Spice up your Life
By Jan Critchley
Spices, seasonings and sauces can really turn an everyday dish into a true taste of the Caribbean and many of these flavor boosters are grown right here in the British Virgin Islands.
Colorful and tasty, peppers that can vary from the fairly mild to the extremely hot are one of the main types of produce grown here in the BVI. The king of peppers is the Scotch bonnet – and it is their hot and savory flavoring that makes hot pepper sauces so popular.
Scotch bonnets or "bonnies" as they are locally known are a staple in most West Indian kitchens and are reputed to be one of the world's hottest peppers.
Green bell peppers are also grown here, as well as seasoning peppers, which also come in a rainbow of colors and are the main ingredient in the flavored pepper sauces, which give a great flavor to fish and chicken dishes. Peppers are power packed with Vitamin C, B6, beta-carotene, potassium and contain lots of fiber and have many health benefits such as being an effective pain reliever for arthritis, reducing risk of heart attacks and Type 2 Diabetes.
Arona Forbes, Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer for the Department of Agriculture, who makes a variety of products using locally grown produce explains, "The Scotch bonnet and Caribbean red peppers are used to make the ever popular hot pepper sauces which are blended to give a smooth texture. The flavored pepper sauces, are a little milder and are not blended so have a chunkier texture."
She adds that the sauces can be used on all kinds of foods from fish and salad, to rotis chicken and curries. In addition to hot sauces, Arona also uses natural seasonings and spices for her dried collection (All Purpose Seasoning, Garlic Salt and BVI Blend) and last but not least she also makes natural oils and flavored oils to add to salads and other food.
On historic Main Street, a popular outlet for locally packaged sauces, spices and seasonings is Sunny Caribbee. Here you will find a cornucopia of seasonings and spices all packaged in their distinctive and decorative style. Even better, their metal shakers and spice grinders are all re-fillable – so people can just top up their containers when they run out.
Owner, Greg Gunter who along with Dame Peters and staff has been running the business since 1983 explains, "In addition to visitors, Sunny Caribbee has a large local market, because people who live here like to cook and like to know they are cooking with the freshest ingredients, especially the spices and seasonings."
Sunny Caribbee offers around 20 of their own mixed seasonings and a collection of sauces from the super hot, the medium and the less intense marinades. Favorites include the Ginger Hot Sauce, Yellow Caribbee Hot Sauce and the Caribbean All Around Sauce.
Another establishment that sells local spices and seasonings is Pusser's that has evolved from the four-seater rum shop that Charles Tobias started on Main Street in 1970 to three Pusser's bars and restaurants in the BVI with associated stores, called "Outposts." The stores are a big part of the operation and include many hot sauces, seasonings and spices (and their famous spicy Rum Cake). The merchandising side of the operation is something I spend a lot of time on getting right." The entrepeneur explains.
Here in the BVI, locally grown spices and produce includes thyme, chives, parsley, celery, green onion or "chibble," scallions, cinnamon sticks and dried sorrell. The Department of Agriculture gives a helping hand to local farmers by supplying them with seedlings and then assisting them to market their products to local supermarkets and stores. Visitors and residents alike can also visit the small stalls that set up each Friday in Road Town where fresh spices can be bought in pots, and thyme and scallions can be bought in bundles. There is also a mini farmers market near the roundabout every Saturday where you can buy local wares.
So support the local farmers and have fun finding the freshest possible ingredients to spice up your food and your life!