Not-so-secret sauce is making a splash




SMOOTH MOVE—Dennis Michel of Yolo Cupz adds chamoy sauce to the inside of a cup while making a smoothie in his food truck Sept. 6 at the IMT Wood Ranch apartments in Simi Valley. MICHAEL COONS Acorn Newspapers

SMOOTH MOVE—Dennis Michel of Yolo Cupz adds chamoy sauce to the inside of a cup while making a smoothie in his food truck Sept. 6 at the IMT Wood Ranch apartments in Simi Valley. Photos by MICHAEL COONS Acorn Newspapers

If you’re diving into a dessert or a drink and taste a sauce that is salty, sweet and sour all at once, chances are it’s chamoy.

The Acorn spoke to local business owners and culinary experts to learn more about the ingredient and how its use has evolved.

Dennis Michel, owner of a Ventura County food truck called Yolo Cupz—as in “you only live once”—attributes the success of his business to the savory sauce.

The truck is known for its fruit smoothies, which include housemade chamoy drip on the side of the cup and a garnish of sour gummy rings.

The idea to add chamoy to his drinks came from the sweet and spicy Mexican candy he grew up with.

“I wanted to incorporate something that stems from my Latin culture,” Michel said. “I made it unique to my upbringing . . . and people love it.”

Although chamoy has always been a staple in Mexican kitchens, the entrepreneur believes its rise in popularity mirrors that of micheladas: a Mexican drink made with beer, tomato and lime juices, and chamoy.

“Ever since it started rising, I think a lot more businesses are starting to incorporate michelada like concepts,” he said.

A strawberry and mangonda smoothie with chamoy drip from Yolo Cupz.

Michel created his own michelada recipe—topped with his signature chamoy drip and gummies—that he offers at special events, including pop-ups in Camarillo.

Because of the demand for his chamoy drinks, Michel said, he has been asked to make them for local in-house events hosted by the beer distributor Reyes Beverage Group.

“My product has made noise to that level,” Michel said.

Chamoy can be made in a variety of ways. Typically, sweet dried apricots are cooked down with spicy chile de arbol, salty Tajin seasoning and sour hibiscus flowers. But chamoy can also be made with a combination of other fruits, vegetables or legumes, including plum, mango, jicama and tamarind.

Timothy Maloof, the culinary arts instructor at Moorpark Adult School, likes to use the sweet sauce as a contrast in savory dishes. While many Mexican eateries will use chamoy as a topping on fruit, ice cream and sour candy, the Lebanese chef adds it to white fish or braised lamb.

“I maybe don’t use it in its traditional sense,” he said. “I also use it to inform other sauces, meaning I’ll use it as a base and then incorporate other sauces into it as well.”

Maloof said he finds it fascinating how food travels, just like art, culture and language do. Although the exact origin of chamoy is unclear, he said, food anthropologists theorize that salty plums from China were traded along the Silk Road, becoming popular in Mexican cuisine hundreds of years later.

“It’s quite a sophisticated sauce. I think it deserves to be used and revered in other cuisines as well,” Maloof said. “In Mexico, from what I understand, it is used in snack-type foods. I’ve had it with mangonada and candies.”

The Raspado House in Moorpark offers such delicacies, including tostilocos (a Mexican street snack), esquite (corn salad), raspados (shaved ice), chamangos (a type of mango smoothie), fresh fruit and aguas frescas—chamoy is always the cherry on top.

Gloria Valencia, owner of the Raspado House, said customers don’t shy away from a healthy drizzle of chamoy on their favorite snack.

“Chamoy is basically used to top off anything and everything we have here,” she said. “We’re definitely most known for our chamoy drinks. It’s one of our top products.”

Dennis Michel of Yolo Cupz adds a chamoy drip to a cup while making a smoothie in his food truck Sept. 6 at the IMT Wood Ranch apartments in Simi Valley.