Tears of Joy Hot Sauce Shop: Austin, Texas
We all know people who swear they can stomach any amount of heat, and now we know where to take them: This hot sauce haven, housed in a former tamale shop, carries nearly 300 types. Each bottle is charted on a hotness scale of 1 to 10, from mild, garlicky sauces to habanero-infused ones. Totally fearless heat seekers head straight to the coffin-shaped display for Blair's 16 Million Reserve, a vial of pure, powdered capsaicin, one of the chemicals that makes chile peppers hot. It's 2,000 times hotter than the spiciest Tabasco sauce.
618 E. 6th St.; tearsofjoysauces.com
Stonie's Sausage Shop: Perryville, Mo.
The butchers at Stonie's are the Willy Wonkas of sausage making: They sell 150 kinds of housemade meats, including wacky specialties like potato bratwurst and jalapeno bacon. The staple recipes are from Stonie Wibbenmeyer, who founded the business in 1959 (his grandson and great-grandson run it today). Shop at your own risk: You'll leave smelling like a hickory-smoked ham.
1507 Edgemont Blvd.; stoniessausageshop.com
Licorice International: Lincoln, Neb.
Co-owner Elizabeth Erlandson knows a lot about licorice fanatics: She bought the store to satisfy her husband's cravings, and she has set it up so that other licorice lovers can spend hours sampling oddball flavors like root beer and peach. A virtual UN of licorice, the store carries more than 160 types from 15 countries, including super-salty ones from Denmark and minty licorice from Italy.
803 Q St., Suite 300; licoriceinternational.com
The Meadow: Portland, Ore.
Yes, salt is salt (NaCl, if you want to get technical), but there are infinite varieties for serious devotees, and over 110 of them from 29 different countries are sold here. For tasting, owner Mark Bitterman provides cucumber slices you can sprinkle the salts on, like guava wood-smoked salt from Hawaii or shimmery golden flakes from Wales (excellent on chocolate, which he also stocks). You just won't find regular old iodized here. Bitterman can't stand it.
3731 N. Mississippi Ave.; atthemeadow.com
Everything Mushrooms: Knoxville, Tenn.
Eastern Tennessee is perfect for mushroom foraging, and you don't even have to get your shoes dirty. Bob Hess buys his fungi from North American farmers and sells them dried, out of old apothecary jars. The tiny store stocks at least 16 exotic varieties, including lobster and cauliflower, and also carries grow-your-own kits for oyster and shiitake mushrooms, among others.
1004 Sevier Ave.; everythingmushrooms.com