Still Trying to Find Fiery Nirvana in a Bottle of Yet Another Chili Sauce? Try Naagin Hot Sauce, as Indian and Hot as It's Name

Still Trying to Find Fiery Nirvana in a Bottle of Yet Another Chili Sauce? Try Naagin Hot Sauce, as Indian and Hot as It's Name

Many of you like to have your food hot and spicy. But if you are tired of those boring Chinese chilli sauces or sauces from exotic chilli from around the globe which don't quite deliver the punch you crave, its time to switch to something Indian, something which understands the hot and spicy taste which we Indians love in our food. When we started scouting for such hot sauces which guarantee an authentic Indian chilli taste, we stumbled upon "Naagin", a brand which has created a name for itself in the Indian hot sauces market.

A Taste for Hot

Here is a fun fact! Did you know that 'spiciness' is not really something you can taste? The 5 basic tastes are salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami, whereas spicy food causes skin receptors to respond in a manner similar to how they would to heat. And yet we love our hot sauces, don't we! Everything does taste better with a hot and spicy sauce.

Hot Sauces for the Indian Palate

If you are someone with good heat tolerance then you probably love to keep a few favourite hot sauces stocked up to spice up your dishes. However, we are sure you must have felt a huge void in the market when it comes to a Hot Sauce with authentic Indian flavours. It is indeed time we moved on from the commonly available umami flavours and other sauces that don't quite go well with our Indian cuisine. For those of you who agree, we come bearing good news!

Naagin, More Than Just a Hot Sauce

Just like many of you, three hot sauce enthusiasts felt the need for an authentic Indian flavoured hot sauce. They decided to bring together their experience in food and marketing to come up with some wacky flavours. The best thing about the sauces they created was that they ensured to incorporate only Indian chillies. With that, Naagin Hot Sauces were introduced to the market. Based on customer reviews, they further experimented with favours to finally come up with three amazing sauces ranging in terms of spiciness. At Naagin, there is a hot sauce for everyone.

"We are very conscious of the fact that we are not an Indian company making hot sauces but we are an Indian company making an Indian hot sauce, something that's quintessentially reflecting an aspect of our culture."

Kshitij Neelakantan, Co-Founder, Naagin

An Interview with Naagin's Co-Founders, Kshitij and Arjun

Co-Founder, Naagin
Kshitij Neelakantan
Kshitij comes from a content and marketing background and he was a partner with Arjun in a digital media and content agency prior to starting Naagin along with Arjun and Mikhel. He feels that amongst the 3 founders he is the least foodie among them.
Co-Founder, Naagin
Arjun Rastogi
Prior to co-founding Naagin, Arjun set up one of India’s first digital marketing agency called Karma Media and has over a decade of professional experience in the services industry. Arjun loves to eat and has a high level of spice tolerance. He likes to look at a food product from the customer’s perspective and share his suggestions during product development to make the product even more commercially viable.
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Tell us about your background.
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

There are 3 co-founders - myself, Arjun and Mikhel. Mikhel comes from a food industry background, he's been in the QSR restaurant space for 10 years now. He ran a chain of pizzerias. That was the entry point into the food industry. I come from a content and marketing background and prior to forming Naagin, Arjun and myself were partners in a digital media and content agency. Arjun has a long background in this industry, in fact he created one of the very first digital marketing firms called Karma Media. It happened very coincidentally that between the three of us we had the ability to create a product on the food side.

Mikhel and I go way back, we have been friends since boarding school. At that time Arjun and myself were working on some food related content pitch and I was pitching some ideas to Mikhel to see what he would think. One of these ideas involved hot sauce and I could see a glint in his eyes as soon as I started talking about it. He waited patiently for me to finish and then asked me to sit down so that he could have his turn of pitching an idea to me because there was this idea for hot sauce that he had been toying with for a while but he hadn't really pushed forward with it yet. We put our heads together and decided why not make a sauce and put it in a bottle and sell it. How hard could it be? Turns out, quite hard but that we only learnt later.

Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

Mikhel and Kshitij were in school together. My first agency did Mikhel’s logo for his pizza chain and Kshitij and I were running a marketing company so it was a weird connection that just seemed to bring us here. You already know everyone involved and it was cool. And like Kshitij mentioned that we could combine the best of both of our existing companies towards building out the product and ever since then we just noticed that, no pun intended, but this Naagin actually has legs.
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If you could go back and recollect a moment where you decided that you had to make a hot sauce, when was Naagin actually conceptualised?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

I think it happened differently in each of our heads. Definitely the core idea was to create a hot sauce. As soon as we mention any kind of food, automatically the brain evokes a certain kind of response, its joy or sometimes fear. Whatever it is, it is an instant visceral response. I’ll speak for myself and I'll say what I had in mind was not really scratching the surface of the level of the flavour and the world of food that we could get. Arjun is a lifelong hot sauce enthusiast amongst the three of us. He's the one with the pepper-head level of spice tolerance.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

My experience was very different. Kshitij and Mikhel were discussing all of these ideas about content and food. Next day I got a message from Kshitij asking to meet with Mikhel to discuss a product. I asked, ‘like marketing a product?’ And he said no, developing a product. As soon as he said hot sauce I was in. We had this discussion instantly and then after the meeting it just went really well. We all kind of see things the same way in not just where you want to get to but how you plan to go there. We decided to champion Indian chillies and make Indian hot sauces. We saw the beer culture open up in the last 10-15 years and now there's a ton of newer breweries and smaller beer companies. How long have we been having that Maggie Hot and Sweet Sauce? We need something different and India being a land of chillies there is some real need to get into it.

We did well over 100 trials before we finally settled on these two sauces. Indian companies have been making hot sauce a dozen times before this surely but we wanted more. Like the Buffalo sauce which means something, Louisiana style sauce means something but Indian hot sauce doesn't mean anything. Now we're hoping it does.

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How big foodies are each of you? Have you attempted to make a sauce prior to this?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

Let me put it this way. My skills in the kitchen are sufficient to feed only myself but I have definitely been interested in general field work for a long time as a consumer. I think that among the three of us I'm probably the least foodie. Considering how I consider myself to be at a high level of foodie I'll only say that Arjun and Mikhel are even higher on that side.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

Mikhel has been doing this for like 10 years and he has been in the food industry. To me this is just such an outstanding opportunity to finally dip my toes in a product presence. I have spent 13-14 years working in the service business and then finally got into the product business. To answer your question, the foodie would probably be Mikhel. He might have the most refined palate. I just love to eat but I don't claim to be a food champion of any sort. I have to stumble my way through explaining exactly what I want, but I know I bring an important consumer side to the equation because sometimes you can obviously get too technical but you need to have the mass appeal and see the other side whenever possible.
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What is your process and how do you introduce any product?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

We start with hundreds of trials. We are very conscious of the fact that we are not an Indian company making hot sauces but we are an Indian company making an Indian hot sauce, something that's quintessentially reflecting an aspect of our culture. Indians are the biggest consumers next to the Chinese in the world but we have no brand that truly represents that culture. With that in mind we were very clear that we were going to bring Indian flavours to our products so that means none of the vinegary heat that you often get with western hot sauces, or the soy source type umami.

We wanted to create a new one that reflected Indian cuisine, and that was by making sure we have a flavour bomb in every bite. There's a hint of sweetness followed by the heat, but it's also familiar and reminds you of food when you travelled someplace, or of your grandma’s cooking. Not only were we championing Indian cuisine but also Indian chillies. There are hundreds of chilli varieties here that are superb and are inherent to our cuisine which is why the very first original Naagin sauce comes with Sankeshwari chilli. This is the red chilli that you'll see at markets anywhere. It's a long, red, shrivelled dried chilli that's common to all kinds of Kolhapuri - Maharashtrian dishes, hence the flavour should reflect something like Vada Pav that you have on the street.

The second product that we introduced simultaneously was the Bhoot Sauce which is made with bhut jolokia chillies from the northeast or the feeders ghost pepper. As a hot sauce brand we could not ignore the other pepper-head's favourite. It has legendary status among spicy food all over so we had to have our own desi reflection of that, especially considering that it is one of our local ingredients. This we source from Assam.

The third one we released is the Kantha Bomb sauce made of Kanthari chilli from Kerala. These are tiny little bird's eye chilli similar to the peri-peri but native to Kerala. This sauce has a different, more fresh flavour profile with a somewhat zesty spiciness that the chilli brings to it. It's a green sauce and has less of the fiery heat, unlike our other sauces. We try to address a range of cuisines, a range of ingredients. We are based in Maharashtra so started with a chilli with its roots here, the Kantha is our chilli from the South. We were very clear we wanted everyone to enjoy and try it, the consumer could be anyone - so we've had 10 year olds as well as 70 year olds enjoying it. The other thing was based on customer feedback. A lot of the people who liked the original and found the Bhoot Sauce too spicy wanted something in between. A lot of the people that loved the Bhoot Sauce and thought the original was too mild, asked for something in between. Customers also wanted a green sauce, so we have fresh flavours like celery, a little turmeric in there. We wouldn't go to the extent of saying it's a healthy sauce but I would definitely say that it’s the choice to pick for healthier ingredients.

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How did you come up with Naagin as a name?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

I give Mikhel full credit for this one. We later found out that he had had this epiphany a few months ago and bought the domain of naaginsauce.com. He just saw the Naagin dance being performed by some cricketers and thought this sounds like something that should be made into a hot sauce.

We thought about a whole bunch of series of names. We said, “What are we really about?” It's about chilies, it’s about fun, it's about what is intrinsically Indian. It's vibrant, it's hot, it's flavourful, there's so many different angles to it, that's what we associate with the word ‘naagin’. It's a dance, it's a song, it's a movie, it's a TV show it's like memes, it's such an ingrained part of Indian pop culture and the fun version of it. The one that really was the icing on the cake was given that essentially it's a chilli sauce and it's got a little bit of bite.

Naagin's Featured Products

Naagin claims to make hot sauces for passionate people and just a look at their sauces had us drooling. We would recommend you try all three flavours, all of which are as Indian as can be and sure to make your taste buds dance. The sauces are also available in irresistible combos at affordable prices.

The Original Indian Hot Sauce

As the name suggests, The Original Indian Hot Sauce was the first hot sauce introduced by Naagin. It features the Bhavnagari and the Sankeshwari chilli from Maharashtra that is commonly used in Kolhapuri cuisine. A great option for vegans and vegetarians, it is made of locally sourced ingredients and comes with no artificial flavouring. This hot sauce is at a medium heat level that the whole family including kids and elders can enjoy with most dishes. You can buy it for ₹ 225.00 from here.

Kantha Bomb

This is a good pick for those whose heat tolerance is not too high but who do enjoy some spiciness in their food. The Kantha Bomb is a green sauce made with Kanthari chillis from Kerala in the southern part of India. The Kanthari chillis give it a unique taste and freshness and a medium level of spiciness that is sure to elevate your food experience. It needs no refrigeration if stored in cool and dry conditions. You can buy this green sauce for ₹ 250.00 from here.

Smoky Bhoot

Smoky Bhoot gets its name from the infamous Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) from Assam in North-East India. This extra spicy sauce comes with a warning for those with a low tolerance of spice and heat. The perfect sauce to go with your samosas and pakodas, it has a distinctive flavour thanks to the very hot Bhut Jolokia and Lavangi chillies and a rich smokiness coming from celery, onions and garlic. If you think you can handle the heat, then buy it for ₹ 250.00 from here.

Where Can You Find Them?

www.naaginsauce.com

Q & A Section (Contd.)

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What were some of the challenges you faced?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

Our choice of packaging took us on quite a journey. We were considering importing packaging from China just before the lock down but luckily we didn't go in that direction. What we wanted to evoke, the flavour profile, the level of heat, bringing these into the final product was a challenging process. There were a lot of times we had to change directions because we realised it wasn't working, and each time we revisited our thesis to check if this is what we still want from the products, is this still viable and so on.

Our design, our points on social media and in our marketing, that was a challenging process that went through a lot of iterations. All the marketing so far reflects everything that we had decided way back, but it has characteristics that we could have never imagined that have been contributed by every single person who has worked on it. So it's a nice hybrid of the best of our ideas and the best of inclusions from our team, consultants and freelancers.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

It's funny that we have still not finished working on the idea list that we started the company with. In service business you get used to a particular type of work and if something's not quite good enough you have the option to pull an all-nighter and you know you're up to speed the next morning. That's not really possible in a product business, you can't change your solutions or the manufacturing process overnight. For me personally that was the initial challenge, something you have to get used to, everything has to be worked on many months ago. Apart from that, in a country of chutneys and achaars, to try to come up with a hot sauce was questioned by family members at some point. Add to all this is that we are a small company trying to make a name.
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How do you ensure quality?
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

We're trying to get closer to the point of origin of each ingredient. Initially we wanted to buy from the market, but eventually moved towards the distributor/wholesaler who has a certified grade of certain chillies which pass the QC test for the right colour, storage conditions, etc. We do the same thing for each batch and our lab churns out pH tests and reports for every batch to ensure consistency in the pungency, thickness, spice level and taste.

Some variation that can come with using local vegetables versus working with purees or extracts was acceptable, but we wanted to focus on real ingredients, so along with that comes extra challenges. We tried using a lot of industry substitutes like powdered garlic but we found that using the real ingredients gives the product a quality, sheen, colour, consistency, and of course a flavour, that just could not be matched. And we realized that this quality could really be an identifying factor or characteristic of our brand.

Each ingredient goes through fairly vigorous testing. We have also done multiple drop-tests, worked on multiple forms of packaging and boxing, etc. So whether it’s shelf-life testing or nutritional testing, you put it together and you keep improving your processes and ensure that your filling method is done in a way that reduces the microbial count, etc. Each step is looked at rigorously. We wanted to change the mentality that an Indian product means it's either low quality or should be cheaper. This is the direction new India is headed in and nothing could make me happier.

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You also have a rather big segment on recipes. How did that come about and who comes up with these recipes?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

This is just consumer feedback. We have been doing a bunch of things based on recommendations. It is an Indian version of hot sauce for the people.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

We definitely intended it to be a multipurpose kind of sauce that can be used as a condiment, a dipping sauce or can also be a cooking sauce or a marinade for meat or veggies. To be honest we found that there was a sort of 50-50 response from the market. There were those consumers who loved it, who saw the product and tasted it, and these are the people who came up with the most amazing uses for it. We didn't think people would be putting it into dal!
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

But we have people who love putting it in Thai Red Curry and other places where you might not think that it is applicable. This half of the consumer segment we don't need to worry about. A lot of the recipes come from people who have tried a product. They send it to us on social media and we ask them to send us a recipe.

But there's definitely a segment of the audience that likes a bit more of direct usage references. They are very used to categorizing a product as a Chinese sauce that I use for this type of food. This is also part of our effort to engage with the audience and offer them ideas for the ways that they can use it. But at the end of it, this is part of a massive challenge where we want our audience to be aware of the fact that they can use it as a marinade. One way to create a better perception is by creating visual content with our chef collaborations and our occasional giveaways. We encourage them to create food with our products and then award prizes based on that.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

It's different strokes for different folks so we just thought we covered a little bit of breakfast, lunch and dinner and a little bit of the continental, eastern, Indian, etc. Maybe if we give people enough reasons to kind of experiment with it. The passion for food exploration should never stop. I've never met anyone who's ever said that I don't want to eat better food.

Naagin's Future Plans?

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What's next for Naagin?
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

We plan to come up with a bunch of new products in and around this space where we explore a few different types of products as well and will find out how that plays out on the marketing front. We just kind of want to do more or get into more eyeballs with more trials. Horeka has been a space that we've been partnering with recently in a larger way as lockdown restrictions ease. Hopefully expect to see us in a lot more stores with more products, more SKUs and partnering with your favourite eateries in the city and that's the nuts and bolts of it.
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

We make the sauces and then we try really hard to sell them as much as possible.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

We are actually exploring Amazon UK, Amazon EU, Amazon Japan and we've got a few open conversations with distributors in other countries. The main focus is to continue growing in India.
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

The partnership part is really fun and we enjoy doing it and we have already collaborated with some great brands so I think that's something that we will definitely keep doing as we move forward.

Recommendations for Our Readers Using Naagin Sauce for the First Time?

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What are your favourite ways to use the sauce?
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

I can consider having it with anything that I am having for breakfast, like eggs or upma, all of these warm cooked Indian breakfasts. I'm a big fan of dosas. My favourite way to have it is as a condiment when I have mixed Bhoot and original sauces together because like I said I don't have the same spice tolerance like other pepper-heads. So as much as I have developed a taste for self-punishment in the same way I don't have that heat capacity so I'll be mixing it.
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

Mine is cheese toast. I've not been able to shake this answer from day one. The original is like the most ultimate key combination ever. And frankly, all Indian snacks just work really well with it. People love it with eggs, easy biryani or pulao. I like my Naagin and rice combination because that's something on my limited cooking abilities. I can take a very simple bunch of ingredients and make it taste pretty amazing. So that's something that appealed to me especially in the early lockdown days. It's a burger pizza combination made in heaven.

Every now and then we get a DM on Instagram or an email that just makes your day if not your entire week where someone actually gives you more examples of what they love having with it so we've been soaking it all in. Eggs and all breakfast foods, snacks, pasta are the clear winners. I've actually been using it as a Mexican sauce for tacos.
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Which sauce would you recommend to someone trying Naagin for the first time?
Arjun Rastogi

Co-Founder, Naagin Arjun Rastogi

I would say The Original and the Kantha probably.
Kshitij Neelakantan

Co-Founder, Naagin Kshitij Neelakantan

Try them all but in order of increasing spiciness. So, start at the level that you think you might be comfortable with and then try the one next time and then you can try the one after. They each have their own flavour profile and characteristics that are unique and different from others. It's not a simple matter of this is the same sauce, just a little less spicy, although the heat level is the core element that will help people decide, which is why I said go with The Original. It's meant to be accessible, easy to use and even kids and elderly can have it easily.
From our editorial team

Get the Authentic Indian Hot and Spicy Taste in Your Cuisine with Naagin

Regardless of which region of India you live in, you can enjoy the authentic Indian hot and spicy taste in your dishes by using the Indian hot sauces from Naagin which are made of completely indigenous ingredients and are sure to leave a memorable taste in your mouth. Share your experiences of using Naagin hot sauces with us and stay connected for more such engaging content.