Hot Sauce Depot owners Rick and Dawn recently had the opportunity to meet with Marie Sharp, her husband Gerald, and her grandson Jody at the Marie Sharp’s factory down in Belize. They received a tour of the factory from Marie Sharp herself and documented their experience so that the rest of us could also get a sneak peek inside how her iconic sauces are made! But before we start the tour, let’s brush up on our Marie Sharp’s history.
A Brief History of Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce
In the 1970s, Marie and Gerry Sharp had a farm named Melinda Estate where they grew many different fruits and vegetables, including peppers and limes. Marie Sharp had a full-time job as an Executive Secretary, but she still found time to experiment with Habanero peppers in her kitchen. Although most people nowadays associate Habaneros as being red chile peppers, they are actually yellow or light orange by nature. In 1978, Marie Sharp cross-pollinated light orange Habaneros with the Jamaican red, and thus the red Habanero pepper was born. This vibrant color from her red Habaneros enabled her to make her sauce both delicious and beautiful without adding any artificial colorings or flavorings. Additionally, using her own homegrown limes allowed her to cut back on the vinegar content and let the natural flavor of the fresh produce shine through.
In 1981, Marie Sharp started selling her sauces, even though she still had her full-time job as an Executive Secretary! She bought herself three stoves and cooked three pots of sauce every night. In the morning, she had to go to work, so she had someone help her fill up the bottles. On the weekends, she would take her hot sauces to stores to allow them to taste her hot sauce and to ask them to sell her product.
Today, Marie Sharp exports her products all over the world and still uses fresh, local ingredients from her farm. In 2015, they started smoking their Habanero peppers. Marie Sharp’s husband, Gerry, saw a show on Alaska and commented on how they smoke everything, so he thought, “Why not try smoking Habaneros?” They built a small smoker and started by smoking 40lbs of peppers at a time, but now those sauces are becoming so popular that they had to build a larger smoker; they now smoke 600lbs of peppers at a time!
Touring Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce Factory
When you enter the factory, there is a shop where you can sample and buy all of Marie Sharp’s products. Can you imagine how lucky the locals are to be able to just swing by the factory and pick up some freshly-made Marie Sharp’s sauce?? Rick and Dawn also noticed that nearly every restaurant in Belize featured Marie Sharp’s sauces or jellies in their cooking.
The heart of Marie Sharp’s sauces are found in her delicious, fresh, Belizean produce, including carrots, onions, and peppers. The carrots and onions are hand-peeled and hand-cut as they are prepared to be used to create Marie Sharp’s world-famous carrot base (upper left). The peppers are brought in from Marie Sharp’s farm, called Melinda Estate, and taken to a separate room, where they are run through a machine that steams, washes, and crushes them. Then they are stored in large vats (upper right).
Here’s the cooking area, where the sauces are actually prepared (upper left). They craft one flavor at a time in a series of pots, and each pot has a drain at the bottom to transfer the sauce to large vats for cooling. Here’s a sneak peek at their hot sauce while it’s still cooking and steaming hot (upper right).
Once transferred to these vats (upper left), the hot sauce (which is still also hot temperature-wise at this point) will not have any more human contact. Notice the slim white tubes running above and alongside the vats (upper right): These tubes are actually cooling lines, which cycle cold water, cooling the sauce to room temperature.
Once the hot sauce has been properly cooled, it’s ready to be bottled (upper left). After the machine fills the bottles with sauce, the bottles move down the line to where the seals are applied by hand (upper right). Watch how quickly this amazing worker slips a seal onto each bottle!
We'll sign off with this photo of Marie Sharp's grandson Jody, Dawn, Marie Sharp, and Rick. Special thanks to Marie Sharp and everyone who made this wonderful experience so memorable!