Thursday, July 20, 2006

More than a decade ago, Kevin Wilson probably never thought his small plot of habañeros would blossom into a hot business. After all, the damp and cloudy skies of Morgantown aren’t exactly conducive to growing a crop like hot peppers on a commercial level. But when a friend in Florida started sending him chiles from his own garden, the seeds of Conquering Lion Sauce Company were planted.
Ten years ago, Kevin tried hickory smoking the tomatoes in his sauce. Friends and family, the chief consumers of the sauce at the time, said they found it more unique and flavorful, and Kevin decided he had hit on a winner. He now hickory-smokes the tomatoes for all of Conquering Lion's three sauces.Since moving into commercial production two years ago, Wilson's next step is to acquire USDA organic certification for his products. He is now looking for a local source of organic hot peppers, which he now orders from North Carolina. Tomatoes are grown under certified organic standards at the WVU Organic Research Farm, and the onions and sweet peppers typically come straight from his own garden.
Though he tries to keep his ingredients local, Wilson’s love of mangoes resulted in his Mango hickory-smoked hot sauce, which is based on fruit from Glaser Organic Farms in Florida.
Herbalists have used various cultivars of Capsicum frutescens for years in remedies for colds, chills, rheumatic conditions, and poor circulation1, and extracts of some Capsicum species have shown to have antioxidant properties2. Capsaicin, the flavenoid responsible for hot peppers’ pungency, has been the subject of much recent health research, and diet books even claim that peppers curb the appetite and increase metabolism3.
Hot peppers, along with many other spices like cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and onions, are considered “warming foods” in traditional Chinese medicine and have been shown to stimulate circulation1. Given the rise in gas and oil prices, meals with a little extra hot sauce might be an affordable alternative to cranking up the thermostat!
Kevin’s wish list for his third year in business includes finding a local site where he can grow many ingredients year-round. In the meantime, friends in California and elsewhere are receiving five cases at a time through the mail and helping to nationalize Conquering Lion’s distribution. When the company’s web site is fully functional, people all over the country will be able to buy directly from the company, which cranked out 3,300 bottles from a small rented kitchen in Fairmont last year.
For now, Mountain People’s Market is proud to offer Original, Mango and XXX flavors of Morgantown’s “homegrown hot sauce.” If you’d like to try before you buy, you can sample it on your fare at Black Bear Burritos and Blue Moose Café.

1 Ody, Penelope. 1995. A home herbal. Dorling Kindersley: New York, NY.

2 Purdue University. 1997. Purdue guide to medicinal and aromatic plants: Capsicum pepper. Retrieved January 10, 2006 from

3 Allison, Heidi. 2002. The chili pepper diet. Health Communications, Inc.: Deerfield Beach, FL.

4 Medboo TCM. n.d. Traditional chinese dietopathy. Retrieved January 10, 2006 from

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