Written by Kelli Bergthold
Food shots by Wes Naman
Farm and hot sauce images courtesy Bel Soley
Starting a business in the best of circumstances can be difficult; starting one in the wake of a major natural disaster can be nearly impossible. When the now-infamous 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital of Port au Prince on January 12, 2010, the entire country’s transportation system, government, and economy, ground to a halt. With more than 2 million people left homeless and 3 million in desperate need of emergency aid, the global community rallied to help Haitians back to their feet.
It was in this environment that Haitian-American company Bel Soley, Inc. struggled to find solid ground to keep their modest operations to the south of Port au Prince operating. According to co-founder Brian Hays, Bel Soley is “dedicated to development in Haiti by building for-profit enterprises for the sale of agricultural products domestically and for export.”
The company works with local Haitian farmers to grow tropical crops such as mango, bananas, papaya, and hot peppers. With a U.S. distribution company in Boston, and Haitian operations in the north and south of the country, Bel Soley was poised to launch a large hot pepper export venture.
“Our hot peppers are habaneros from imported seed and the local hot pepper, a habanero variety called 'Piman Bouk’,” Hays explained. “Our target was to get to ship out 24,000 pounds per month by the end of the year.”
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January’s earthquake changed everything. With the country’s infrastructure destroyed and Haitians worrying how they were going to survive in the dusty, crumbling aftermath, Bel Soley’s goal seemed like a distant dream. Port au Prince, the only major debarkation point for exports out of Haiti, had been reduced to little more than rubble. But Hays and his team refused to abandon an important source of capital for their local farmers.
It had always been a part of their business plan to make “a good quality and truly uniquely Haitian pepper sauce,” said Hays. So, with no other avenues for the company to pursue, Bel Soley accelerated their plans and embarked on creating a pepper sauce that could be grown and sold domestically and used for export.
The key to their pepper sauce is a small pepper called Piman Bouk (goat pepper), a cross between the ever-popular habanero and scotch bonnet peppers. The red, yellow, orange, and green Piman Bouk peppers are native to the island of Haiti and have been harvested for hundreds of years. With a distinct tangy flavor and a robust 124,000 Scoville Heat Units, the peppers seemed to be the perfect base for a true Haitian hot sauce.
“All the pepper sauce sold in Haiti now is either Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce,” Hays explained. “We know there is a good domestic market and with something different and of good quality, there should be an export market as well.”
Bel Soley agronomists—scientists who specialize in soil quality, land cultivation, and crop production—distribute nursery-grown “starter” pepper plants to ¼ - ½ acre family owned farms. Bel Soley provides training to the farmers and monitors water quality, crop rotation and other production methods to manage quality control.
“The Haitian farmers who grow organic produce for the program no longer rely on charity but participate in a basic, sustainable economic development program,” said Haitian-American Jean-Patrick Lucien, Bel Soley co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. “This enables hundreds of small farmers, families and entrepreneurs with the opportunity to participate in a financially successful export market,” Lucien adds.
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Stressing that the program is not a charity, Lucien explained that Bel Soley and the farmers participate in both the financial risks and rewards of bringing agricultural products to the export market. “It’s one step beyond ‘teaching a person how to fish’ – we’re fishing right alongside them,” said Lucien.
To offset the risk, Bel Soley sought the expertise of the fiery foods community for equipment, processing and distribution advice. The company then partnered with farmers, government agencies, international development groups, individual investors, angel investors, U.S. wholesalers, non-profit organizations, including the Community Coalition for Haiti (CCH), a non-profit dedicated to supporting economic improvement in Haiti.
“We have or can grow a range of more exotic tropical fruits, including passion fruit, soursop, sapote, acerola (Barbados Cherry), tamarind, and more,” Hays explained. “Mangos, papayas, bananas and pineapples are readily available as a base.”
The result—a world class, organic pepper sauce called Haiti is Hot! or “Nap Boule”, which means “We are on fire!” in Creole. Bel Soley’s Haiti is Hot! project debuted at the 2010 Fiery Foods and Barbeque Show to the great interest of many attendees and the media, and over the past six months, the company has gone on to produce two separate hot sauces made with traditional Haitian ingredients and techniques.
The Nap Boule Hot Sauce in Mango Cherry combines three different varieties of native mangoes with the Barbados Cherry for a fruity, sweet pepper sauce. The Nap Boule Hot Sauce in Papaya brings together mellow papaya and other locally-grown ingredients, including a local variety of grapefruit known as chadeque, and Haiti’s well-known sugar cane sugar.
“The Bel Soley products have so much natural appeal,” said Chip Hearn, President of Peppers.com, one of the country’s leading wholesale and retail providers for specialty hot sauces and other condiments. “First, the pepper they use is really unique; they are the only sauces on the market made with Piman Bouk. Second, the fruit flavors they use—like the Haitian cherry, papaya and mango—are incredible. Finally, and most importantly, the products have a great flavor profile. They should succeed both with collectors of unique sauces and those who purchase sauces to spice up their cuisine.”
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So far, the pepper sauces have been a huge success. With the sauces already widely available online, Bel Soley expects their operations to grow by adding volume, additional agricultural products and new processing technologies to prepare their products for the Haitian and U.S. markets. They’re already thinking ahead, and future plans could include expansion into other labor-intensive businesses, such as textiles and handicrafts—exactly the kinds of enterprises that will help Haiti rebuild.
American organizations that wish to help with Haitian reconstruction can participate in Bel Soley's "Rebuilding Haiti One Pepper at a Time" fundraising campaign. Nonprofit groups like churches, schools, etc. can buy Bel Soley products at wholesale prices and resell them to raise funds. 100% of the wholesale price paid to Bel Soley goes to building up agriculture in Haiti. The funds raised by the organization are available for support of mission activities anywhere, especially in Haiti. Learn how to participate in Bel Soley's campaign here.
“Haiti is Hot! is not just a great product to add spice to one’s diet,” explained Knox Singleton, CEO of INOVA Health Systems and president of CCH, “[it] represents an exciting and successful new approach to economic development. The future of Haiti depends upon creating economic progress that generates returns for both local Haitian businesses and local poor farms in an ethical, sustainable cycle. Bel Soley really is helping to rebuild Haiti ‘one pepper at a time!’"
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Rice and Red Beans (Diri kole a pwa)
1 cup red kidney beans
4 cups water
1/4 cup salt pork or bacon cut into small cubes
1 onion finely chopped
1 hot green pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 cups long grain rice
1 teaspoon Bel Soley Mango Cherry Pepper Sauce
In a medium pot cook the beans in water for 2 hours or until tender. Drain the beans, reserve the water, which will be used to cook the rice. In a large pan, fry the salt pork until crisp. Add the onion, garlic, and hot green pepper, sautee for 5 minutes. To the pan, add the beans, rice, reserved water, and pepper sauce. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
4 slices stale white bread
1 cup milk
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 slices smoked ham or bacon, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Bel Soley Papaya Pepper Sauce
1/2 cup flour
Oil for frying
Bel Soley Papaya Pepper Sauce for dipping
In a medium mixing bowl break up the slices of bread and add the milk. Let the bread soak in the milk for about 5 minutes. Squeeze out any access milk from the bread. To the bread, add the rest of the ingredients, mix thoroughly with your hands. Sprinkle flour on a small plate. Roll about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture into balls. Dredge the meatballs in the flour. Place meatballs in heated oil and fry for about 5 minutes a side, or until the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Serve with Bel Soley Papaya Pepper Sauce.
1/2 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup melted butter
3 eggs slightly beaten
1 10 ounce can yellow corn
3 tablespoons Bell Soley Mango Cherry Pepper Sauce
Oil for frying
Bel Soley Mango Cherry Pepper Sauce for dippping
In a large frying pan, heat oil to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, water, butter and eggs. Add corn and pepper sauce, mix gently. Using a tablespoon, drop batter into hot oil. Fry until brown, flipping with a heat-proof spatula as needed. Drain fritters on a paper towel. Serve with Bel Soley Mango Cherry Pepper Sauce.
Read more about Haiti is Hot! By clicking here.
Want to try the hot sauces described in this article? Shop for Nap Boule here!
You can also purchase Bel Soley products through Peppers.com.
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