At the Aves Spice Company, couples turn their bird watching passion into hot sauce


Kingfisher hot sauce. Courtesy Matthew Nissenbaum.

DeKALB – NIU graduate Matthew Nissenbaum and his fiancée, NIU doctoral student Wieteke Holthuijzen, conducted their experiments with hot sauces and turned them into the Aves Spice Company.

Aves Spice Company was founded in autumn 2020 and is based in DeKalb. The company is a small online company that makes, ferments, bottles, and sells various types of hot sauce, Nissenbaum said.

Currently, Aves Spice Company continues to sell 5 fl oz bottles of hot sauce his website for $ 10.95 and at local farmers’ markets in the region, said Holthuijzen. Another supplier of these sauces is Jonamac Orchard, 19412 Shabbona Road, Malta, who not only sells their products, but also produces them in one of their commercial kitchens.

The sauces vary in taste, with “The Cardinal” being made from cranberries and persimmons and a mix of eight peppers, including jalapeno, habanero and ghost. Another sauce is “The Goldfinch,” which mixes pumpkin, peaches, corn, and apples with Habanero and Carolina Reaper peppers. For full descriptions of these products, see their website.

The spicy cardinal sauce. Courtesy Matthew Nissenbaum.

Often these ideas are born in the kitchen, where Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen “play around” to create new sauces, said Holthuijzen. The couple learned more about the craft of hot sauce through trial and error. One example was when they found out that pineapple needs to be added much later in the sauce making process in order for it to retain its sweetness.

After a day of tinkering with fruits, vegetables, and peppers, the sauce is made into a brine and sealed in brewery buckets with airtight locks, Nissenbaum said. Unlike other sauces, vinegar is not used to preserve the sauce. Instead, acidic fermentation is used when the brine becomes less sharp.

This enables the Aves Spice Company to use incredibly hot peppers like the Carolina Reaper, recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s hottest chilli, with sauces like “The Goldfinch,” which contain Reapers, ranked third out of five of Aves’ thermal ratings, according to the Aves Spice Company website.

“Sauces that could blow your head off beforehand become pretty mild,” said Nissenbaum.

Before the fermentation process begins, however, Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen need to try some of the sauce to make sure there is no need to include any additives in advance, causing an upset stomach, Holthuijzen said.

Originally, Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen made their first batch of sauce for others three years ago when they got excited about the fermentation process and its uses in making sauces. For Christmas they made glasses with hot sauce for friends who tasted like spicy cucumber juice, said Holthuijzen.

They kept making sauce for the next few years until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hit the whole country. With both stuck at home, they decided to keep making more and more sauces and then were convinced by friends and local business owners to start the business, Nissenbaum said.

With great public interest in their product, Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen plan to expand their company further. From now on, the Aves Spice Company can only sell its products independently, as the company lacks a commercial license. However, Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen are currently working to obtain a commercial license by April, Nissenbaum said.

The avid bird watchers Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen not only name their sauces after birds, but also donate part of their profits to organizations that support bird protection, according to the company’s website.

Matthew Nissenbaum and his fiancée Wieteke Holthuijzen. Courtesy Matthew Nissenbaum.

Both Nissenbaum and Holthuijzen love what they do, what they attribute to their optimism about the future of their company.

“There are a lot of people with business ideas who don’t do well, and that’s because your heart has to be in it,” said Nissenbaum. “There are days when I work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and come home exhausted, but I never come home irritated or upset because it’s a love job.”

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