The story behind the famous hot sauce, some trivia and Cajun/Creole recipes
This well-known condiment is a spicy hot sauce made from Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt. The hot peppers are picked by hand as soon as they ripen to the perfect shade of bright red then mashed, mixed with a small amount of Avery Island salt, placed in white oak wooden barrels, and allowed to ferment and then age for up to three years. When deemed ready by a member of the McIlhenny family, the approved, fully aged mash is then blended with all natural, high grain vinegar. After numerous stirrings and about a month later, the pepper skins and seeds are strained out. The finished sauce is then bottled.
A Brief History of Tabasco Sauce
In the 1850′s Edmund McIlhenny, a New Orleans banker, was given some dried peppers that were acquired by a soldier in Mexico during the US-Mexican War (1846-1848). He used one or two and liked them, so he saved the seeds from the remaining peppers and planted them. He grew them in his wife’s garden at Avery Island. McIlhenny did not raise them commercially for another twenty years. In 1863, during the Civil War Edmund McIlhenny fled with his wife when the Union Army entered the city. They took refuge on Avery Island in rural Iberia Parish, where her family owned a salt-mining business.
Avery Island is a huge dome of rock salt, three miles long and two and a half miles wide. At it’s highest point it is only 152 feet above sea level. It is located seven miles south of New Iberia, surrounded by wet marsh and the Bayou Peiti Anse. It was formed when an ancient seabed evaporated, depositing pure salt, which rose up in large chunks and pushed the ground into a hill. Because of the salt on the island, the Union forces invaded the island and captured the mines in 1863. The McIlhennys fled to Texas and didn’t return until the end of the war. When the McIlhenny family came back, they found their plantation ruined and their mansion plundered. One possession remained, a crop of capsicum hot peppers.
In 1868, McIlhenny created a spicy sauce using vinegar, Avery Island salt, and chopped capsicum peppers. McIlhenny packaged his aged sauce in 350 used cologne bottles and sent them as samples to likely wholesalers. He passed some of his sauce onto General Hazard, the federal administrator in the region, whose brother happened to be the largest wholesale grocer in the US. On the strength of the purchase orders that followed, Edmund McIlhenny began a commercial production. In 1870 McIlhenny secured a patent Pepper Sauce and two years later he opened an office in London to handle the European market. Bottles with metal tops replaced the corked bottles sealed with green wax as the increasing demand for Tabasco sauce caused changes in the packaging.
Some Tabasco Trivia
- Some historians say “Tabasco” is a Central American Indian word that means “land where the soil is hot and humid.” This certainly describes the climate of Avery Island. Other historians have put forth that it actually means “place of coral or oyster shell.”
- Each 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco Sauce contains at least 720 drops.
- In 1921, an American bartender in Paris, Fernand “Pete” Petiot, mixed up some vodka and tomato juice. According to legend, Petiot said, “It was suggested we call the drink ‘Bloody Mary‘ because it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a girl there named Mary.” In 1934, Petiot brought the drink to the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. It was in New York that he added pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon, lime and horseradish. Petiot pushed his tomato-based drink as a hangover cure. Born the Bucket of Blood, the drink was later called Red Snapper and Morning Glory before finally being christened Bloody Mary, supposedly after American entertainer George Jessel accidentally spilled one of the crimson beverages over a young woman named Mary.
- When the British government began an isolationist “Buy British” campaign in 1832, Parliament banned the purchases of Tabasco Pepper Sauce, popular in England since 1868 and available in the House of Commons dining rooms. The result protest from members of Parliament was dubbed “The Tabasco Tempest,” and inevitably Tabasco pepper sauce returned to parliamentary tables. It is said, that to this day, Queen Elizabeth uses Tabasco pepper sauce on her lobster cocktail.
- Two companies competed with sauces called “Tabasco” for 31 years. B. F. Trappey and Sons (Trappey was a former McIlhenny employee) and the McIlhenny sauce. In 1829 the McIlhenny family won a trademark infringement suit and all competitors could only include tabasco chiles in their list of ingredients
- The U.S. Territory of Guam is the world’s largest per capita consumer of Tabasco sauce, according to the McIlhenny Company. Some people say that Guamanians acquire a passion for hot sauce in the cradle, when mothers lace their babies’ bottles with Tabasco. True or not, that story started because those Pacific islanders consume the equivalent of almost two 2-ounce bottles of Tabasco sauce per person each year, a feat unmatched in any other country on Earth.
- During the Vietnam War, the McIlhenny company sent thousands of copies of the Charley Ration Cookbook, filled with recipes for spicing up C-rations with Tabasco pepper sauce, wrapped around two-ounce bottles of Tabasco pepper sauce in waterproof canisters.