One thing spicy on the market at U of Guelph

Hot sauce project participant Justin Brookshaw tends pepper plants growing on the University of Guelph campus.

It’s called CannonFire and it’s a hot commodity on the University of Guelph campus — a hot sauce developed, manufactured, bottled and sold by students.

“Last year, we sold out in two hours,” said Derek Vella, director of the Guelph Food Innovation Centre in U of G’s Department of Food Science.

Vella launched the project in 2018 to offer undergraduate food science students some hands-on learning in food production.

This year, the project has expanded, with students growing more peppers than ever before, increasing production, and adding a new flavour, inspired in part by the pandemic.

“Hot Tropic is a sauce that I came up with the students,” said project manager Aleana Chao.

The fifth-year food science student had been meeting online with the crew of student volunteers to plan this year’s project.

It had already been decided that they would produce the tried-and-true CannonFire, which was named in honour of Old Jeremiah, the cannon that has long been a landmark on the U of G campus. But they were also planning to add a second product, one that would give this year’s cohort of volunteers a chance to come up with their own concept and would represent their year.

Chao said the students, weary of pandemic travel restrictions, wanted to come up with something inspired by sunny destinations.

“They wanted a taste of the tropics,” she said.

The sauce has a pineapple base and a medium spice level, she says, and with any luck, people will be able to get a bottle before they’re sold out.

“Last year, we did about 120 bottles,” Chao said. “This year, we’re planning for over 1,000 bottles.”

This has meant not just making and bottling the sauce, but also growing the peppers that are the main ingredient.

“We didn’t start off growing the peppers,” Vella said.

When the hot sauce project started in 2018, the food science department was working with the Guelph Centre for Urban Organic Farming on campus, he explains.

“They had a lot of hot peppers they were growing,” he said, noting that’s part of the reason hot sauce was chosen as the product for the experiential learning project.

“I do happen to love hot sauce, but that’s not the reason,” Vella said. “The inspiration for it was to have a product that students could own.”

After the project’s initial success, the project partnered with the Bovey greenhouse on campus to allow the students to grow their own chili peppers from seed.

“Last year, we had 25 pepper plants,” Vella said.

But in order to scale up the project this year, the students needed more space. They took their plantings outside, growing 120 pepper plants of eight different varieties in containers on campus.

The seeds, donated by All-America Selections, were planted indoors in mid-winter and tended by volunteers. They were transplanted to the outdoors in spring and harvest began in July.

This month, the two sauces will be bottled and labelled at the Guelph Food Innovation Centre. They will be on sale next month on campus, with sales at the Fair November craft show at the University Centre on Dec. 1 and 2, and curbside sales at the food science building, 88 McGilvray St., on Dec. 2 and 3. To order a bottle for curbside pickup, visit

Around 40 undergraduate students have been involved in the project, which takes about 12 months from seed to sales, said Vella.

“Students really put a lot of work into this,” he said.

Although it’s work, it’s also a rewarding experience and a unique hands-on learning opportunity.

“It’s not an experience that most schools offer to students,” he said.

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