The story of Tabasco sauce is a unique combination of the history of a pepper, the history of a place, and the story of a brand. This legendary product comes from a part of Louisiana that is just 9 square kilometers, to be sold in nearly every country in the world, and be carried into outer space. Let’s learn more about McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce

The Origins of Tabasco

You can’t make Tabasco sauce without tabasco peppers. These peppers are native to Tabasco, Mexico, a tiny state just across the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana. Like Mexico, Louisana has plentiful rainfall, high heat and humidity, and a coastline full of estuaries, wetlands, and small beaches. During the colonial era, both areas were the sites of Spanish and French settlements, conflicts, and development. The tabasco pepper plant must have felt completely at home in Louisiana. 

Tabascos are a moderately hot pepper on the Scoville scale, averaging 30,000-50,000 Scoville units. They are small, brightly colored, and unusually juicy for a capsicum pepper. 

Tabasco plants thrive in high temperatures, and require a steady supply of water and slightly acidic soil. 

The Story of Tabasco Sauce

The story of Tabasco sauce begins when banker Edmund McIlhenny moved from Maryland to New Orleans, eventually marrying Mary Eliza Avery. Mary was the daughter of Daniel Dudley Avery, owner of Avery Island. Whether McIlhenny himself invented the pepper sauce, or whether a friend slipped him a recipe, remains a subject of debate.

What isn’t up for debate is that Avery Island was the perfect growing environment for the peppers, and also has a natural salt dome that provided the other crucial ingredient for the sauce. Between 1866 and 1868, McIlhenny experimented with recipes, perfecting the sauce. He obtained unused cologne bottles, and sold his first batch of Tabasco Sauce in 1868, patenting it in 1870. Within a decade, the sauce was being sold throughout the US and had even made it to Europe. 

Tabasco's iconic brand comes with an iconic bottle.
Tabasco’s iconic brand comes with an iconic bottle.

The History of the Brand

For five generations, the McIlhenny family has continued to produce Tabasco Sauce from Avery Island. Tabasco Original Red Sauce is virtually unchanged, down to the bottle, from Edmund’s original recipe in the 1860s.

Tabasco peppers are picked by hand, measured against a small red stick (“le petit baton rouge”) to ensure they are the perfect color and ripeness. Fresh peppers are processed the same day they are harvested, ground into a mash, mixed with salt, and then placed in white oak barrels reused from distilling whiskey. The mash is aged for up to three years, then it is strained to remove the seeds and skin. The red liquid is then mixed with distilled vinegar, aged for another month, and then bottled for sale. 

Tabasco Sauce Today

Today, most tabasco peppers used in the sauce are grown in Central or South America from seeds cultivated and produced on Avery Island. Cultivation in other regions allows greater production, more consistent peppers with less weather variations, and year-round production of tabasco peppers. 

Tabasco Original Red Sauce is labeled in 36 languages and sold in 195 countries around the world. McIlhenny is one of only a few American companies to have received a royal warrant to supply hot sauce to the Queen of the United Kingdom. Tabasco Sauce also appears on the menu of the NASA Space Shuttle program, and has been served on Skylab and on the International Space Station, adding flavor to the bland meals of astronauts. 

As a company that has been in business for more than 150 years, McIlhenny wants to ensure that they contribute to another 150 years of sustainable production. The company supports their farmers with multi-year contracts with a guaranteed price per pound, and provides seeds free of charge, so farmers can enjoy fair prices and long-term stability. Aside from the peppers, most of Tabasco Sauce’s ingredients are locally sourced, most within a 10-hour delivery circle of Avery island. Since 2010, the company has reduced water usage by 11%, and increased their recycling by 88%. 

McIlhenny’s commitment to quality, sustainability, and tradition ensure that we’ll be enjoying Tabasco Sauce for generations to come.

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