You may have tried particularly potent pepper jelly, or even hotter hot sauces, but you haven’t entered the serious spice scene until you’ve tried Akabanga chili oil. Bright orange and flaming hot, Akabanga is allegedly so spicy that workers are required to wear face masks while making it. It’s no condiment to toy with, so it’s often packaged in small, plastic eyedropper bottles. Maintaining meticulous control over the amount added to any dish is crucial to the comfort of one’s mouth. Most recommend starting with just a few drops.
In the past few decades, these small, spice-filled bottles have garnered a cult following. But its rise to fame was largely unintentional. In the early 1980s, a young vendor named Sina Gerard was selling mandazi, East African fried dough balls, from his roadside stand. Looking for a way to help his snacks stand out, he decided to serve the fried dough with a condiment of his own creation: a chili oil made from local Scotch bonnet peppers. Sales quickly heated up, and soon customers flocked to his stand just for his chili oil. Gerard named his creation Akabanga, roughly translated from the Kinyarwanda language to mean “secret,” referencing the hit of heat that might surprise unsuspecting diners.
The killer spice isn’t the only reason people love Akabanga. Earthy and a bit smokey, it adds a deep, complex flavor to stews, soups, and meat dishes. But true devoted fans of the chili oil would likely say that it can go on almost anything, as long as you dose wisely. And if you do, you’ll likely have a dish that sets your soul, and mouth, on fire.