California Habanero Blends review

California Habanero Blends out of Chico, Calif. have created a trio of habanero Table Sauces from Ginger Garlic (mild) to Chipotle (medium) to Garlic Key Lime (hot). While these are not “hot sauces” per se, they are designed for dipping, marinating and cooking.

California Blends Hot Sauces

California Habanero Blends

Chef Timothy Sharkey created these “table sauces” to enhance your food, lead you into the world of spicy condiments without burning your face off, and to introduce his flavorful creations to the masses. Of the three sauces offered, there is a California Habanero Blend flavor for everyone in the house.

1 – Ginger Garlic – Sweet

California Blends Ginger Garlic habanero

Sweet, mild & sticky

The mildest of the 3 sauces here, the Ginger Garlic is very sweet and sticky. It has an Asian inspired flavor that makes for a nice sticky wing sauce, or as a finishing sauce on grilled shrimp. It would also be delicious as a dipping sauce for egg rolls.

Consistency is towards the thinner side of sauces, yet it has a little body that you would expect from a sticky Asian sauce.

California Blends Ginger Garlic Habanero is sweet

Ginger Garlic is a nice dipping sauce too

Heat Level: Rated 1 out of 5 Stars – 1/5 This one is all flavor and sweetness. Just a tingle of heat.

Ingredients: water, sugar, orange juice concentrate, pineapple juice concentrate, garlic, ginger, key lime juice concentrate, carrot puree, salt, distilled vinegar, habanero peppers, wheat, soybeans, red peppers, citric acid, extra virgin olive oil, spice, xanthan gum, phosphoric acid, ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulfite.

2 – Chipotle – Sweet & Smoky

California Blends Chipotle Habenero Sauce

Smoky BBQ sauce style flavor – the 5oz bottle will go fast

The “medium” level of this trio tastes for all the world of a smoky BBQ style sauce. The thickest of the 3, by far, it’s a dark, thick, pourable sauce with lots of smoke overtones and nice little bits of garlic and peppers.

There are some impressive ingredients in this one that include chipotle peppers, molasses, honey and maple syrup. Yes, it’s a bit on the sweet side too – but with a nice little bite of heat. In case you didn’t know, chipotle peppers (smoked jalapeños) can be quite hot. Coupled with the habaneros, along with some vinegar and key lime juice, and you’ve got a zesty flavor profile.

It’s no surprise that the Chipotle – Sweet & Smoky is Cal Blends’ biggest seller by far. I only wish it came in a bigger size – either a pint jar, or quarts or gallons. Yea, it’s that good.

California Blends Chipotle Habanero is a BBQ style sauce

Thick, rich and smoky. This really should come in a pint jar.

Heat Level: Rated 1.5 out of 5 Stars – 1.5/5 – I can’t give this sauce a much higher heat level due to the sweetness and smokiness that pervade it. Relatively speaking, it really is just a half notch above the milder Ginger Garlic.

Ingredients: tomato paste, water, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle peppers, salt, carrot puree, molasses, honey, maple syrup, key lime juice concentrate, distilled vinegar, habanero peppers, garlic, spice, extra virgin olive oil, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, wheat, soybeans, liquid smoke, oleoresin, paprika, oleoresin capsicum, sodium metabisulfite.

3 – Garlic Key Lime – Tangy

California Blends Garlic Key Lime Habanero sauce

Hottest, thinnest of the trio.

Labeled as the “Hot” level of these three sauces, and indeed it is the hottest, it is also the original sauce that California Blends started with. And it forms the basis for the other two sauces in the lineup.

Standing alone, it is also the thinnest of the sauces here – with an orange color and bits of peppers and seasonings.

The taste, straight up, is very harsh. The biting flavor of the key lime juice, coupled with the habanero peppers is jarring, to say the least.
This one is definitely our least favorite of the threesome. Which is both surprising and disappointing. I had high hopes for this one.

California Blends Garlic Key Lime Habanero is their house sauce

Thin, fiery, and very much a Key lime flavor.

Heat Level: Rated 2 out of 5 Stars – 2/5 The quick heat and sting are short-lived. You’d have to be a big fan of key lime juice AND habaneros to really dig this one.

Ingredients: water, carrot puree, key lime juice concentrate, habanero peppers, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, distilled vinegar, citric acid, spice, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulfite.

As usual, everyones tastes are different, so I highly suggest you order all three (get 2 of the Chipotle – it’s that good) and judge for yourself. You may find you love them all for different reasons!

California Blends bottles

Classy labels

Label/Graphics: Clean labels with big fonts tell you that you are indeed looking at California Blends’ products. The single habanero pepper emblazoned with the “flavor” is very clear. The background splash of color is different for all 3, but I will take issue with the mild Ginger Garlic having the “hot” red color over the Chipotle’s tamer orange color.

Overall Rating (Taste on Food, Final Thoughts): We tried each of the 3 sauces on wings that we grilled outside, tossing a few wings in each of the flavors.

Grilled wings with California Blends Table Sauces

Grilled wings with California Blends Table Sauces – L-R: mild, med, hot

The Ginger Garlic made for some tasty Asian style wings – but very mild in heat. The Chipotle sauce was the favorite, imparting a nice BBQ/Chipotle flavor. Thick, sticky BBQ style wings. The Garlic Key Lime was a big fail on wings. The sauce never “set up” and remained thin and runny.

Next up was a round of grilled shrimp that we cooked on our indoor George Foreman grill. After a short marinade in the ‘fridge for about 4 hours, each skewer of shrimp was grilled first and brushed with the sauces for a final flavor hit.

Grilled shrimp with California Blends sauces

Grilled shrimp really did well with the sauces

Again, the Ginger Garlic was superb if not mild, the Chipotle made for some great BBQ shrimp that you would be proud to serve up, and … finally… we found a better combo for the Garlic Key Lime. It really shined on the shrimp this time. It was hot and spicy, tangy and flavorful.

Bonus Review: Garlic Key Lime Pistachios

California Blends Pistachios

Pistachios – with California Blends’ Key Lime seasoning.

These salty, savory, slightly spicy pistachios are seasoned with a dry version of California Habanero Blends’ Garlic Key Lime sauce. They also have very little of the heat level that we found in the sauce itself.

Pistachios from California Blends


The 8 ounce resealable bag lasted us through about 4 episodes of Breaking Bad. Get two, they go fast!

About California Blends:

Our company and product name comes from the fact that we are different from most of the Hot Sauces out there today. We take a base flavor with heat and create all of our products from the original source. All of the flavors naturally blend together because they all have the same base flavor in them. Mixing one with the other only intensifies the flavors and heat. California is a melting pot of cultures and flavors.

All of our products are low in sodium, all natural ingredients, no fillers, natural sugar, no high fructose Corn syrup, fat free, low in calories, no artificial colors, no MSG. All of these sauces can be used all year long so keep them on the Table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Where to buy: Visit to purchase.

About Brian Meagher

I'm your host here.
I eat hot sauce. I cook BBQ. I write about both.
Thank you for reading!


  1. OK, it has finally happened… Brian’s “heat” buds have burned out! I cannot disagree more about the heat level of these sauces. The Ginger Garlic was the mildest of the three, but still ranked a solid 2.5 in heat level from me. I LOVED this sauce… and yes, I’m a sucker for ginger and sweet chili sauces. This sauce is going into my “Egg Roll Dipping Sauce” rotation.

    The heat of the Chipotle (sweet and smoky) ranked at 2.5 for me as well. Great sauce when you want a smoky BBQ edge with a touch of heat in any dish, including baked beans.

    But the Garlic Key Lime had no problem hitting the 3.5 heat level straight out of the bottle, and the heat stayed on my tongue (though not in the throat) for quite a while. (Pass the sour cream, please!) It worked best as a marinade for the shrimp, and maintained a nice mouth burn for several minutes.

    The pistachios were ridiculously good. I recommend you cradle the empty shell on the tip of your tongue to achieve maximum heat awesomeness 🙂

  2. Brian / Marilyn

    Thanks for the Review. I appreciate the time you put into your reviews to really try the product and use it not just dash and dine you might say.

    Each of the sauces are all very opposite of each other and I tried to cover as many bases in three sauces to put out at one time. I do most of the cooking at my house and have a family of 6 so I needed some sauces that are Family Friendly and could be eased into the daily cooking. I found my kids will enjoy cooking with the heat and are learning the difference between Spicy food that has actual Spices added for flavor and taste rather than HOT food with some sort of Hot pepper added to enhance the meal. Flavor first then Heat. Today we spend so much on food I really want to enjoy the flavors of what I am buying and enhance them with a heat background. I get a lot of comments at the table this is good I can’t stop eating..What did you put in it?

    The Ginger Garlic sauce did pull in a 2nd Place in this year’s 2013 Fiery Food Challenge and I use it as a base for marinating. I grill weekly and this was my staple marinade before bottling. I add a bottle of sauce to a cup of soy sauce and a beer. Then leave over night if possible. CROWD pleaser every time. Just change up the beer choice, darker the meat darker the beer. If the finished product needs to be hotter we just add in more of the Garlic Key Lime because that is the heat in the sauce. Using a Juice base open up lots of possibilities and with the low sodium in all of them you can add a whole bottle to recipes without the vinegar and salt shift.

    So the heat in all of these is Blended WAY down for more of the Mass shopper appeal. My goal is national sales. Even with my heat levels lower than most Chileheads want they are still hotter than most of the store brands without scaring away a return purchase. I feel that this is a huge area being missed right now. Hotter than normal but not extreme heat this whole middle part is wide open on the grocery shelves and I want that spot. The labeling took a long time to finalize. We definitely wanted to show a California product that stepped away from the Major store brands that are all basically the same. And they are all Location based Mexican, Louisiana, Texas and I wanted to show that I was different and not just copying another “Type” of sauce. The Garlic Key Lime is really different and does have that strong Key Lime citrus but it also allows you to use it as you would a fresh hot pepper that you don’t always have around in the kitchen. This next batch we are using a different Key Lime supplier and this has a more mellow sweeter taste. But without using vinegar and salt you do need a stronger “Flavor” to make up for the lack of Salted flavor. This last batch of Garlic Key Lime has outsold the others so far at shows. But I have been doing more cooking demos and recipe cards at shows to push it. People really like to see how to use a product and see different ways to enhance their cooking and have that “Secret” ingredient.

    The Sweet & Smoky Chipotle is our overall best seller each season. It does go fast and will need to sell in larger bottles but at this time I don’t have the capacity to store it all. Once you have a larger bottle the price point and profit margins drop and everything else grows. Storage, shipping etc. Although I do make Gallons for food service more people are purchasing those and I give a free squeeze bottle. I have restaurants using gallons out with pumps because the bottles just get stolen. I will have BBQ vendor’s trade me food for my sauces at shows and I find that a great compliment. I would love to enter a competition or actually host one with a Hot Sauce venue with music and beer. Seems the West Coast is missing out on some great food and sauces. So someone should do it why not me!

    I do have a few recipes ready to bottle for this next season. Just need some funds to accomplish. We are trying a few different venues for this. This link is one of them: I have a Habanero Green Sauce and a Habanero Lime Taco Sauce. Again both will be slightly hotter than the store brands but still keep it exciting for most. Both sauces will start with our base sauce of the Garlic Key Lime. All our products will have this to make them proprietary and keep a flavor profile that is unique to our brand. We also have a few Spice Blends and Rubs I make small batches for shows and working with blenders to make larger more consistent batches.

    The Pistachios are the start for the snack line and I want to incorporate the different Nuts that are grown in California and in Butte County where we are located. An astronomical amount of nuts come from our area. So I wanted to incorporate our products into this and established a partnership with a local grower that takes just our sauce coats the nuts and fire roasts them and packages for us. With no salt added. These actually won 3rd Place in this year’s Fiery Food Challenge for Salty Snack. Irony. We are working on other nuts such as Almonds (Amonds is how it is said around here) and Cashews.

    So far it’s been a great response for our sauces and expanded into the SF Bay Area this summer with 8 locations with Raley’s a local grocery chain. We have also had discussions with distributors who will start adding our line first of the year and exposure to over 200 possible stores and grocery locations in the SF Bay Area.

    I keep saying We and Our Company..But in reality it is just Me and my Wife with LOTS of help from friends and family and support from people like you Brian and Marilyn. This is why I always say We because I could not do all of this on my own and of course the ultimate help is the Customer that keeps purchasing our products. Thank you!


    • Well you certainly are on track for creating unique and gourmet quality sauces my friend!
      I understand the volume costs for being able to come up with larger sized bottles (especially for the Chipotle). But we hope you will find a way.

      Best of luck with them all, and especially with the new “Habanero Green” and “Taco” sauces!

      Very exciting news and we look forward to your progress.

  3. steve chambers says

    yep i got 2 of his 3 packs of sauces from tim a little while ago and couldnt agree more with you guys the chipotle being the best of the 3 with the ginger asian coming in 2nd and the key lime last i never did find anything i liked the key lime on but the other 4 bottles have been long gone

    • Thanks for the comment, Steve. We agree on the popularity of the first two sauces. I can’t wait to see what Tim comes up with for his next two sauces.

    • Thanks Steve, I can easily see why the others are long gone! Can’t wait to see you again, soon!

  4. Bill Moore says

    Great job Brian…and overall really great sauces Tim. I agree with what you said Brian. Yes…the Garlic Key Lime is a quite harsh…but respect Tim’s explanation. The Chipotle Sweet & Smoky is just amazing!!!