Slawsa is what you think it is (yet it’s not)

My friend Cameron randomly announced a couple of weeks back he was planning to grill bratwursts with his family that evening. That led to a riveting discussion about condiments, during which I told him about my beloved Ballpark Mustard, the Cleveland classic that is my favorite topping for any oblong object one might eat with bread around it.

He listened patiently and then uttered a foreign word. “Ever heard of Slawsa?”

Slawsa?

He couldn’t quite describe it to me, saying it is a fermented product that is sort of like a salsa but sort of like a slaw, thus the name. His inability to pinpoint a single flavor or texture intrigued me. I was even more intrigued when he told me that, when he realized his local Kroger had stopped carrying it, he decided to go to Slawsa.com and take matters into his own hands. The guy bought a case of 24.

Any product that any human will buy by the case is something that I want to investigate. So, I sought out Slawsa and found a description that stated, in part, that it “breaks the mold of modern condiments, boldly creating a whole new category of food.”

I also learned it is (ready?): all natural, fat-free, cholesterol free, gluten free, low in sodium, vegan and kosher. It also cures the mange. (Yeah, I made up that last one.) It does contain just 15 calories per serving, which ain’t bad, either.

Anyway, I procured a jar of the Spicy version and the Fire version direct from Slawsa. There’s also the original and Garlic versions, but I like the spice.

The description of the stuff pretty much matches what my friend tried to tell me — it’s just its own thing. He likes it on brats, but it’s also recommended for dipping like a salsa, used as a sandwich spread or on burgers, with fish, on pulled pork or in various recipes for dishes like egg salad (it’s a replacement for mustard), jalapeño poppers (mix it with cream cheese) or deviled eggs (replaces mustard and/or relish).

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The ingredients tell the tale. The spicy version is made with cabbage, sugar, mustard, green bell peppers, onions, vinegar, carrots, salt, spices, beta-carotene and xanthan gum. The Fire version adds habanero mash to the blend.

So, I opened the Spicy version and took a whiff. At first, my senses told me it smelled like mustard. OK, mustard-based slaw. No, wait — mild salsa with an unexpected hint of tanginess. See what I mean? Slawsa leaves behind question marks and sometimes the flavor can shift in between bites. And visually, it looks like nothing else, with its bright yellow-orange color, with occasional green pieces (peppers) and bits of orange (carrots); much like with the flavor.

I dipped a corn tortilla chip into it and took a bite and discovered one of the most unique and interesting combinations of flavors I’ve encountered. It starts with an overriding sweetness, but there’s also a bit of vinegary tartness, for lack of a better phrase. It’s only mildly spicy. I expected a bit more of a sauerkraut flavor, given the fermenting, but it doesn’t go very far down that road.

Slawsa tastes bright, if you will, and I think that helps feed its versatility. Eat it with corn tortillas, and it feels and tastes closer to a salsa. But when I ate the Fire version on a bratwurst, the more savory flavors came out and, of course, the heat did as well. It tasted like it belonged there, if that makes any sense. Oh and that habanero flavor and bite were done perfectly.

But, when it’s all said and done, I truly don’t know what the hell it is. It is its own thing, which is probably why my friend likes it so much. My guess is it is one of those flavors that, when you get it, you really, really get it.

I asked Slawsa inventor Julie Busha, who launched her business in Cramerton, North Carolina, how she came up with this unique product, and she said it comes from an old, Southern recipe she procured from a former business partner. But even she doesn’t know quite what it is.

“Lots of people say, ‘What it’s like?’” Busha said. “It’s not really like anything. That’s one of our challenges, trying to explain the awesomeness of it. Or Slawsomeness, as we call it.”

You can find the original Slawsa at all Lowe’s hardware stores, in the grilling section. Busha said the hope is to also get placed in the Kroger meat section, so keep an eye out for the jars of odd-looking yellow stuff. The stuff that tastes like nothing but also tastes like everything. Or something.

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