The fire in the belly

A good hot sauce marries fire and flavor, igniting a Roman candle of spiciness on your tongue and dotting your forehead with rivulets of perspiration. One theory has it that hot climates tend toward fiery cuisines because a good sweat cools you off (not to mention that, with the right lighting, adds a sheen of sensuality). It's worth a try in Orlando, especially if you're using the sauces, mustards, jerk seasoning and relishes of Altamonte Springs-based Phoebe's Pepper Products.

Don't miss the jerk seasoning, a thick mix for barbecuing that includes hot peppers, garlic, vinegar and Caribbean spices such as nutmeg and allspice. Rub it on meat before grilling; the resulting flavor is multilayered and pungent.

What's the secret to Phoebe's heat-packed condiments? "In Jamaica we use the Scotch bonnet peppers," says owner Pat White, who also operates Phoebe's Sunflower Deli, an unassuming jewel of Caribbean cooking in west Winter Park. The walnut-sized peppers look like little pumpkins. White brings out a handful and eyes me dubiously. "You like hot food?" she asks. I do. She cuts one and gives me "just one seed" to taste, adding, "You'll probably need water." I do.

The fire, though, doesn't burn out the flavor. I later discover, thanks to "The Whole Chile Pepper Book," that Scotch bonnet is another name for habañeros, so be advised: "The Whole Chile Pepper Book" mentions a Dominican priest who wrote about habañeros in 1722, calling them "so strong that a single pod would make a bull unable to eat." Maybe the bull should stop chewing them whole and try Phoebe's Jamaican Heat Hot Sauce instead.

White sells her sauces at the Sunflower Deli (362 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Winter Park; 629-0629). They run $2.50-$4 a jar.