Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ajay's Montana Bananas - Extra Hot

Ajay's Montana Bananas The last in this series on Ajay's Montana Bananas is this Extra Hot variety. I had previously written a review of their "Original Extra Hot" variety, which is a thicker cut of meat. This Extra Hot variety, minus the word "Original" is described as a slab-style thin cut.

The brand has been selling to consumers since 1979 mostly through small liquor stores in northern California. It scored a big break when BevMo!, a chain of warehouse-style liquor stores across California and Arizona picked it up. It's also distributed through a network of tool trucks like Matco and Snap On. You can also buy it from the brand's website, though it has to be purchased in bulk.

The name "Ajay" refers to the company owner Ajay Avery, who discovered this jerky while in Missoula, MT. At the time, it was produced by a local butcher. Ajay fell in love with the jerky's taste that he decided to buy the recipe, and launched his own jerky marketing business.

Ingredients

Beef, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, brown sugar, spices, liquid smoke, garlic.

Taste

The first thing I taste off the surface of these pieces is a medium-level sweetness, and medium-level saltiness, with some chile pepper burn taking hold rather quickly. There's a slight bit of smokiness on the surface also. In the chewing, I'm getting some more saltiness, and some chile pepper flavor as I bite into a seed. Also in the chewing, is some soy sauce flavor, but noticeable mostly as I pause to suck out some juices. I'm also getting some black pepper flavor in the chewing, and as an aftertaste.

For being advertised as "Extra Hot", it's definitely hot. But is it extra hot? In a technical sense, that's perhaps impossible to judge without having something else to compare to. I guess only you can decide if use of the word "extra" is warranted here. For myself, after having reviewed many other brands of hot jerky, I think this Extra Hot variety from Ajay's is indeed hotter than many others, so perhaps it's warranted.

As far as the heat intensity of this jerky goes, I'd rate it as "medium hot" on my hot scale for an individual piece. But over the course of several pieces, it builds up to just "hot". I can feel some beads of sweat running down the back of my neck, my eyes are a little misty, and I'm getting some runny sinuses.

I can also taste some of the natural chile pepper flavor, but only when I bite into a seed. However, I wouldn't consider this to be a dominant flavor in this jerky.

I'd say the flavor that stands out the most in this is a saltiness. That saltiness is present off the surface, but gets more strong in the chewing. Initially, the chewing flavor is a mixture of sweet & salty flavor. But that sweetness wears off quickly and I'm left with the saltiness. Eventually, it morphs into a light soy sauce flavor. Overall, the salt intensity feels like a medium level.

The sweetness is another dominant flavor but it's mostly noticed off the surface of these pieces. As I start chewing, the sweetness mixes in, but soon wears off.

The black pepper is noticeable too. There's actually quite a bit of black pepper on these pieces but they tend to blend into the meat color, and they're also hard to notice due to the yellow-white chile pepper seeds grabbing my attention. The black pepper flavor is not easily noticed, but I can find it by thinking about what I'm tasting. I wouldn't call it a dominant flavor.

The natural meat flavors make just a slight showing. The garlic is only faintly noticeable, mostly in the background to color the chewing flavor.

Overall, what you're going to taste in this jerky is a combination of sweet & salty off the surface, with some chile pepper burn. As you start chewing, the sweet & salty will continue for a bit until the sweet wears off and you're left with the salty. The chile pepper burn will increase, and you'll taste some chile pepper flavor, some black pepper flavor, light meat flavor, a faint bit of garlic in the background, and at the tail end of chewing, you'll notice the soy sauce.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be slices of whole meat, sliced thin, and in small to medium sized pieces. There's also about a full ounce of bits in the bottom of the bag.

It's mostly a dry jerky, but seems to have a soft, moist chew. It's easy to chew, and easy to tear apart with my fingers.

The chewing texture starts out feeling stiff, but easily bends and breaks down in about 15 seconds without much rubbery resistance. I don't think it feels much like steak, however, or maybe a little. It's a very soft chewing texture, though still fibrous. Perhaps "mushy" steak is a way to describe this.

The chile pepper seeds and flakes easily fall off as I tear pieces apart. I find several fragments falling into my lap and on my desk. But aside from that it seems to be clean eating with no residue on my fingertips.

And I also find it rather lean, seeing no visible streaks of fat, no gristle or tendon, and no other chewy sinews inside the meat.




Snack Value

BevMo! sells this Extra Hot variety of Ajay's Montana Bananas at a price of $6.99 for a 5oz package. That works out to a price of $1.40 per ounce, putting this into the average price range. You can also buy this online directly from Ajay's Montana Bananas, but you have to buy a minimum of 13 packages, however the shipping is free.

For general jerky snacking purposes, at the $1.40 per ounce price, I think it offers an excellent value. I'm getting a great deal of snackability out of this for its strong flavor intensity, good flavor complexity, and easy eating. There are a lot of flavors in this to enjoy, and the fact that its easy to eat, lets you enjoy them more quickly.

As an "extra hot" variety, also at the $1.40 per ounce price, it's also an excellent value. I indeed received a good deal of heat from this jerky, and even got some chile pepper flavor too. If you consider the $1.40 per ounce price is actually lower than what you'd pay for a mass-market brand at the grocery store, I think it's a good deal.

Rating

I'm giving this a best rating.

This Extra Hot variety from Ajay's Montana Bananas has a lot of flavor packed into each bite. There's also a good degree of flavor complexity with the sweet, salty, chile pepper, light meat flavor, black pepper, light garlic, and soy sauce. It creates an overall flavor that lends itself to each piece being analyzed and dissected. That complex blend of seasonings, and high flavor intensity, is what won me over.

This flavor is actually the same as Ajay's "Original Extra Hot", which has the thicker cut of meat, but got the lower "good" rating from me. I think this slab-style thin cut is better because it's easier to chew, which increases its snackability, and allowed me to enjoy the flavors more quickly. It's that ease in eating that gave this enough "oomph" to push it up to the best rating.

While the chewing texture is a bit on the mushy side, it wasn't enough to offset this jerky's great overall taste. Another negative I saw is that there was a good deal of small jerky bits in the bottom of the bag, perhap a full ounce, which is not exactly what I would want to pay for. But then again, Ajay gives us five ounces of jerky in this slab-style thin cut, compared to four ounces in his thicker cut, but charges the same price. So maybe, he's making up for that.

As for my beer recommendation, I think a good pairing for this is a smooth creamy stout.

Rating: Best

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