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A North African hot sauce could dethrone Sriracha

earl515.jpgCUTCHOGUE, NEW YORK – Is a new spicy condiment threatening to end Sriracha’s reign as king of the hot sauces? Harissa, a Tunisian paste made of chilis, garlic and spices, is showing up in dishes across the U.S.: over hamachi and eggplant at NYC’s Daniel; glossing squash soup at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse; atop stuffed zucchini at Philadelphia’s Vedge.

Oddly enough, one of harissa’s top cheerleaders these days is 91-year-old self-described “Montana farm boy” Earl Fultz, the former PR whiz who convinced Coca-Cola to add the now-iconic white ribbon to its logo. The longtime Long Island resident was introduced to harissa by his late wife, Gloria, whose Moroccan family’s recipe comes spiked with cumin seeds, cayenne and Spanish paprika.

A few years ago, when Gloria fell ill, she encouraged Earl to turn his love of harissa into a business. “She told me, ‘You’re going to miss me when I’m gone,’” Fultz says. “‘You need something to keep you busy.’” In 2013, he began peddling jars of his cHarissa at a local farmers market. By summer, he was consistently selling out, riding the wave of a spicy trend. Now, he churns out up to 800 jars a week, selling at NYC gourmet food stores like Kalustyan’s and Sahadi’s, and to restaurants like Bareburger and Blue Ribbon Bakery.

“I stumbled upon cHarissa at an inter-national food show and found the smoky, almost citrusy flavor addictive,” says Suzanne Allgair of Blue Ribbon Bakery. “At the market, we stir it with crème fraîche and use it as a garnish for lentil soup, which gives the dish another dimension.”

Fultz’s dedication runs deep; each spoonful is a tribute to his late wife. “I would not be doing this at my age if it wasn’t for Gloria,” he says. “She gave me a reason to keep moving.”

Hemispheres—Leah Koenig