby steps,” Alburg said. “Giving out samples, talking to people and educating them on what makes this different and what you want to look for when you are shopping for a sauce. There are only 30 milligrams of sodium in this pepper sauce, your average sauce has 150 milligrams.”
One person who sampled the sauce was Chris West, the owner of Lassalle’s New Orleans Deli in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
West said he met Alburg when Alburg stopped by his restaurant and dropped off a bottle of his pepper sauce. West said people frequently visit his restaurant and ask him to sample their sauce. So, like the others, he put it to the side.
“(When) I finally tasted it, I said, ‘Holy crap, this is really unique,’” West said. “It is really different, and the flavor profile is totally different than your traditional hot sauces that are out there. It had all the fruitiness and all the flavor like a pepper, but it didn't have the heat of the pepper that would light you under the table.”
Alburg’s pepper sauce won the Chile Pepper Awards competition in the habanero category in October.
The annual international competition was held in Texas and featured 1,000 spicy products like alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, barbecue sauces, salsas, hot sauces, snacks and desserts from 200 companies.
There were over 40 judges and over 24 categories, including the habanero hot sauce category. Contest director Sir McMillen said habanero needed to be the primary pepper or flavor and it needed to be liquidy, to a degree.
McMillen said the judges analyzed the sauces to see if the sauces were too watery because it would be an indication there weren’t enough peppers or other food items that are necessary to make a hot sauce, but they didn’t want the sauce to be too clumpy either.
“Let’s be honest, flavor (was) key,” McMillen said. “If a company made a habanero hot sauce that tasted like a jalapeño hot sauce, our judges, being foodies, would be discerning enough to know the difference.”
One of the perks of being named a winner of The Chile Pepper Awards competition is having it printed in “Chile Pepper” magazine, which has readers globally.
“They get the long-term exposure of being exposed to our readers around the world,” McMillen said. “And depending on how many products they entered or how well they did, some contestants won additional advertising space so that they can make their products stick out a little more when readers are reading.”
Alburg was one of the contestants who won advertising space, but he said he has not started advertising his product. He said he hopes to begin in February now that he has the reassurance, through the competition, that his product can be successful. He said he will begin running ads starting with “Chile Pepper” magazine.
Alburg said he has invested $100,000 in Madame J’s Gourmet Pepper Sauce and has his sights set on big-store brands stocking his product.
“The next step for me now is to get some funding, a small business loan,” Alburg said. “Once I get people to appreciate the difference between pepper sauce and hot sauce, then my goal is to be on Amazon, in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and (restaurants).”
Alburg said he is excited about establishing his business in Grand Rapids because of the craft beer community and also because the city has many programs and initiatives designed to help startups.
“If it is not going to work here, it is not going to work anywhere,” he said.