My life-partner Mary told me that I should tell you about this product. She claims “It’s the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted in my entire life!”
She came across this hot sauce in my collection of spices left over from my old motorhome. Here’s the story…
In 2004, I went on a 16,000+ mile, 343 day RV trip through Mexico and Central America. During this trip we spent one month in Belize (used to be British Honduras), home of Marie Sharp’s. Belize is the most expensive country in Central America because it has little industry, so everything must be imported. To go grocery shopping takes your breath away…figure one small paper bag of groceries will run you $50!
However, one industry Belize does have is Marie Sharps…her factory is on the outskirts of Belize City. During our stay in that area, we visited her factory. She was there, working along-side her workers. She took us for a ride in her Land Rover for a tour of her 400 acre farm where she grows everything she uses in her many products. She imports/uses no other ingredients.
Here are some photo’s…
First is Maria (from our RV caravan) with Marie Sharp…
Then two of her factory…
Then finally, the product Mary is raving about…
While there, I also bought a wide selection of her products which I eventually used or gave away to friends as gifts. This bottle of Habanero Pepper Sauce and one other remained…that’s how Mary came to be aware of it. We both use a lot of hot sauce on our foods and now she’s hooked on this product! I have to agree…I like this even better than those I’ve bought in Mexico and Louisiana.
History, current products, about their factory, and more!
Marie Sharp Is From San Pedro
Marie Sharp Is From San Pedro! Who Knew?
You probably did. But I had no idea. Here's how I found out...
Before I took my flight back to San Pedro, I caught a taxi from downtown Dangriga to the Marie Sharp factory. The taxi driver first tried to charge me $60bzd (he waits while you tour), I got him down to $50bzd. But I still think it should probably be a bit cheaper. Anyway...some quick pictures of Dangriga. It's a town that has seen much better days but I think it's secretly kinda beautiful.
As we headed out of town, we passed a few old railroad bridges over creeks and rivers that had long been abandoned. My taxi driver remembered daring friends to walk across the bridges as a kid 35 years ago. Even then they had been long abandoned. A railroad in Belize? What? When? For people? Oranges? Hard to imagine.
It turns out Belize had a couple railways. This one ran about 26 miles from the Middlesex Estate (a huge fruit farm owned by US company United Fruit in Stann Creek Valley) to the old deep water port of Dangriga from 1907 to 1937. It seems like it was mostly used for hauling bananas, logs and freight but also passengers. In 1937, it was scraped and replaced eventually by the Hummingbird Highway. Cool. You learn something new everyday.
I digress..back to the subject of this post: If you have been to Belize, you know Marie Sharp's hot sauce. It's on practically every table in the country. Kids and adults alike pour it on just about everything. It's also the only Belizean product that I know of that is widely distributed in the US.
The actual Marie Sharp's factory sits 4 or 5 miles outside of Dangriga on 400 acres of really pretty farmland. Off the main road, you drive about a mile with orange trees on one side and grapefruit on the other to the factory. Oranges need to be picked by hand, grapefruits can be shaken off the trees. Either way, this looks like a ton of hard work.
My Marie Sharp guide met me at the front door and brought me into the gift shop/office. All the products are for sale: the hot sauces, chutneys, jams and jellies and t-shirts. (And my very favorite, The Sweet Habanero Sauce. Crack open a bottle of this stuff, dump it on cream cheese and eat with crackers. It is so good. And I don't want to start a bidding war here, but there is some available on Ebay) I bought a bunch of different products...and a new one for me. Coconut Spread. I tried a free sample on a cracker and I was sold.
I got a free and very fetching paper shower cap for a tour of the factory. They were bottling my favorite pepper flavor, the Green Habanero. It's green from it's main ingredient, the Nopal cactus. I'm not sure how these guys do it...my eyes and throat were burning and the green sauce isn't even close to the hottest. Gas masks must come out for the BEWARE flavor.
The habanero grinding room was in the back along with huge vats of the mash. The peppers are only ground, not cooked. Thank god they weren't grinding at the moment...I would imagine lots of protective gear would be needed. Really pretty red ones were being ground for one of the many red sauces. (These peppers come in lots of colors...green, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple depending on ripeness. Apparently, the darker, the hotter.)
Here are the giant vats of habanero mash in the giant refrigerator.
Back in the office, I met Marie herself. (I will spare you the picture we took together. I can't decide who was less flattered by this shot, me or Ms. Sharp). She described first making and bottling the hot sauce in her kitchen for 3 years. An American man, in the mid 1980s, liked the sauce so much that he brought it home and marketed it. It must have worked because you can now buy Marie Sharp's at Walmart and a bunch of the big chain supermarkets. Impressive.
She also said that her family is from San Pedro (she mentioned the Alamilla family) but she never goes back since it has "changed too much" for her liking. Oh well...I guess shipping us your sauces will have to be enough.
In Hopkins and Dangriga, I saw Marie Sharp's snacks available everywhere. The cassava chips, salted or spicy, are totally addicting. I think I'm going to try to bring this stuff to San Pedro. What a cute, tasty and cheap bar food.
Hmmmm...maybe my new racket will be "import/export". Makes me sound kinda like a snack food gangster.
Hi, my name is Kelly, and I'm addicted to hot sauce.
When I left for Belize in early December, I didn't anticipate bringing home anything with me other than a suntan. Instead, by the end of the week, I found myself with a huge crush on the habanero, particularly in the form of hot sauce made by Marie Sharp. Good thing a visit to the factory was on my itinerary.
As our van bumped steadily through the fields, we saw small habanero plants as far as the eye could see. I peered out the window to see if I could spot an orange or purple pepper on the vine, just like the ones I had seen in piles the day before at the farmer's market. But, we passed by too quickly and before I knew it we had pulled up to the front of the Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce factory. I soon learned, that my eyes had not deceived me and that Hurricane Richard has taken care of the harvesting the month before. Not to fear, I was assured, there was still plenty of hot sauce to be had and the warm Belizean climate would soon remedy the pepper shortage. I wasn't sure what to expect when we walked through the door's of the factory and an unassuming woman greeted us with a handshake and said "Hi, welcome, I'm Marie Sharp, it's so nice to meet you!"
"Marie Sharp?" I wondered to myself. "There's really a Marie Sharp? It's not some fictional character made up by a corporation to sell hot sauce?" Marie Sharp's hot sauce had been on every table I'd encountered since arriving in Belize four days prior. I'd sprinkled it over my eggs, into a hot bowl of shrimp soup and timidly to the side of our chicken when I first encountered the "fiery hot" variety. With a presence like that, I expected big business. I never expected to meet the woman responsible for concocting the hot sauce recipes that have become Belize's national condiment.
As we wandered past the bottling line Marie Sharp explained to us her company and it's modest beginnings. Twenty years ago, she had a full time career and an overbundant crop of habaneros on her family farm. She began experimenting with hot sauce recipes in her spare time, just to not let the peppers go to waste. (Anyone who can't pass up a flat of ripe berries in July understands this dilemma.) Once she perfected her carrot-based hot sauce recipe, friends clamored, why don't you do something with this? So, she recruited some help and a few more burners for her kitchen and struck out to turn her sauce into a business. And she's grown that business from her humble kitchen beginnings to an admirable family-run enterprise that sells hot sauce all over the world.
After our tour, we were led back to the office that also serves as a tasting room and store for all things hot and sweet. I'm not exaggerating when I say I didn't try a single thing that I didn't like (and I tried a lot.) The hot sauce comes in six levels of heat: mild, hot, fiery hot, No Wimps Allowed, Belizean Heat and Beware. On most tables in Belize you'd find fiery hot and despite their fear-inducing names the hotter varieties are tolerable. (Beware may even be my favorite, even if I'm sweating long after the meal.) Additionally, she has a tangy green habanero sauce with prickly pear, a grapefruit habanero sauce, an addicting sweet and sour sauce perfect for chicken, and a exotic sauce featuring mangos and tamarind. And then there's the fruit jams, the red pepper jelly, and fruit juices.
My arms soon filled with guava jam, coconut jam, sweet and sour habanero sauce and a compendium of heat. Shopping for hot sauce soon proved to be a difficult task, as there's only so many bottles one can hold. My group quickly started piles around her office, mine being on the top of a file cabinet. At a certain point, I gave in, worried I might not have enough cash to cover my expenses. It turns out I had nothing to worry about; I walked out out of the factory with two bags full of jars ringing in at just under $15 US dollars.
My trip to Marie Sharp's cemented my budding addiction to hot sauce. No longer was it just a tasty condiment; it is now forever tied to my memories of Belize and it's native Pepper Queen. You, too, can drive down through the fields, hop in the store, ask for a tour of the facilities (maybe even by Marie, herself) and buy as much hot sauce as you can fit in your suitcase. And if you're like me and can't wait until your next trip to Belize, there are plenty of stores online, like Amazon or Dr. Chili Pepper that can feed your addiction.
What: Marie Sharp's Factory Tour Where: #1 Melinda Rd., Stann Creek Valley
Belize, Central America Tel. (501) 520-2087 Cost: Free. Bring cash for your purchases.
My trip to Belize was sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board, but my opinions and experiences remain my own.
In 2013 Marie Sharp's Nopal Green Habanero Pepper Sauce was the fastest growing pepper sauce in both local and international sales.
This cactus based pepper sauce is made from our own Scagineal cactus aka prickly pear, Nopal. Nopal cactus is a native of the Highlands of Mexico where the ancient Aztecs and Mayas consumed on a daily basis and even before going to battle .
Scagineal is also very healthy and treats diabetes, lowers blood sugar & cholesterol and is rich with fiber and vital vitamins. You can get all these benefits by eating our Marie sharp's Nopal Green Habanero on your favorite dishes! Sauce goes well with seafood, meats, burgers and even with chips as a dip.
If you haven't tried it yet look for it and see why this is a favourite in Japan, Mexico, and USA markets. Available in stores countrywide! All natural straight from the farm to your family table!
International Hot Sauce Taste Test
Check out Belize's very own Marie Sharp's "Belizean Heat" Pepper Sauce being compared to other international hot sauces in this fun video by BuzzFeed - Would you attempt this taste test?
Spicy Spotlight: Marie Sharp's
I had the opportunity to interview the iconic Marie Sharp, the person whose name I see and speak every single day. Marie Sharp’s was our top-selling brand of 2014, and even people who DON’T eat hot sauce have heard of her sauces. For nerdy little me, this was a brush with a celebrity, even if only through a series of emails. However, I quickly got over being a little star-struck once I saw how humble she was.
“We have hundreds of visitors to my factory,” she told me. “If I am recognized, they all want to take pictures with me or for me sign bottles of hot sauce or sign their Marie Sharp's T-shirt, but I prefer to remain incognito. I am not a big fan of publicity, however I am happy to meet with my fans. I am a normal, hard-working person that continue to partake in the daily running of the factory.”
Perhaps this attitude is the reason why her business remains so successful to this day. All 12 sauces are her own recipes crafted with the goal of producing sauces with heat and flavor—not trying to make the hottest sauce in the world—and she’s good at it. Despite her achievements, she hasn’t let her success go to her head. In fact, the three words I would use to describe Marie Sharp are hard-working, humble, and classy. You can see why when you hear her tell the history of her business:
The History of Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce As Told By Marie Sharp
“We own our own farm named Melinda Estate,” Marie explained. “This is where in 1978, I started cultivating the red habanero. The red habanero is a yellow or light orange; by cross pollination with the Jamaican red, I changed the color eventually to habanero red. On this farm, we grow everything I turn into a product. Today because of worldwide acceptance, we now contract out to other small farmers for production of peppers and carrots.”
“I starting creating my sauces, with being different in mind, by using fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. Hence I didn't need to use thickeners or food colors. By creating my own red pepper, I didn't have to use coloring, and by using our own homegrown limes, I cut back on the vinegar content. It was one of my customers who asked me to make him a green pepper sauce with a natural green and not coloring.”
“I started selling my hot sauces in 1981. I bought myself three stoves—the counter-top models—four burners each and three pots one per stove. I would cook three pots of sauce every night, the carrot base formula, which was the one everyone who had tasted preferred. I would have a helper fill bottles in the morning, which allowed me to go to work in the morning. On weekends, I would make refried beans and fried tortillas, pack my car with everything I needed, and went to all the little and large stores [allowing them to taste the product] and asking them to put some on their shelves.”
“I worked as an Executive Secretary from 8 am to 5 pm. I covered the entire Country of Belize in this manner. I got into the U.S. by meeting a Belizean American who came to Belize to visit. He tasted the sauces and fell in love with them. He started to import my sauces at the time under the brand name ‘Melinda's’ into the U.S. in 1989. Presently, Marie Sharp's exports to USA, Japan, India, South Korea, Germany, UK, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica…”
A Strong Woman in a Male-Dominated Industry
I always feel a certain privilege when I get the chance to interview someone who has really made a name for themselves and built their brand from the ground up, such as Joe Turner of Tahiti Joe’s or Steve Seabury of High River Sauces. Marie Sharp stands out not only because she makes a delicious and well-known hot sauce but also because she is a woman in an industry that is primarily led by men. Of the 10 nominees for this year’s Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, Marie is the only woman, so I wondered about her thoughts on that. She was quite proud to be included in the list of nominees.
“I have come from a male-dominated era, and this only goes to prove that women can also reach recognition for their efforts and achievement,” Marie told me. “If I am [inducted] into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame, I would be very happy! I would feel honored—I am now 75 years old and I would be happy to have accomplished such an achievement while I am still here.”
Since I had the chance, I had to ask her if she had any new sauces coming down the pipeline.
“We are now smoking the habanero peppers,” she responded. “We now have a Smokin Marie and a smoked Habanero pepper sauce, both very nice. I am working on a ginger pepper sauce also.”
“I want to thank Marie for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. Because she generally likes to remain incognito to go about her business, I feel very privileged to have had the chance to talk with her. I know we’re not exactly the New York Times over here, but I love to write, and this blog was truly a special one for me to do, and I appreciate that she was willing to help me out.
I will leave y’all with the following recipe that Marie Sharp gave me herself: It’s called Conch Ceviche. Now can someone please tell me where I can buy some fresh conch in Fort Worth, Texas? :)
Marie Sharp’s Conch Ceviche
- 3 large conch, well-cleaned and washed with limes - Marie Sharp's Orange Pulp Habanero Pepper hot sauce - 1 large onion - 3oz cilantro leaves and stems - 2 large tomatoes - ½ tsp garlic powder - ½ tsp salt - ¼ cup water - 6 limes
1. Beat the conch into small portions with a meat tenderizer, cut up into small portions, and then chop into very small pieces. 2. Mix all of the above ingredients (including conch) in a container and sprinkle with garlic powder and salt. 3. Squeeze six limes in a container (caye limes). Add water to the lime juice and add to conch mixture. 4. Add 2-1/2 ozs Marie Sharp's Orange Pulp Habanero Pepper sauce and let marinate in the refrigerator 2-3 hours. You will end up with an unforgettable Ceviche. Add more lime if needed.
Marie Sharp, 35-year veteran, to be inducted into Hot Sauce Hall of Fame
Belizean entrepreneur, Marie Sharp, 76, who started her business in her kitchen, will be inducted into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame later this month when she travels to New York to receive her special red jacket and ring. Sharp will not just be the only Belizean to snag this lifetime award, she will be the only woman in the group of honorees.
“It’s the highest honor that I think anybody can ever achieve… not only for me. When they notified me, they congratulated me and my country and the people of Belize for being elected, Sharp told Amandala.
She said that when she received news of the award, she was “very, very happy” and “surprised.” She still does not know how she was selected for this special honor, but she plans on being in New York for the April 23 induction.
In an online notice, the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Foundation announced the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Class of 2016, comprised of 5 people who “have been very instrumental in the fiery foods.”
It explained that the winners were picked after months of balloting with almost 500 voters.
“This year’s group are the biggest and brightest names in the industry: One of Legend. One of inspiration,” it added.
Sharp is humbled by the reward for her hard work and dedication spanning over three decades.
“It is a great honor really for them to choose somebody outside the US. I felt really good about that and I felt here I am being given a chance to get something out of many years of working, 35 years in industry,” she told us.
Today she leads a world-famous hot sauce production company which exports not just to the prime markets for Belizean products – the US and the UK, but also to places like Australia, Shanghai, Korea, Lebanon, Kuwait, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Taiwan. She is now pursuing buyers in France and Italy.
She said that when she was notified of the nomination, she did not really give much thought to it.
“Everybody else was American and I was Belizean. I said I did not stand a chance because I am an outsider,” she told us.
Last week, she received the great news that she was chosen to be enlisted into the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame. She will be among the inductees who will be called onstage, to share about her achievements. Then, she will be presented with the signature ring and jacket and then be hosted for photoshoots and interviews.
Marie Sharp will also feature her products at an expo which will be held by organizers. Currently, she produces 6 carrot based peppers, 2 citrus based peppers: an orange based pepper and a grapefruit based pepper. She also makes a hot sauce from prickly pear and two smoked habanero varieties. She also produces steak sauce, and jams and jellies made from Belizean fruits and unrefined sugar from cane grown in Belize.
Sharp said that currently, she exports about 50 containers a year and each container carries 4,000 cases of her products. She has been exporting since 1986, when she began with small quantities to the US through friends in the Belizean diaspora. Marie Sharp has since crossed the continent.
The Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Foundation notes that Marie Sharp, who started making sauce in the early 80’s, was the creator of Melinda’s sauces.
“Her sauce is the quintessential Central American hot sauce — awesome flavor and great heat!” the Foundation said.
The Beer Diaries World Tour: Belize - Marie Sharp's
The Beer Diaries is proud to present The Beer Diaries World Tour: Belize, a series dedicated to using beer as an introduction to history, culture and the geo-political state of countries around the world.
In this episode, host Mike Mann and his team head to Stann Creek Valley to speak with Marie Sharp, owner of Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce, about the second largest export of Belize and the importance to the people of the region. This companies origin story, a big contrast to the Belikin Beer monopoly, takes you through the peaks and valleys of Marie’s fierce determination to make this one of a few Belizean products that has made it all over the world via her grassroots efforts.
When I was a child growing up in Dangriga, Belize, my mother told me she remembered when Marie Lopez-Sharp's father use to sell soap. Then from there he ended up becoming a store owner. I know him well and he was one of the nicest person you could meet just like his children. He was a kind person and helped a lot of people in Dangriga. I met Mrs. Marie Sharpe some years ago with Barry Bowen's son at the World Trade Fair at the Jacob Javits Building in New York City. When I told her that I am from the Sampson and Ramos family in Dangriga her eyes glittered.
She is so proud of her hometown and beloved country Belize. We immediately started to speak Garifuna and she can speak better than many Garifuna people I know. Warning! Do not speak about Marie Lopez-Sharp in Garifuna. I am so impressed with this woman in many ways for her determination and drive to succeed. Marie s Hot Sauce is N0-1 in the world and you do not have to believe me. Just try it once and you will become addicted to it and you better not lend it to another Belizean because it will disappear. I want to see Marie Sharp products on all the Super Market shelves throughout America and I am willing to assist to make it happen. Just like how she is selling her sauce she is selling her hometown Dangriga and her beloved country of Belize. Keep on flying in the sky Ms. Marie.
Marie Sharp hot pepper sauce has received two golden awards for two of their hot sauces in Germany. Today Marie Sharp, the lady responsible for the incomparable hot sauces told Love News that their distributors in Germany entered a Bar-B-Q festival in that country where they displayed samples of the various sauces produced by Marie Sharp. At the end of the festival, two of the hot sauces won first prize.
Marie Sharp “Beware which came out with a private label, Poachers Beware, that Poachers Beware is our Beware pepper sauce. The profit that they make from selling that sauce is put into our Saving the Whales which got first place in that category and we also got first place for our smoked habanero and they called it the best barbecue sauce. So we got two golden awards for 2017. It’s a very prestigious award to begin with, it’s a feather in our cap because we can send this out to all of our distributors because they can use it as a promotional material but also it makes Belize proud because it’s a product of Belize that has gone out there and won this special award. We are thrilled.”
Close to four thousand visitors stopped in at the festival and these are the people who were responsible for placing Marie Sharp’s hot sauces in first place as the winners are determined by the votes of the visitors. The awards take the number of awards won by the hot sauce company to five since it began exporting. To date Marie Sharp has a line of twelve hot sauces.
Hillary Clinton has long been a hot sauce lover, she carries it with her everywhere in her purse... this story is awesome...
Hilary's Favorite Hot Sauce
Defeated US Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton's new book, named, "What Happened" tells all about her campaign, the eventual loss to Donald Trump and the devastating aftermath.
And while that's for the fans of US politics to devour - one thing did catch our eye. On page 203, Clinton talks about her favorite pepper sauce, which just happens to come from Belize. She writes, quote, "Several of us put hot sauce on everything. I've been a fan since 1992, when I became convinced it boosted my immune system....We were always on the lookout for new concoctions....Julie the videographer came back from vacation in Belize with four little bottles of the best hot sauce any of us have ever had: Marie Sharp's. We immediately loved the red habanero pepper flavor the most. Everyone quietly jockeyed for that bottle, then handed it over sheepishly when confronted. Eventually we realized we could just order more, and peace returned."
The notoriously laid back Marie Sharp's operations has not put out a press release beating its chest over this major celebrity plug.
Famed Pepper Sauce Maven Prepares to Pass on the Baton
It is hard to imagine that it was over thirty-seven-years ago that the famous entrepreneur started producing our favorite Belizean peppers, jams and sauces in her kitchen. Since then the self-titled Marie Sharp brand has grown tremendously and moved into markets across the globe. Sharp is now seventy-eight-years old and she shared with us that the company is already looking ahead and preparing for the time when she will pass on the leadership baton.
Marie Sharp, Owner, Marie Sharp Fine Foods.
“We’re putting in new people and understudies. Well, I’m 78 years old so anything can happen. Jody is with us and he has been working real hard and he can tell you all the countries that he has gotten into since he has been working with us. It is still going to be family. My understudy is my niece and she knows that she has to stay with what we’re doing. I’m not saying that she can’t bring in new ideas and she has taken over our accounting department and has really got them tipping. I’m very happy with here. She’s going to work out and because she’s family she has a lot of my traits. My youngest son, he’s fifty something, he’s the factory manager and my eldest son he distributes countrywide. So you know it’s still a family thing.”