The quickest way to start a fight among San Francisco foodies is to ask them who makes the best burrito. The second quickest way is to ask them to name their favorite hot sauce.
Oakland native Conrad White always knew he wanted to create something of his own, he just didn’t know it would be CBD-infused hot sauce. Or maybe he did. His dad had relocated to the Bay Area for the dot-com boom in the 1980s and was, as White recalls, “always eating peppers,” the infernal ghost peppers being a family favorite. This inherited affinity for all things picante coupled with the entrepreneur bug made it all but inevitable he’d start his own business. After studying engineering at Cal Poly Tech, he settled into a career in tech in San Francisco.
But the bug got worse.
“I wanted something freer,” he recalls, to have creative control over his own mission, products, and hours. And what two things are more emblematic of millennial entrepreneurship than weed and food products?
“I’ve always loved the hot sauce, and just growing up, weed has always been decriminalized in Oakland or flat out legal; it’s something I’m accustomed to.” but he’s quick to clarify that THC is not on the menu, “I don’t smoke weed, but I love CBD.”
White’s company, Above Water, was born in 2019, initially as a collection of naturally flavored tinctures made with CBD from broad-spectrum hemp sourced from Oregon. He likens running to it a hands-on MBA, having done the product design, logo graphics, website copy, and PR himself. A few months after the initial launch, Lava Sauce was in the works, and it remains the star of the group. The hot sauce uses a two-week-fermented habanero and Fresno pepper combination, coupled with onion, garlic, carrot, spices, and a dash of hibiscus.
White says Lava sauce “will singe your eyebrows.” it’s hot, but not last-sauce-of-Hot-Ones-level hot. For comparison, “if someone started with Tapatio, it would be 4 or 5 [Scoville heat units] up from that.” The 5 oz bottle contains 500mg of CBD, approximately 100mg per oz, to ensure you don’t singe your esophagus too.
At this point, millions of Americans have tried some form of CBD-based product, from gummies to body butter to lube, as a supplemental remedy or treatment for a panache of conditions, including epilepsy, anxiety, and inflammation. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of CBD have shown promise in relieving symptoms of irritable bowel conditions and can potentially lower cortisol levels in the body, making it an ideal partner to the fermented peppers.
However, White says Lava Sauce, despite its high CBD content, is less about calming the mind and more about soothing tummy aches, like a spicy weed-adjacent kombucha for your eggs.
“It’s not gonna be the same effect as the tinctures; it’s gonna promote that healthy gut more than anxiety relief,” he says.
Right now, Above Water products are sold online, in select Oakland shops, and through naturopathic practitioners. In addition to the Lava Sauce and tinctures, they’ve also released scented body butter and most recently a massage oil candle. (A face mask is in the works, and new iterations of Lava Sauce, with pineapple and mango respectively.)
While White isn’t banking on his sauce becoming a taqueria staple, he’s hoping to make his way into Bay Area kitchen cabinets and refrigerators, and give natives and transplants alike a homegrown option. After the year we’ve had, a palatial reset for summer is sounding pretty good right about now.
“I want you to put this on your eggs every day, on your fish tacos,” he says. “As a guy who was born in, grew up in, and lives for Oakland, it’s about finding and supporting the local businesses in the area, for me.”
Read More: Above Water’s CBD-Infused Hot Sauce Is Good for Your Tacos (and Gut)