Classic Tabasco red pepper sauce
Tabasco sauce is a mass-produced brand of hot sauce made from
tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco), vinegar, and salt, and aged
in white oak barrels for three years. It has a hot, spicy flavor and is popular
in many parts of the world. Tabasco is trademarked as the brand name for the variety of pepper sauce
marketed by one of the United States' biggest producers of hot sauce, McIlhenny
Company of Avery Island, Louisiana.
Tabasco sauce was invented in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a
Maryland-born former banker who had moved to Louisiana around 1840. Initially
McIlhenny used discarded cologne bottles to distribute his sauce to family and
friends, and in 1868 when he started to sell to the public he ordered thousands
of new "cologne bottles" from a New Orleans glassworks. It was in these that the
sauce was first commercially distributed, sharing till today a striking
similarity to contemporary packaging for 4711 brand cologne.
Today the company remains a privately held firm, presided
over by Paul C. P. McIlhenny, sixth in a line of McIlhenny men to run the
Until recently, all of the peppers were grown on Avery
Island. While a small portion of the crop is still grown on the island, the bulk
of the crop is now grown in Central and South America, where the weather and the
availability of more farmland allow a more predictable and larger year-round
supply of peppers. This also helps to ensure the supply of peppers should
something happen to the crop at a particular location (such as a hurricane).
Regardless, all of the seeds for all locations are still grown on Avery Island.
Following company tradition, the peppers are hand picked by workers. To tell
their ripeness, peppers are checked with a little red stick, or le petit bâton
rouge, that each worker carries around. Those peppers not matching the color of
the stick are not harvested. Peppers are ground into "mash" the same day they
are harvested, placed in white oak barrels with a small amount of salt, and sent
to warehouses on Avery Island for a three-year aging process. At the end of the
aging process, the mash is drained to remove skins and seeds from the liquid.
This liquid is then mixed with vinegar and stirred intermittently for about a
month before being bottled as finished sauce. Much of the salt used in
Tabasco production is acquired locally from Avery Island's own salt mine, one of
the largest in the U.S.