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Review: Melinda's XXXX Reserve Is A Complex Habanero Hot Sauce That Packs In The Heat

Melinda's XXXX Reserve hot sauce
Melinda's XXXX Reserve hot sauce - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

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Adventurous foodies know that even among the best grocery store hot sauce brands, not all of them are created equal. A dash of fiery zest can transform a dull and mundane meal into something thrilling and multifaceted, provided that you select the appropriate hot sauce companion. With this in mind, brothers David and Greg Figueroa co-founded Melinda's to add some flavor to the spicy condiment scene.

The company, a household name in hot sauce for over 30 years, is notorious for crafting sauces that are spicy above all else, while also featuring complex flavors from veggies, fruits, and seasonings. Unlike brands that provide water- and vinegar-based hot sauces with only a simple pepper flavor, Melinda's offers a wide array of options for customers to find the perfect fiery accompaniment that pairs with any meal. Sauces from Melinda's range from mild garlic habanero to scorching scorpion pepper sauce, along with everything in between.

Hot sauce fanatics often flock to products that are made with habanero peppers, which provide a hint of pepper flavor along with subtle fruity and floral notes that add complexity to sauces. Habanero peppers are nutritious, and compared to jalapeños, they provide more intense heat. Melinda's XXXX Reserve sauce promises a classic habanero flavor profile with added flavors from fresh ingredients. Its standout feature is its quadruple dose of heat, appealing to those seeking to bolster their spice tolerance. However, the question remains: Does it truly deliver the promised flavor and heat?

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What Is Melinda's XXXX Reserve Habanero Pepper Sauce?

bottle of Melinda's XXXX Reserve
bottle of Melinda's XXXX Reserve - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

Melinda's XXXX Reserve sauce is crafted with red habanero peppers, as well as carrots, onions, and lime juice for added flavors. Melinda's promises to use only the finest quality ingredients in its sauces, so superb flavor from fruits and veggies is to be expected, along with the classic habanero taste profile that so many hot sauce enthusiasts know and love.

This hot sauce is diluted with vinegar, although vinegar is listed toward the bottom of the sauce's ingredients list. So we can expect a vinegary bite in this sauce, but not a tangy, vinegar-forward flavor.

Melinda's website describes the sauce as "fiery, fruity, citrusy." It's also described as a versatile everyday condiment that can adorn nearly any meal and add peppery spice with nuanced flavor. The spiciness level is ranked at four out of five on the company's heat-measuring chart, meaning this sauce can surely bring the heat but won't leave you sobbing on the floor. Still, this sauce should be saved for seasoned spice scholars. Customers claim in reviews that Melinda's XXXX Reserve sauce achieves the near-impossible: providing the perfect balance of heat with an irresistible burst of flavor.

Where To Find Melinda's XXXX Reserve

Melinda's XXXX Reserve bottle
Melinda's XXXX Reserve bottle - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

This sauce's name may imply that it's exclusive and hard to locate, like some unusual hot sauce brands. However, Melinda's sauces, including the XXXX Reserve, are available at retailers and grocers throughout the continental United States. Large, nationwide chains like Target and Walmart tend to carry Melinda's sauces, but not the XXXX Reserve.

Outside of brick-and-mortar locations, you can purchase Melinda's XXXX Reserve from major online retailers like Amazon, as well as directly from the company's website. But be warned: the XXXX Reserve is a fan favorite, so you may find that it's sold out when you attempt to order it.

For hot-sauce fans located outside of the U.S. mainland, this story takes a bleak turn. Melinda's is only available in stores or on the website within the continental U.S., excluding Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Customers may be successful at ordering the product on Amazon or other online stores if attempting to ship this sauce outside of the United States.

How Much Does Melinda's XXXX Reserve Cost?

bottle and sauce dish indoors
bottle and sauce dish indoors - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

Melinda's XXXX Reserve Habanero sauce prices vary depending on where you purchase it. The company's website lists the sauce for $4.89, but depending on your location, you may also have to pay a shipping cost. After Hurricane Katrina, Melinda's moved its headquarters from New Orleans to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so Texans can delight in widespread access to the sauce in local supermarkets.

Amazon offers Melinda's XXXX Reserve for about $5, comparable to the cost of ordering it directly on the company's website. As with most grocery items, prices tend to fall when ordering in bulk. Although Walmart doesn't offer the sauce in single five-ounce bottles, a case of the sauce can be purchased for just over $52, so the cost for each bottle comes out to about $4.30. Amazon has also offered bulk pricing for this specialty hot sauce, with packs of three and four five-ounce bottles.

Methodology

hot sauce in yellow bowl
hot sauce in yellow bowl - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

I regularly consume most major hot sauce brands with gusto, as well as an assortment of locally-made concoctions and obscure, spicy creations. I currently have exactly nine ultra-fiery hot sauces in my pantry that I rotate through regularly (yes, I counted). The spicier, the better, I always say.

I know what sets hot sauces apart from each other, and for the most part, I can discern which styles of sauce pair with specific meals. Some sauces do nothing but add heat, while some are responsible for adding flavor to otherwise bland meals. Possessing the ability to tell the difference is all that stands in the way of making or breaking a dish with hot sauce.

If you're a fan of Melinda's XXXX Reserve, I hope you find my review to be thorough and accurate. Or, if you're new to the brand's products but have the tongue of a champion and are ready to take the heat, I hope this review inspires you to open up your cupboard to a wider hot sauce repertoire.

Taste Test

Melinda's sauce in spoon
Melinda's sauce in spoon - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

I'm happy to report that Melinda's made good on its promise to deliver a mouth-scorching condiment. The XXXX Reserve is incredibly hot indeed, but not so much so that you'll need to be ready with a glass of milk (which is the best way to cool your mouth after eating hot sauce). Initially, the spice is tame, but after a few seconds, it picks up in intensity, and — thankfully for the sake of the tongue — doesn't linger for too long.

However, oddly enough, the heat in this sauce wasn't our favorite thing about it. This habanero sauce is loaded with a deeply savory vegetable flavor thanks to the addition of carrots, onions, and garlic, and includes a slight tart lime aftertaste to complement the pungent habanero heat. Usually when hot sauces are flavored with fruits and veggies — which they frequently are — the taste of the additions acts as a mere flavor enhancer to spicy peppers. In Melinda's XXXX Reserve, carrot, onion, garlic, and lime flavors are just as prominent as spicy habanero.

I tried this sauce on its own, as well as on plain rice, a fish tacos recipe, and salads with varied veggies and fruits. The sauce worked best on a pineapple and avocado salad, with the vegetable flavors enhancing the rich taste of avocado and subduing the sweetness of pineapple. The sauce's bold orange color, dotted with red and brown specks, added a spark of excitement to our dishes, and its garlicky aroma amplified the meal's complexity.

Melinda's XXXX Reserve Vs. Tabasco's Habanero Sauce

Melinda's sauce and Tabasco sauce
Melinda's sauce and Tabasco sauce - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

Pitting Melinda's XXXX Reserve and Tabasco's habanero sauce against one another in a taste test demonstrates the versatility that exists across the hot sauce realm. Both sauces are habanero-based, but they taste wildly different from one another.

Tabasco's habanero variety packs an epic punch of tangy vinegar along with loads of heat. No flavors from fruits, veggies, or spices are present in this sauce — not even a hint of garlic. This is a pure habanero hot sauce with vinegary taste.

The only thing that Melinda's XXXX Reserve and Tabasco's habanero sauce have in common is their heat levels. Both brandish a four out of five on each company's self-proclaimed heat scale, which means trying both back-to-back was a valiant effort on my part (you're welcome). Melinda's contains a plethora of nuanced flavors, while Tabasco's sauce is much more plain and simple. The XXXX Reserve is more mellow and less bitter, thanks to a subtle addition of vinegar, whereas Tabasco's habanero sauce lists vinegar as the first ingredient. When considering foods that pair nicely with hot sauce, I'd say that Tabasco's sauce is more versatile, while Melinda's sauce requires more planning to find complementary dishes.

Is Melinda's XXXX Reserve Worth It?

bottle of Melinda's XXXX Reserve
bottle of Melinda's XXXX Reserve - Hunter Miele/Tasting Table

Ultimately, for less than $5 a bottle, I'd say that Melinda's XXXX Reserve is a worthwhile purchase. The sauce delivers on spice, is loaded with complex and delicious flavors, and is aesthetically and aromatically pleasing. A little goes a long way, flavor and heat-wise, so a five-ounce bottle will likely last a while — unless you're a hot sauce glutton with an iron stomach. That being said, I still have a bone to pick with Melinda's, and how the company describes the hot sauce on its website.

Melinda's describes the XXXX Reserve as fruity, but I found that wasn't a prominent flavor in the sauce. Fruity might accurately describe the sauce's aftertaste, which is more tart and citrusy than a typical fruity taste, but overall, the sauce was more savory. The item's description on the company's website implies that it will be sweet, when salty, garlicky flavors are much more pronounced than anything fruit-like. The sauce is also described as versatile, which I don't believe to be true. The XXXX Reserve is a truly delicious sauce, but it's one that you'll purchase and only pull out of the pantry or fridge for particular meals.

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