How Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce Helps Students in Need

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Rowan University President Ali Houshmand checks on a batch of Ali’s Nasty, one of Houshmand's Hazardous Hot Sauce flavors. The hot sauce helps raise money for Rowan student scholarships. - Photo via Rowan.edu

Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce is not just a tongue-twister or your average condiment. 

Rowan University President Ali Houshmand’s bottled hot sauce is one of his innovative projects that has helped raise millions of dollars for the Student Emergency Scholarship fund at Rowan.

“He’s always thinking of ways for generating more funds for students, to help students in need,” said Joe Cardona, Rowan’s vice president.

All of the hot sauce proceeds go directly into Rowan’s Student Emergency Scholarship fund, which is a scholarship specifically designed to help students who run into emergent situations during their college careers. All of the production costs get funded through donations, and Houshmand has no interest in personally profiting from it financially.

Not only does the hot sauce help fund the scholarship, but Houshmand also says it is a great example to show students how to start a small business from a passion or a hobby they might have. 

After all, Houshmand grew his own hot peppers in his backyard and made his hot sauce recreationally until he decided to market it.

“The bigger picture really has to do with me being able to demonstrate how one can really start a small business,” Houshmand said. “It has become a tool for me to guide young minds. If you want to do something, you can do it yourself.”

Houshmand is certainly a “do it yourself” kind of person. After growing up impoverished in Iran —and getting to where he is today— Houshmand says that his humble background is part of the inspiration behind the hot sauce initiative.

“It is personal to me. I have been helped myself. I was very poor, my family was very, very poor and through the help of others, I managed to get to where I am. And I think it’s my responsibility to do the same for others and I feel very passionate about that,” he said.

Cardona also weighed in on Houshmand’s mission to help students.

“It’s important to him, making sure students have the ability to go to school because he benefited so greatly from going on to college and then coming to the United States and getting his doctorate,” Cardona said. “He’s quite the success story.”

Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce is another success story. It’s a unique and fun way to fund a scholarship, and it has taken off with success in the last few years since its inception.

The hot sauce project has generated a considerable amount of hype from the media. Various periodicals have done articles about it, and Houshmand and his sauce were both featured on NBC10 Philadelphia.

This project’s level of fun and uniqueness is certainly part of why it has been so successful. 

“Literally, there are people that buy the hot sauce from around the world,” Cardona said. “It’s a good cause raising money for students.”

Houshmand says that the hot sauce project has helped him open doors with potential donors as well.

“When I go to a philanthropist or a donor, and I explain what it is that I do, it resonates with that person, and it is possible that that person is willing to write a check to the university so that we can enhance this fund, and that has happened,” Houshmand said.

Houshmand also said that making this sauce from scratch has been an incredibly rewarding hobby of his. Gardening is one of his passions.

“For me, it’s an amazing way for me to basically get away from the politics of the work,” Houshmand said.

“It’s so wonderful when you see the fruits of your own labor… When you look at these seeds, they are very, very small. For someone like me, I have to wear glasses just to see them. And then this little thing I put into a little cup, four months from now, I’ve got this six-foot plant, and hundreds of [peppers] are hanging from it,” he said. “It really is amazing. You see life in front of you growing.”

Luckily for him, he actually enjoys its taste, too; he personally uses his sauce frequently and with almost every meal.

“I use it for almost everything. Breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said. “I have them with various soups, sandwiches…I can make really good chicken wings with it. There are lots of things that I do with it that I really, really enjoy.”

Overall, there are three different flavors of the infamous sauce, each ranging in spiciness levels: “Ali’s Nasty” (the original and least spicy), “Nastylicious,” and “Nastyvicious” (the hottest of the three). All of them are available for purchase at the Rowan University bookstore and online.

This past fall, Houshmand created a fun homecoming video for students to watch how the not-so-secret sauce can be made at home. While regular homecoming festivities were unable to happen due to COVID-19, he decided to make the most out of it and create the cooking video for his students while they had to stay at home during homecoming this year.

Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot sauce is certainly the spice of life at Rowan University. 

“We have sold nearly 2,500 jars and merchandise,” Cardona said. “It’s been a wonderfully successful project.”

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