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Tabasco Sauce

HISTORY, PLACES, INFORMATION, INTERESTING FACTS

Tabasco is without doubt the queen of hot sauces, one of the best-known US specialties: although the north American market takes the lion’s share, this excellence of taste is available in most supermarkets around the world where, year after year, its great potential in cooking is discovered. Let’s find out its origins, who invented it, its places and many unexpected curiosities.

Tabasco Sauce: What's Tabasco?

What is Tabasco?

Tabasco is a hot sauce originally from Louisiana, USA. It’s produced at Avery Island, using a particular type of peppers grown both locally and in many countries of Central and South America, as well as of southern Africa. Its recipe includes just a few ingredients: in addition to the peppers, only vinegar and salt.

How is Tabasco sauce made?

After explaining the fascinating history of Tabasco sauce, in this article we explain in detail the method used for a century and a half to produce the specialty. You can read the article by clicking this LINK.

The history of Tabasco Sauce.

The history of Tabasco sauce.

U.S. Colonel

Although it is generally quite difficult, if not impossible, to establish the precise origins of a gastronomic specialty, Tabasco is among the few exceptions. We know for sure that the sauce was invented in the second half of the nineteenth century by Mr. Edmund McIlhenny, a distinguished businessman originally from Maryland, in the United States. Edmund was probably inspired by a tasty recipe devised by a friend, Colonel Maunsel White, a Civil War veteran and great lover of good food.

 

Tabasco Sauce: Bowl full of tabasco peppers.

However, it took several years for the specialty to take shape as we know it today: it was, in fact, necessary to find the best proportion between its few ingredients (chili pepper, vinegar and salt) and to understand the right length of time for the mixture to mature.
In 1868 McIlhenny founded a factory at Avery Island, in the state of Louisiana. The following year, he began marketing his product: its almost immediate success prompted him to patent Tabasco Sauce in 1870 so as to shield it from the many imitation attempts.

Plantation of Tabasco peppers.

Over time, his company, passed down from generation to generation (it’s currently the sixth!), grew so much to require the acquisition of new farmlands for the particular variety of chili peppers necessary to make Tabasco. Nowadays, the plants are cultivated, in addition to Louisiana, in many countries of Central/South American and south Africa.
Although the U.S. market takes the lion’s share, the sauce is exported all around the world where, year after year, its culinary value is increasingly appreciated.

The headquarters of the McIlhenny Company is still today located in the place of its birth, Avery Island, a place that has become a symbol of a centenary tradition.

Louisiana: the homeland of Tabasco sauce.

Louisiana is part of the United States of America, located in the southeast, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Although its most famous city is, by far, New Orleans, its capital is Baton Rouge. The major tourist attractions include Creole cuisine, jazz music, and the Mardi Gras celebrations.

Tabasco Sauce: New Orleans.
Tabasco Sauce: the origins of the name 'Tabasco'.

The origins of the name ‘Tabasco’.

In addition to its taste, Tabasco sauce is known for its catchy name. It seems that the inventor of the specialty, Edmund McIlhenny, named it after the homonymous Mexican state, which is world-famous for its particularly spicy cuisine that, not by chance, makes extensive use of chili pepper and its derivates.

Confederate flag.
The types of Tabasco.

The types of Tabasco sauce.

Over the years, the Mcilhenny Company has put out several types of Tabasco: these variants of the hot sauce differ from each other for their respective spiciness, aroma, and color. Here follows a brief list, in ascending order of piquancy, of the eight types currently available (*1).

  • Sweet & Spicy Sauce: spiciness 100-600 SU. The least spicy Tabasco sauce. Dark red in color, it’s suitable to accompany fish and, more in general, fried food.

  • Green Jalapeño: spiciness 600-1200 SU. Light green in color, it’s tasty and delicate, particularly suitable to accompany salads.

  • Cayenne Garlic Sauce: spiciness 1200-2400 SU. Made from three types of chili peppers and further flavored with garlic, it’s perfect for seasoning grilled meat.

  • Chipotle Pepper Sauce: spiciness 1600-2500 SU. It’s a smoky, brown sauce, characterized by a rich, full-bodied taste, suitable to accompany meat and cocktails.

  • Sriracha Sauce: spiciness 1000-3000 SU. Deep red in color, its flavor is characterized by the sweetness of jalapeño red peppers and garlic.

  • Original Red Sauce: spiciness 2500-5000 SU. Bright red in color, it’s the original sauce invented by Edmund McIlhenny. It has a sour and fruity flavor.

  • Habanero Sauce: spiciness >7000 SU. One of the ‘hottest’ sauces, its taste is characterized by hints of mango and papaya.

  • Scorpion Sauce: spiciness 23,000-33,000 SU. Mcilhenny’s most ‘fiery’ sauce currently on the market, made with the infamous ‘Scorpion’ peppers.

To show the spiciness degree of its Tabasco sauces, Mcilhenny has adopted a convenient scale consisting of 5 flames. The Sweet & Spicy Sauce thus has only one blaze, whereas the infamous Scorpion Sauce, something similar to rocket fuel, boasts five of them!

*1: Tabasco ‘Buffalo Sauce’, made with Tabasco peppers and different spices, while still available for purchase from many retailers, is not currently listed in the Mcilhenny Company’s official website.

Tabasco preparation in video.

In this wonderful video, produced by Business Insider in collaboration with the McIlhenny Company, the method currently used to produce the ‘Original Red Sauce’ is shown.

Guitar player in New Orleans.

Music for Tabasco.

The cheerful Louisiana Blues is undoubtedly the best way to convey the mood of the land of Tabasco.

Tabasco Sauce: Edmund McIlhenny.

Ed McIlhenny: the inventor of Tabasco sauce.

Mr. Edmund McIlhenny can be considered the ‘daddy’ of Tabasco, one of the world’s best-known hot sauces. This distinguished gentleman was born in 1815 in Hagerstown, a small town of Maryland. As a good Scot, he managed to save a small fortune, with which he could found his own bank. The bankruptcy of the Confederate states due to defeat in the Civil War ruined, among others, his business. This sad evenience prompted him to move to a plantation belonging to the family of his wife, Mary Eliza Avery, located at … Avery Island (!), in the southern state of Louisiana (US). It was here that Edmund started to produce the specialty that, in time, would make him immortal: Tabasco Sauce.

Bottle of Tabasco Sauce.

The bottle of Tabasco sauce.

There is little doubt that the Tabasco sauce bottle, with its distinctive elongated neck, is one of the best-known symbols of industrial design. Its label, another characterizing element, is in the shape of a rhombus and shows in clear letters the name of the specialty (TABASCO), that of the producing company (the McIlhenny Comany), the type of product (‘Pepper Sauce’), not forgetting the place of origin, namely Avery Island in the U.S.A.
The most-known sizes are 2, 5 and 12 ounces.

Louisiana Marsh.

An endangered factory.

The factory where Tabasco is produced still today, was founded by Edmund McIlhenny back in 1868 at Avery Island (in the US state of Louisiana): a verdant place, surrounded by a vast swampy area. The recent climate change is causing the latter to gradually widen. At present, it’s only the ongoing efforts of the McIlhenny Company that are preventing the swamp from engulfing the island.

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Creative Commons images:

The images depicting the bottle of the product ‘Tabasco,’ were photographed by the author of the article and then freely modified to fit the context.