Barbados is known to the outside world as the home of Mount Gay rum, excellent quality sugar, and the national dish, flying fish. But nearly every visitor to the island has encountered Bajan pepper sauce. It is a ubiquitous condiment usually bottled in a glass flask or a plastic soda bottle. Bajans use pepper sauce on virtually everything, from fish to chicken to pork. It is without question a flavor enhancing experience but to the uninitiated it can be HOT HOT HOT!
Hot peppers are measured by a method known as Scovil units. A green bell pepper, for instance, rates a zero; Tabasco sauce can range from 2500 to 5000 Scovil units. Bajan pepper sauce registers between 30,000 and 50,000 Scovil units or nearly 10 times the heat of “normal” hot sauce. The sauce isn’t necessarily debilitating to the tongue but rather delivers a surge in body temperature—it packs “body heat.”
The main ingredient in Bajan pepper sauce is mustard. The orange yellow color distinguishes it from other West Indian pepper sauces. While there are literally hundreds of recipes, the main ingredients are mustard, onions, white vinegar, garlic, salt, and the Scotch Bonnet pepper. Variations include adding thyme, cloves, radishes, sugar, and rum. Our personal favorite, Neville Edwards Pepper Sauce, contains 5% alcohol.
Bajan pepper sauce provides a delightful kick to Bloody Mary’s, enhances the flavor of chicken and fish, and provides a sure morning wake up call when whisked into scrambled eggs. Most locals and the informed traveler will order a hot dog from any of the petrol stations with pepper sauce and hyper chips (crushed potato chips)—please note that a Bajan hot dog comes with mayonnaise and parmesan cheese so indicate your preferences when making your order! And for the real adventurer, Saturdays in Barbados is a time for puddin’ n souse, a don’t-ask-what’s-in-it local dish that simply must be eaten with pepper sauce.
There is a red version of Bajan pepper sauce known as corned peppers, a method of making pepper sauce handed down over the years from generation to generation. It involves mascerating or steeping peppers, seeds and stems, in oil for periods of up to a year before adding the blending ingredients. Scovil units can reach 75,000 to 90,000 on corned peppers making this condiment for professional hot pepper lovers only. When added to chili or stews, the corned pepper sauce transports the depth of flavor into another dimension.
Be sure to pick up a bottle or two to take back home for a wonderful souvenir from “we” island.
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