On my travels throughout the Caribbean region, I’ve started to add a smattering of the local hot sauce to my food when appropriate. Sampling the local hot sauce which comes in a variety of flavors and heat levels is all part of having an authentic Caribbean food experience. But, I have to admit that if the Caribbean hot sauce is too intense it detracts from my enjoyment of the food, so I always start with the mild version. You see, I grew up in a traditional Montserratian household and the food cooked was flavorful as it is seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices, but it was rarely hot! So initially when I started sampling Caribbean hot sauces, even mild hot sauces were too hot.
Hot sauce more commonly called pepper sauce in the Caribbean region is made from various type of chili peppers (scotch bonnet, scorpion, habanero, cayenne, etc.) along with salt, vinegar, and garlic, mustard and other unique ingredients. Chili peppers are thought to be originally from Mexico and spread to the Caribbean and rest of the globe during the Columbian Exchange. Beginning after Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas in 1492, the Columbian Exchange included the transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas and Europe for much of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Demand for hot sauce is increasing with the global market valued at US$1billion annually. Caribbean pepper sauces currently have a negligible share of the worldwide market, but demand is rising. The top Caribbean countries exporting pepper sauces include the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize. Some of the top Caribbean hot sauce brands include Walkerswood, Grace Foods, Matouks, Hot Mama’s Belize, Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods, Baron Foods and Viking Traders.
These authentic Caribbean hot sauces are sold across the Caribbean region and exported to a range of countries including the United States, United Kingdom and even as far as Nigeria. All of this is driven by an increasing number of consumers who are willing to experiment and try new flavors and hot sauce products. Below I highlight five top or up and coming Caribbean hot sauce brands, all of which are growing their international presence and have actively engaged with the Caribbean Development Export Agency via a range of activities, funded in part by the European Union, that aim to increase the exports of their products.
1. Baron Foods
Founded in 1991, Baron Food is one of the leading food manufacturers in the Caribbean and currently produces over 150 products including exotic and gourmet sauces, condiments, spices, flavorings, low-fat mayonnaise, salad dressings and drink cocktails. And with manufacturing plants in three Caribbean countries (St Lucia, Grenada, and Trinidad), Baron Foods produces three hot sauces including its Classic Pepper Sauce and Blazing Hot Sauce both made with ground scotch bonnet peppers. They also manufacture a West Indian Hot Sauce from fresh, wholesome peppers blended with mustard to create its very own individual piquant flavor. Not a hot sauce, but one of their interesting products is the Baron Foods Banana Ketchup. It won a Taste 13 award at ANUGA 2013 and iTQi’s Superior Taste Award 2015.
2. Viking Traders
Viking Traders based in Saint Lucia was established in 1979 and manufacturers a range of over 100 different award-winning food products, including specially blended herbs and spices, flavorful condiments, baking goods, drinks and gift items. Viking Traders produces three hot sauces including its Viking Mild Pepper Sauce and Viking Hot Pepper Sauce which won a Scovie Award in the World’s Best Hot Sauce category. The third pepper sauce produced by Viking Traders is the Viking Dam Hot Pepper Sauce which also won a Scovie Award and was first place in the Fiery Food Challenge out of 275 competing pepper sauces from the Caribbean and the United States.
The Winfresh brand has only been around since 2009, but the government-owned company was established in 1961 as the Windward Islands Banana Growers Association (WINBAN) by the four banana-producing organizations of Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Vincent as a crop insurance scheme. The company based in St Lucia rebranded in 2009 as it doesn’t just deal with bananas but now manufacturers a range of food products including premium juices, sauces, cordials, marinades, and pepper jellies. Winfresh produces a variety of sweet, spicy and hot pepper sauces to create authentic Caribbean meals. The flavored hot sauces from Winfresh includes their Sweet & Spicey Taramind Sauce, Sweet Ginger Hot Sauce, Hot Jalapeno Pepper Sauce, Sweet Jalapeno Hot Sauce, and Hot Caribbean Pepper Sauce.
4. Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods
Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods which started in Belize circa 1980, produces a range of hot sauces, jams, squash, and seasonings. Known for their habanero pepper hot sauce, Marie Sharp’s Fine Foods currently sells thirteen different hot sauces of varying heat, most blending carrots, vinegar, and onion with crushed habaneros. These pepper sauces include the Marie Sharp’s Exotic Sauce, Smokin’ Marie (Special Edition), Beware Habanero, No Wimps Allowed Habanero, Orange Pulp Habanero, Original Mild, Sweet Habanero, Smoked Habanero (Special Edition), Original Hot, Original Fiery Hot, Green Habanero Pepper Sauce, Grapefruit Pulp Habanero and Belizean Heat.
5. Hot Mama’s Belize
Hot Mama’s Belize started circa 1996 producing habanero pepper jelly and exporting fresh peppers. Initially, just a few points of peppers, the export pepper business grew to 100,000 pounds with the highest being 250,000 pounds. After about seven years, Hot Mama’s transitioned from exporting the peppers to producing habanero pepper sauces, gourmet sauces, jellies, and specialty items including honey, fudge, and BBQ sauce. Currently they product four hot sauces including the Hot Mama’s Habanero Hot Sauce – Mild X, Habanero Hot Sauce – Hot XX, Habanero Hot Sauce – Fiery XXX, and Habanero Hot Sauce – Too Hot XXXX. Note that due to name registration issues in the United States, Hot Mama’s Belize is promoted under the Belizean Pepper Sauce name and products include the Habanero Pepper Sauce Hot XX, Habanero Pepper Sauce Fiery XXX, Sweet Pepper Sauce and Mango Sauce.
So will you be trying one of these Caribbean pepper sauces or another on your next trip to the region? Or perhaps even picking up a bottle at your local Caribbean or ethnic food store or ordering online? These Caribbean hot sauce brands are authentic, and the varying flavors and heat level can add to the enjoyment of one’s meal.
Note: This blog post/article is part of a series featuring Caribbean entrepreneurs and businesses sponsored by the Caribbean Export Development Agency. Working together with the European Union, the Caribbean Export Development Agency supports the sustainable development of Caribbean brands ultimately to increase employment in the region, inclusiveness, particularly for youth, women and indigenous groups, and secure overall poverty reduction.