Local Abundance: Karma Sauce

Like many conscientious, cottage industries, Karma Sauce can trace its origins to a Locavore dream and a furry companion. Gene Olczak’s idea for a regionally sourced, healthier, and delicious hot sauce was simple but took years to be fully realized. Read on about this company and then try the sauces; your sensibilities will be delighted.

It all began in September of 2008 when Gene took the Locavore Challenge. He came out of the experience with a renewed focus and vision, and a slightly thicker skin from his wife’s heartening taunts. (So what will you use instead of olive oil? Local sunflower oil, of course!) While it’s certainly a challenge to eat only local foods, it can be a great way to examine labels and look at what’s really in the food we eat. And thus the seed for Karma Sauce, yet unnamed, was planted. The secret to the sauce, he says, is in the fresh butternut squash base. Using fresh squash and peppers rather than a highly-processed slurry of white vinegar, peppers, and salt is deemed risky by food regulators, so although the product itself is healthier, stricter rules apply.  To satisfy these safety and quality requirements, all Karma Sauce bottles are glass and have a metal rather than plastic cap. The Cornell Cooperative Extension, with whom Gene works closely, and New York State signed off on this upgraded packaging.

Volunteer work at Foodlink, membership in Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, and experimentation in the kitchen culminated in the creation of a yummy, truly local hot sauce. The first batch was made in 2010 with two versions of the same sauce: Good Karma and Bad Karma.

Sit, Karma, sit. Good dog!

If you’re looking for a more traditional, spicy hot sauce to top noodles, dim sum, or in combination with peanut sauce, try Bad Karma; for a milder, but equally tasty version, go for Good Karma, which is mild enough to be used as a salad dressing.

Other hot sauce flavors include Curry Karma and Smokey Karma. In addition, the company has provided us with its own line of award-winning old school condiments: Chipotle Mustard, Cold Process Mustard, Garlic Mustard, and Tomato Kats’up.

“Karma Sauce is the best thing to happen to eggs since the homefry!”

With Karma Sauce, the learning is ongoing. Gene has been certified to manufacture his products in his licensed commercial kitchen and ensures FDA compliance through Cornell Cooperative Extension. He keeps track of critical control factors, records of manufacturing, pH, and visible container vacuums for sauces; all to get a healthier product out there! He’s hoping to become GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certified as well.

Although Karma Sauce is mainly a one-sauce-maker business, Gene has lots of support from his wife, family, neighbors, Laura Che at Balance Acupuncture, Brian Bay in Webster, NY, who starts the plants from seed, and, of course, Karma, the dog whose likeness you see on each and every bottle. Gene is Karma Sauce’s Chief Executive Officer, bottle washer, onion peeler, and Webmaster.

Don’t forget about this company as you continue on your culinary adventures. Karma Sauce’s five-year plan will likely include cured meats (did someone say bacon?), hard cider, pickles, granola bars, and perishable foods, as well as unprocessed heirloom eggplant, radishes, onions, garlic, and, of course, peppers. This expansion of products will be out of interest as well as necessity. In order to maintain the small, local business, Gene must diversify. If he were to make and sell only sauces, it would be difficult to stay small; most people, according to Gene, don’t use a whole lot of hot sauce, so he would need to try to sell to more and more businesses, and expand to an industrial-type factory. This is definitely not his style. He can also see himself preserving some of the heritage seeds so that they continue into the future. At the moment, Gene’s favorite specialty hot peppers include varieties that originate from Northern India and Trinidad: Bhut Jolokia, Maruga Scorpion, and Seven Pod Brown.

What Karma Sauce is doing now: purchasing their own land in Bloomfield and setting up three hoop houses for next year’s peppers and other vegetables.

 

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