A husband-and-wife duo, who started off making chilli sauces from their humble kitchen in Eswatini, are bringing the heat around the world with their delightfully venomous Habanero, Cayenne Pepper, Jalapeno, and Pineapple chilli sauces.
For its founders, Joe and Claudia Castellanos, it was a business born from a cook-off. In 2010 they went head-to-head, Masterchef style, to see whose hot sauce would have the most bite. The recipe was so good they made 400 bottles to sell at a local market. They sold out in minutes.
“We started literally stirring a pot of chilli sauce from the back of our kitchen. We’re very proud of that,” said Claudia. “I remember walking with Joe in Inhaca Island in Mozambique and talking about this business that was supposed to be a side hustle. I come from the corporate world and at the time it was something fun to do to kind of fulfil my dream of development and helping the community. Never in a million years did we think we end up making a global chilli brand.”
The aptly named Black Mamba Chilli sauces are produced by a team of 17 in a a humble “heat-quarters” in Matsapha, an industrial area in Eswatini. Alongside the sauces they also make pestos, pickles, chutneys, and jams – all without artificial flavouring or preservatives.
From South Africa to the United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, Taiwan, and the United States the sauces are striking fear into the tastebuds of chilli fans across the world.
Key to their “chilli world domination” is that they source their ingredients from 60 local farmers that work in partnership with NGO Guba Swaziland, which helps them to grow chillies and other foods sustainably from a lush valley just outside of Malkerns.
“Because the farms work on very small plots, for them it doesn’t make sense to grow crops that are cheap to grow, they need high-value products. Funnily enough chillies are the perfect for it. The farmers weren’t growing it but as it turned out chillies grow beautifully well in the valley,” said Claudia.
The small-scale local farmers are mostly women and sell the food at organic market to support their families. By 2023 there will be more, in part thanks to a R9.2 million fund drive run by US venture capital (VC) fund Enygma Ventures which was completed in October, reports Ventureburn.
The variety of flavours is highly influenced by both Joe and Claudia’s heritage. Joe was born in Swaziland, and Claudia in Columbia. Both grew up as chilli fans.
“It’s a symbiosis between the sauces itself in terms of the fiery Latino influence from myself and then the African hot soul coming from my husband’s side. [Joe] fits exactly into the definition of a chilli head; he likes flavours but wants to make it as hot as he can. He was the one that came up with the original Black Mamba recipe.”
One of the most bizarre flavours in the range is the tropically-inspired pineapple chilli sauce, which is proving to be a hot commodity in Taiwan and, of all places, Norway.
“The pineapple came from wanting to make a sweet chilli sauce. All the [sweet chilli sauces] on the market we knew of are from Asia. There wasn’t really an African sweet chilli sauce, so we worked on the concept,” says Claudia.