Trini serves up tropical heat in a bottle

IN THE Caribbean, hot sauce is often called "pirate’s gold,’’ and is fiery enough to make you cry.

Thanks to Trinidadian Rex Balkaran, we now have Florida Gold, a blend of habanero peppers, garlic, spices, vinegar and a secret herb that delivers a short-lived burn followed by a flood of flavour to your mouth.

Balkaran, 51, is from the oil-producing town of Fyzabad in South Trinidad, where he became knowledgable about healing herbs on fishing and hunting expeditions around the island.

He and his wife, Lynette, relocated to New York in 1979, where they had family.

He joined the US Air Force and became a technical inspector of aircraft.

After his enlistment was up, he worked as a civilian inspector in the space-shuttle programme.

When that contract ended in November, he decided to pursue his long-time dream of concocting a hot sauce.

Balkaran made the first batch in his Cutler Ridge kitchen, adding fitweed (Eryngium foetidum) to his potent blend of peppers to make what he claims is a tasty way of preventing everything from stomach ailments to fevers as well as clearing the sinuses and stimulating the appetite.

The pungent herb, a member of the parsley family that’s native to the tropical Americas, is rich in iron, carotene, riboflavin and calcium, and is believed to have anti-convulsant properties, thus the name fitweed (it’s also called recao).

It smells like super-strong cilantro, and adds a more-than-subtle, almost smoky aroma to the tangy hot sauce.

Balkaran travels twice a month to Jacksonville, where the sauce is manufactured and bottled at an FDA-approved plant.

He shops for all the peppers and herbs in South Florida and oversees every run of nearly 5,000 bottles. The recipe is secret.

Although the blends are similar, he has it bottled with three different labels — Original All American, Salsa Picante Latin Flavour and Exotic Caribbean — to appeal to a range of customers.

All are a rich reddish-orange colour, tinted naturally by the ripe peppers and a little turmeric (there is nothing artificial in the sauce).

Balkaran’s one-man marketing efforts got a big boost when Wal-Mart agreed to carry Florida Gold in three Miami-Dade stores, and he hopes to get it into Wal-Marts nationwide. Serious fans can also buy it by the case on his website.

The sauce goes just as well on burgers and hot dogs as it does with roti and potato curry.

It adds a jolt of colour and flavour to rice, and is especially good with slightly sweet coconut rice.

Try Florida Gold with seafood, drizzled on pizza, into soups and over salads and as an accompaniment to roast pork, grilled steaks, fried chicken, any kind of barbecue or steamed vegetables. It can be mixed with yogurt, sour cream or mayo to make a mildly spicy dip or spread.


"Trini serves up tropical heat in a bottle"

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