Clustered on your tongue, in your mouth and on your skin are thousands of TRPV1 thermoreceptors. Their function is to kick into action at temperatures about 43C and above to initiate a pain response and trigger some protective measures to try to cool us down and dissipate the heat - things like producing sweat.
Now, by complete accident it turns out that a couple of non-heat-related enzymes also bond to these receptors - one of them being capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers. That's why we perceive spicy foods as "hot". They're not really. It's an illusion created by those TRPV1 receptors!
So why do human beings deliberately subject themselves to that pain response by eating spicy food and adding capsaicin-rich sauces to all foods? One theory floating around the scientific community is that prolonged exposure to capsaicin causes a desensitization of the TRPV1 receptors. ie., eat more spicy food and feel the actual heat a little bit less!
Given the successive heatwaves that have hit Toronto this summer - and global warming trends in general - maybe one response is to amp up your intake of hot sauce. Toronto produces some exceptional hot sauces and spicy condiments from a number of different traditions - including Okazu fermented sesame chilli and Mado's Dominican pepper sauce, both featured here on the blog in recent posts - but the flag-bearer for the recent explosion of heatwaves of flavour in this city has got to be No. 7 Mexican Hot Sauces.
Founded in the Junction Triangle in 2013 by the husband and wife team of Sandra and Carlos Flores, they offer a line of hot sauces ranging "from Mild to Wild" with no added preservatives, sodium or sugar. They are soy/dairy free, gluten-free, peanut-free, as well as vegan. Try the sweeter Pasilla (made with tequila!) or the smoky Chipotle or challenge yourself to the Habanero-Ghost Pepper blend (softened somewhat by the presence of cauliflower and carrot in the mix).
Remember, you may be preparing your body to handle the heatwaves still to come!
Here on the eve of Canada Day, we wanted to remind everyone that, while we're not a store that's exclusively Canadian, we ARE a store that's dedicated to offering the best the world has to offer and that includes some incredible Canadian products. And what better way to talk about them here than with a hockey metaphor!
On the left side of this photo, three offerings from the veteran, Joe Beef - the Montreal institution that includes the Joe Beef and Liverpool House restaurants as well as a variety of take home sauces and rubs. A great example of Canadian pride is watching Joe Beef's founders, David McMillan and Fred Morin, take the late great Anthony Bourdain ice fishing with foie gras and the "finest wines known to man" and on a culinary trip as they ride by train from Montreal to Quebec City. The ketchup, BBQ Sauce and Reserve Jerk Sauce we're offering are great examples of their commitment to foregrounding bold flavours and great ingredients. The ketchup is a mix of tomato and red pepper with less sugar than you typically find in a grocery-store ketchup. The BBQ sauce AND the jerk sauce are both built around a base of Quebec prunes for a heady, jammy note in each.
If Joe Beef is the Mario Lemieux in this hockey metaphor (the once upstarts are now the establishment and they own the team!), Heartbeat Hot Sauces are not even the Sidney Crosby - more like the Connor McDavid! This is a young team from Thunder Bay Ontario with just two sauces in their line up: fresh jalapeño with fermented serrano peppers bring a bright heat to the table while the fermented red habanero is, curiously, both sweeter and hotter with a bit more depth of flavour. But their undeniable talent has already got them playing in the big leagues. They are featured in the number 2 spot in the line up on season six of Hot Ones - the YouTube show where celebrity guests try to keep it together while host Sean Evans interviews them and leads them through a series of hot sauces ending with the Last Dab - a sauce that comes in at around 2.4 million Scoville units!
Not only is it a very big deal to be featured on the show, Heartbeat is also featured at Heatonist, the hot sauce vendor in Chelsea Market NYC that's behind the Hot Ones show and their own line of hot sauces.
This Canada Day, celebrate this tasty Team Canada at YOUR barbeque!
OK, bear with me - this may be our most puzzling post yet. And it comes from a Montreal/France collaboration with an acronym meaning "Unidentified Food Object" (hence the amusing logo) and, like it's namesake, it's something strange and exciting and out of this world.
What you're looking at in the four test tubes above look like double-thick crayons. But instead of being made of wax and pigment, they're made of a careful formulation of agar-agar (the seaweed-based food product that acts as a solidifier) and flavour - in this case basil, soy and porcini mushroom, lemon and salt and hot pepper and garlic respectively. The unidentified object on the right is something perhaps more familiar: a pencil sharpener.
They come in a handy pack that converts neatly into a stand for your countertop:
Now, here's where it gets REALLY interesting:
When it comes to finishing a dish, you're probably used to sprinkling a little salt, grinding a little pepper, crushing a couple of chillies, grating a little parmesan, zesting a little lemon, squeezing a little lime, shaving some truffle.... Well, get ready to add a couple of new verbs to your culinary actions. You're going to really sharpen the accents to your dish by twisting the chosen flavour stick in the sharpener for that final flourish of finishing flavour.
Come into the store to check it out and ask for a demonstration. Then be prepared to welcome these friendly and flavourful aliens into your kitchen!
It's a new frontier in cooking and OCNI is inviting you to boldly go...!
If you're a regular Mercantile customer, you probably know Mado's Pepper Sauce and it's likely you've heard one of us tell you it's beautiful Toronto origin story: for years Erin Dowse of the Old York Tavern on lower Niagara St. had been buying it by the bucket-load from a Dominican-Canadian named Elizabeth Madonis who made it in her bathtub in Ajax. As word spread and demand grew, Elizabeth had trouble keeping up with the orders so Erin bought the rights to the recipe and commercialized the operation. It has become a legendary condiment, made according to the original recipe with pumpkin, papaya, scotch bonnets and cider vinegar for the perfect balance of sweet and hot and tart and umami.
And we're not the only enthusiasts. People come from various parts of town knowing we're a source for this beloved and versatile local favourite. And those who love it love it a lot - never wanting to be down more than a bottle and a half in the pantry and fridge. We've been saying for ages that if Erin wanted to take Mado's global, it could easily hold its own with HP and Sriracha and the rest of them.
While most producers struggle to get a minute with the big distributors and grocery chains, lately they've been knocking on Erin's door and Mado's is poised to get a whole new profile. Just remember, you knew Mado's when you could only get it here and a handful of other shops around town.
So in celebration of the success of Mado's so far and the success yet to come, here's a recipe for something we've been doing with it lately:
Mado's Glazed Chicken Thighs
6-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs
6 ounces Mado's Pepper Sauce, divided
1/2 cup yogurt
2 Tbsp honey or sugar
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
flaked salt to finish
Mix the yogurt and half of the Mado's in a bowl and toss in the chicken thighs to coat. Marinate in the fridge for an hour or two - longer if you like.
In a small sauce pan, combine the rest of the Mado's with the honey or sugar, vinegar and salt and simmer until it reduces substantially. You're done when it starts to look like a thick glaze.
Take the thighs out of the marinade mixture and shake off any excess. Lay them on foil or Silpat in a baking sheet and paint with the glaze mixture.
Put the tray on the top shelf of the oven under a hot broiler (or on the hot part of the BBQ grill if you're outdoors) and cook for 5 minutes per side, until you see the sugar in the glaze start to bubble.
Top with a few flakes of Maldon salt and maybe some chopped parsley or coriander and serve with rice and veg or a crispy fruity salad and you are good to go.
Long Live Mado's!
Were this good sized chunk of land not clinging to the north shore at Twelve O'Clock Point between Brighton and Trenton, Lake Ontario would have its very own Prince Edward Island. Instead, we have a Prince Edward County - a genuine sweet spot in the province with its very own microclimate to prove it.
Famous poets, musicians and painters have been drawn to the area over many decades along with some extraordinary farmers, vintners and food artisans. It is the source of wonderful produce, fine cheeses, beers, wines, ciders and now a new distillery called Kinsip making gin, vodka, shochu, whisky, rye, rum, brandy and even a "County Cassis".
Of course, we are not licensed or equipped to carry any of these fine tipples but Kinsip does produce some delicious things we can carry:
Introducing Kinsip Bitters in Sour Cherry, Orange, Ginger, House Recipe, Lavender Lemon and Hibiscus Rosehip - great additions to the toolkit of any pro or amateur mixologist - and Kinsip whisky-barrel-aged Maple Syrup. It's got a really lovely, robust, smoky flavour that pairs as well with pancakes as it does with cocktails.
Find both in store to your left as you come in the store in the bitters and maple syrup sections respectively!
One of the great pleasures of having a store that offers specialty ingredients is hearing about the myriad ways customers put those ingredients together and we thought it might be fun to share those with our readers from time to time.
Susan Gesner's recipe built around one of our favourite ingredients - Spicy Chilli Miso from Toronto's Abokichi - earned her the designation of "Okazu Master" and includes a few ingredients you'll find on our shelves, including Kozlik's Amazing Maple mustard and some balsamic vinegar or glaze (we've gone with Nonna Pia's basic reduction here).
We tried a couple of variations of Susan's recipe (including a sous vide rendition - which is great for texture but the glaze doesn't caramelize in the same way). Of course, we get our OceanWise salmon down the street at De La Mer and the one step we always think is worthwhile for salmon is to prep the fish with a dry brine: coat the fish with a mixture of salt and sugar and put it on a plate in the fridge for half an hour or so. This will draw out some of the excess moisture and eliminate the white albumen-y stuff that often emerges when cooking salmon. Just wash off the mixture and pat dry before proceeding. Here's Susan's recipe:
- Enough Atlantic salmon / Arctic Char for 4 people
- 2 tablespoons of spicy chili or chili miso
1 tablespoon of Kozlik’s Amazing Maple mustard
- or other sweet tinged mustard such as the Russian
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (either glaze or regular)
- I usually use a balsamic fig or some kind of strong flavoured balsamic
- Pepper as you wish
Pre-heat oven to 420F
Wash and dry dry-brined fish and place in an over-proof pan lined with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix chili miso, mustard, balsamic and pepper together. Spread this all over the top of the fish. When the oven is hot, put in middle rack and set timer for approximately 20 minutes.
Serve and enjoy with your favourite sides.
If you've come up with your own recipe using ingredients sourced at the Mercantile, feel free to share them with us and maybe we can make these community recipes a regular feature!
If you're anything like us, the last couple of weeks have included a fair bit of indulgence. And fair enough, we all need that from time to time - though the evidence is clear that the planet itself suffers from our excesses often more than we do ourselves.
While New Year's Resolutions can come from a genuine desire to change or improve, more often they are designed to atone for our exorbitances, which is perhaps why they fail so often: as the memory of our pleasures fades, so too does the impulse to limit them.
So here's a resolution that's simple to keep, good for you regardless of your susceptibility to indulgence and good for the planet to boot: carry a re-usable bottle and drink more water!
Every minute, one million plastic bottles are purchased worldwide, and 91% of all plastic isn’t recycled. 180 different animal species have been documented to ingest plastics containing BPA, many of which are permanently injured or die as a result of the poison. The Pacific Institute suggests the production of bottled water takes 2000 times the energy required to produce tap water. And Toronto tap water is some of the very best in the world - subject to far more rigorous testing standards than bottled water.
Green's Your Colour is a Burlington Ontario-based company that offers triple-insulated bottles in 350ml, 500ml and 800ml sizes in a variety of designs (Island Life and DinoStomper are pictured at left) and the makers of the lightweight que collapsable silicone containers (pictured at right) donate 10% of profits to the Rainforest Trust so it's a win win win for you, the planet and your resolutions!
And now, we're offering BOTH lines of these handy containers at 20% off! Quantities are limited.
Did you know that goats are the most commonly raised livestock in the world? Of course, more and more of us here in cow-country are familiar with goat cheese, goat milk, goat butter and other goat-y delights but today we wanted to introduce you to Debbie and Shain of Haute Goat Farms, near Port Hope - just east of Toronto.
In fact, if you want to introduce yourself to Debbie and Shain and - more importantly - their completely adorable Nigerian Dwarf goats you can do so in person and experience all the wonders of the farm. You'll find more info here to make an appointment. But for now we'll just let you know about some of their products we're featuring at the Mercantile (reminder, no live animals allowed in store :->) ):
We've featured the luxurious Goat Milk Caramel Popcorn before - in both regular and cayenne spice versions - and we've got them back in stock. But we're also carrying a small selection of hand-crafted soaps, creams and other cosmetic products we think you're going to love. And with goats that cute, what's not to love?
Ontario strawberries come for that brief period at the beginning of summer and they are spectacular. Ontario blueberries have a longer season (roughly May to September) and in that sense they define the taste of summer in this province. So it's perhaps not surprising that Meredith - our favourite mad scientist of Meaford - has captured that flavour in her latest specialty elixir. The lemon, lime and straight ginger versions remain the core of the line-up but this branching out into seasonal editions has been spectacular - combining powerful ginger with honey she raises herself and bold fruit flavours.
Some people use them medicinally, some purely for flavour, some for a soothing tea, some for a bracing soft drink and some for a zingy cocktail. It is versatile, healthy and delicious and the blueberry variety has really captured the essence of Ontario in a bottle for us all. Try gin or vodka and soda with a splash of this for an instant summer classic. You'll find it in the fridge at the back of the store.
The introduction of U.S.-based Lacroix sparkling waters to our shelves has been a huge hit (and more flavours are coming by year end). Some have suggested that the Lacroix phenomenon is old news south of the border, but recent stories in the financial pages and YouTube tributes like Lacroix Boi by Big Dipper indicate there's still lots of over-the-top enthusiasm for this sweetener-free, naturally flavoured beverage.
So we wanted to draw your attention up above the border and up one shelf in our fridge to a Canadian player in the sparkling game: Play unsweetened ginger ale. This is made using spring water from Oro-Medonte, all natural ginger flavour and no sweeteners of any kind. I suppose you could call it Canada Really Dry but on a hot day you'll just call it refreshing.
Popcorn is one of those things you kind of take for granted. Its association with the movies is so deeply ingrained that for some of us it's the only place we ever eat it (at exorbitant prices, no less!) Or maybe you eat it for free when our next door neighbours at Barque put out their perfectly spiced, smokey variety as a bar snack. Well, we just wanted to remind you of the vast repertoire of options that exists between those two extremes right inside the door of the Mercantile.
For one thing, we carry what seems to be universally hailed as the very best popping corn for those of you who like to pop your own at home. You'll find it at the left end of the bins at the back of the main area. Then, we've got your Neale Bros. selection in plain, cheddar and Himalayan salt. Then we've got the low calorie baked popcorn in plain, cheddar and Sriracha varieties. There's the Jakeman's maple popcorn and (occasionally) the Haute Goat goat milk caramel popcorn and the seasonal Saxon chocolate popcorn (just wait).
But there's a new entry to our shelves that we're excited to tell you about and it reflects the story of this city that we love:
Joseph and Caramhel Villegas arrived in Toronto from the Philippines in 2011 and by 2013 were popping fresh popcorn with an old-fashioned popper for the Ontario festival circuit. Their success on the road helped them establish permanent digs in the historic Kensington Market neighbourhood where they became renowned for their various sweet and savoury (and sweet 'n' savoury) flavour combinations. We are now proud to offer a small selection of their flavours (including Garlic & Parmesan, Real Cheddar, Maple Bacon and Salted Caramel) as well as some of their colourful raw popping corn varietals.
A bag or two of your fave flavours and a Netflix account and you're good to go!