Hot Sauce History 101

Things may be heating up for hot sauces, but they’ve been around since humans first realized they could eat chile peppers. Bottles containing hot sauce have been recovered from archaeological digs as well as shipwrecks, according to “The Hot Sauce Bible,” The Crossing Press, 1996.

We have had a long love affair with hot sauces in the United States. Advertisements for cayenne sauces appeared in Massachusetts newspapers as early as 1807, according to some reports. In 1849, England’s Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce was first imported into the United States from Great Britain.

Many of the first homegrown hot sauces in the United States came from the South. Cajun cuisine and other fiery ethnic foods fueled the drive to make hot sauces.

One of the first mass manufactured domestic hot sauces was Edmund McIlhenny’s Tabasco® Brand Pepper Sauce, which came on the market in 1868 and is still made today. According to McIlhenny “family lore,” Edmund first bottled his Tabasco® sauce in recycled cologne bottles. The McIlhenny Company has trademarked “Tabasco,” which is why it’s the only Tabasco sauce on the market today. (Although it is trademarked by McIlhenny, Tabasco actual refers to a geographic and political region in Mexico – where the Tabasco pepper was said to originate.) Similar sauces can note they are made with Tabasco peppers, but can only be known as “hot sauce.” In addition, the McIlhenny Company is so proud of its heritage that it is opening a museum in 2006 in New Orleans.

McIlhenny’s initial success also spawned a raft of imitators particularly in the roaring 1920s including Trappey’s Hot Sauce (made by B.F. Trappey, an ex-McIlhenny employee) as well as Crystal Hot Sauce, according to Linda Stradley’s Whatscookingamerica.com web site. Jacob Frank started selling Frank’s Redhot Cayenne Pepper Sauce in 1920 and it was this hot sauce that French’s, the current owner of Frank’s Redhot Cayenne Pepper Sauce, proclaims as the “secret ingredient” in the original Wing Sauce concocted in 1964 by Teresa Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, NY. All three of these sauces are continued to be made and sold today.

Some hot sauces didn’t tickle the palate of consumers. Heinz, the condiment company based in Pittsburgh, produced a Tabasco Pepper sauce, but it failed to compete with McIlhenny’s original and was eventually taken out of production. Other early America hot sauces included a “Chilli Sauce” from E.R. Durkee & Company, which continues today as a spice and condiment company.