Have you ever been in love? I mean, like, really in love? I’m talking about the kind of love that keeps you up at night. The kind of love that has you doing things you’d never otherwise do. The kind of love that makes you question every single decision you’ve ever made in your life that’s led you to an existence where you aren’t with the one you crave?
That’s me with the Volcano Burrito from Taco Bell. And in 2013, it was taken from me, along with my will to live. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Volcano Burrito was introduced in May 2009, piggy-backing on the success of Taco Bell’s Volcano Taco in 2008. Together the two items combined to form the Volcano Menu, which sported the tagline “Get ready for the good hurt.” That tagline would end up being more appropriate than Taco Bell could have ever imagined. The food was indeed very very good. And then when they canceled the menu, the hurt was indeed very very bad.
When the Volcano Burrito began taking over the world it was $2.99, which seemed expensive considering you could get an entire feast off Taco Bell’s “Why Pay More” menu for the same price, which at the time featured gems such as the cheesy double beef burrito for only $0.89 and triple layer nachos for $0.79. The cost was mitigated on December 21, 2010 when Taco Bell introduced the Volcano Box for just $5.00. The box included the Volcano Burrito ($2.99), a Volcano Taco ($0.89), a traditional crunchy taco (which could be swapped with a soft taco, a savvy veteran move)($0.89), cinnamon twists ($0.79), and a medium drink ($1.89). Now all of a sudden we’re talking about a $7.45 value for just $5. I never understood how Taco Bell was making a profit on these boxes, and that may be why they ended up discontinuing them.
Regardless of the cost, once you took a bite of the Volcano Burrito you immediately had an answer to the question “Why Pay More?” It was a masterpiece in your mouth. It was stuffed with a double portion of Taco Bell’s questionable-yet-delicious seasoned ground beef, expertly mixed with a scoop of their Mexican rice, a sprinkle of crunchy red tortilla strips for texture, cool sour cream and cheddar cheese to balance it out, all snuggled up nice and cozy inside a warm 12 inch flour tortilla. (It was also 800 calories, had 42 grams of fat, and 81 carbs. 100% not part of a balanced diet, but also 100% worth it).
Taco Bell’s expertise lies in figuring out new ways to deliver the same four ingredients to your face that make you think you’re actually making something new, and the Volcano Burrito was no exception. Except for one key difference: Lava Sauce.
It’s hard to articulate what separates Lava Sauce from Taco Bell’s traditional hot sauce. It’s a little spicier, sure, but there’s more to it than that. Reddit user jachambers tried to describe it to some poor soul who’s never had it before, saying “it had a really good spicy taste to it, but it also was kinda creamy in a way.” Far from scientific, but I get what he’s saying. It was both spicy and creamy, kind of like buffalo ranch. But it didn’t taste like buffalo. Or ranch. It just had a similar breakdown. You know what I’m saying?
If not, here’s a more scientific explanation. Taco Bell’s Lava Sauce had 50% more capsaicin in it than their traditional hot sauce. A quick Google search taught me that capsaicin is not just a great name for a heavy metal band, but also an active component in chili peppers that causes a burning sensation in any tissue it comes in contact with. That sounds super dangerous and something no human should ever want to deal with, but pretty much what it means is Lava Sauce was 50% hotter than Taco Bell’s hot sauce.
It also contained more Scoville Units than traditional hot sauce, clocking 800 to hot sauce’s 500. The Scoville Scale is a way to measure the spiciness of various chili peppers as well as other spicy foods. For context, a standard jalapeno contains over 3500 Scoville Units, so Lava Sauce wasn’t nearly as spicy as their ads implied.
Lava Sauce was so good that there are numerous articles and videos of people out there concocting their own recipes in an attempt to replicate it, but they’re never quite right. Maybe it’s the faulty memory of my taste buds. Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s a lack of overhearing minimum wage employees loudly complaining about their jobs in the background as I enjoy my meal. But none of the recipes I’ve found online have been able to capture the magic of Lava Sauce. The closest I’ve found was this youtube video, where the bulk of the recipe is hot sauce with some butter, cheese sauce, horseradish and a myriad of spices and seasonings. It definitely has the creamy element that our friend jachambers referenced above, but the flavor still isn’t quite the same.
There’s another recipe on Reddit that apparently is pulled directly from Taco Bell themselves. It uses soybean oil and egg yolk (so it’s mayonnaise based) as well as cheddar cheese and tomato paste, as well as a bunch of unpronounceable ingredients like propylene glycol alginate and disodium inosinate & guanylate. The inclusion of these obscure ingredients makes me think that this may actually be the correct recipe, but they don’t include portion sizes to make it yourself at home. I also don’t live near a chemical plant to get all the necessary ingredients.
At this point you may find my desperation to find an adequate solution a bit sad. And believe me, I’m willing to step back and acknowledge that all humans have different tastes, and that maybe the Volcano Burrito wasn’t as universally loved as I want to believe it was. Or maybe I’m misremembering how much I actually enjoyed it. But I’m not the only one confused by Taco Bell’s irrational decision to get rid of it. A simple Twitter search for “volcano burrito” turns up hundreds of tweets sent by people all over the world asking why the volcano burrito was taken off their menu.
There’s even a *petition out there demanding the return of Lava Sauce! Now, granted, it does have more than a couple of typos and grammatical errors and only managed to amass 289 signatures, but still. The passion is there. And could you imagine if it had actually worked? Nothing would make me happier in my entire life than if a petition to bring back Lava Sauce was able to reach the 100,000 signatures needed for an official response from the White House.
*There was a Twitter handle associated with this petition (@BringBackLavaSa) that has since been suspended. I’m trying to hold my conspiracy theories at bay.
Taco Bell tried to scratch the itch back on September 23, 2015 when they announced they were bringing back lava sauce as an ingredient in their new Volcano Quesarito, and I have to admit it was really good. But ultimately it felt like a tease. While the sauce was as delicious as I remembered, the Volcano Quesarito experience just wasn’t the same as with the Volcano Burrito. And it proved to be even more of a tease when they took the the promotional item off their menu after just one month, leaving us in a lava sauce-less wasteland yet again. Had I known the promotion would be so short I would have purchased an irresponsible amount of Volcano Quesaritos and stocked my freezer full. And *possibly would have had a sample of the lava sauce sent to a lab where scientists could accurately break down its contents.
Taco Bell discontinued the Volcano Menu sometime in late 2012, and by early 2013 they had eliminated Lave Sauce completely. The discontinuation of the Volcano Burrito was like the end of Titanic when Jack freezes and sinks into the abyss while Rose floats safely on a piece of driftwood. Only in this scenario Jack is the Volcano Burrito, Rose is Taco Bell, and the driftwood is Taco Bell’s menu. There was plenty of room on the driftwood (menu) for Jack (Volcano Burrito), but Rose (Taco Bell) decided to let it go anyway.
Supposedly the Volcano Menu is still running in Iceland, South Korea, and parts of the U.K. The Taco Bell UK Twitter account even taunted us all with a tweet as recently as March of this year, stating “Volcano Burrito > Relationships.” I couldn’t agree more. And I would sacrifice every relationship I’ve ever had to bring back the one I’ve treasured the most.