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. On his death in 1890, McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after a few years to join Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment.
On John’s departure, brother Edward Avery McIlhenny, a self-taught naturalist fresh from an arctic adventure, assumed control of the company, running it from 1898 to his death in 1949. Like his brother, Edward focused on expansion and modernization, as did war veteran Walter S. McIlhenny, who, after serving in the U.S. Marines at Guadalcanal and elsewhere, oversaw the company until his death in 1985.
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 business.
A Tabasco advertisement from ca. 1905. Note the cork-top bottle and diamond logo label, both of which are similar to those in use today.
From seeds to sauce
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 bton 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.
Avery Island was hit hard by tropical storms in 2005, especially Hurricane Rita. The factory barely escaped major damage. As a result of a long history of dodging tropical storms, the family constructed a 17-foot (5.2 m)-high levee and invested in back-up generators.
Tabasco has been produced by McIlhenny Company since 1868. Several new types of sauces are now produced under the name Tabasco Sauce, including jalapeo-based green, chipotle-based smoked, habanero, garlic, and “sweet and spicy” sauces. McIlhenny also produces Tabasco soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce and steak sauce.
The habanero sauce and garlic sauces both include the tabasco peppers blended with other peppers, whereas the jalapeo variety does not include tabasco peppers.
None of these products undergoes the three-year aging process the flagship product uses.
Medium (SR: 2,500-5,000)
The original, classic red variety of Tabasco pepper sauce measures 2,500-5,000 SCU on the Scoville scale. The habanero sauce is considerably hotter, rating 7,000-8,000 Scoville units. The chipotle sauce adds chipotle pepper to the original sauce, measuring 2,000-2,500. The garlic variety, which blends milder peppers in with the tabasco peppers, rates 1,200-1,800 Scovilles, and the green pepper (jalapeo) sauce is even milder at 600-800 Scovilles. Their Sweet and Spicy sauce is the mildest at only 100-600 Scoville Units.
Classic Tabasco red pepper sauce
Tabasco brand pepper sauce is sold in more than 160 countries and territories and is packaged in 22 languages and dialects. As many as 720,000 two-ounce (57ml) bottles of Tabasco sauce are produced each day at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, Louisiana. These bottles range in size from the common two-ounce and five-ounce (57ml and 148 ml) bottles available in most grocery stores, up to a one US gallon (3.8 liter) jug for food service businesses, and down to a 1/8th-ounce (3.7 ml) miniature bottle. McDonald’s in North America used these diminutive Tabasco bottles during early McRib promotions. The US military includes Tabasco sauce in Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs), and has done so since the 1980s.
In addition, the company has cashed in on its brand name by licensing the production of branded merchandise, including neckties, hand towels, golf shirts, sleeping pants, boxer shorts, posters, Bloody Mary mix, and even casino slot machines featuring the trademarked diamond logo.
McIlhenny Company now produces numerous Tabasco brand products that contain pepper seasoning, including popcorn, nuts, olives, mayonnaise, mustard, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, grilling/marinating sauce, barbecue sauce, chili sauce, pepper jelly, and Bloody Mary mix. McIlhenny Company also permits other brands to use and advertise Tabasco sauce as an ingredient in their products (a common marketing practice called “co-branding”), including Spam, Slim Jim beef sticks, Heinz ketchup, A1 steak sauce, Plochman’s mustard, Cheez-It crackers, Lawry’s salt, Zapp’s potato chips and Vlasic pickles.
The classic red Tabasco sauce has a shelf life of five years when stored in a cool and dry place; other Tabasco flavors have shorter shelf lives.
Tabasco sauce is widely used to season a variety of foodstuffs, such as sandwiches, salads, burgers, oysters, pasta, pork chops, shrimp, hot dogs, baby back ribs, hot wings, prime rib, chitlins, gumbo, Po’ boys, french fries, cheese fries, crab cake, scrambled eggs, cole slaw, green beans, corn on the cob, onion rings, barbecue, macaroni and cheese, turkey, catfish, stirfry, nachos, calzones, black-eyed peas, soup and omelettes, pizza, gum, potato chips, Spam, Cheez-Its, popcorn, pudding, bacon wrapped steak, mashed potatoes, pigs in a blanket, french onion soup, oatmeal, egg rolls, olive loaf, gyros, submarine sandwiches, potatoes pommes fondant, pancakes, come back gravy, buttermilk biscuits, and even dipping tobacco. It is also common in cocktails including the Bloody mary and Prairie Fire.
Tabasco and the U.S. military
During the Spanish-American War, John Avery McIlhenny, son of Tabasco’s inventor and second president of McIlhenny Company, served in the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, better known as Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. His son, Brigadier General Walter Stauffer McIlhenny, USMCR, a World War II veteran and recipient of the Navy Cross, presided over McIlhenny Company from 1949 until his death in 1985. During the Vietnam War, BGen. McIlhenny issued the The Charlie Ration Cookbook. (Charlie ration was slang for the field meal given to troops.) This cookbook came wrapped around a two-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce in a camouflaged, water-resistant container. It included instructions on how to mix C-rations to make such tasty concoctions as “Combat Canaps” or “Breast of Chicken under Bullets.”
During the 1980s, the U.S. military began to include miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce in its MREs. Eventually, miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce were included in two-thirds of all MRE menus. (These same miniature bottles are also included in vegetarian British rations, but are not included in the regular Operational Ration Pack.) During the same period, McIlhenny Company issued a new military-oriented cookbook using characters from the comic strip Beetle Bailey, titled The Unofficial MRE Cookbook, which it offered free of charge to U.S. troops. In response to these gestures, service personnel wrote many letters of thanks to McIlhenny Company.
Most recently, U.S. troops in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom have received Tabasco sauce in their MREs, as well as in care packages sent directly to individual troops courtesy of McIlhenny Company.
McIlhenny Company’s relationship with the military extends beyond combat situations. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps list over 400 mess halls that offer Tabasco sauce on their tables including every Officer’s Mess in the Marine Corps.
Walter Stauffer McIlhenny was a benefactor of the Marine Military Academy. As a result, a bottle of Tabasco sauce can be found on every table in the school’s mess hall. McIlhenny was a member of the Academy’s General H. M. Smith Foundation, and the school named one of its buildings after him.
Tabasco in space
Tabasco appears on the official menu of NASA’s space shuttle program and has gone into orbit on the shuttles. It has also been used on Skylab and on the International Space Station.
Notable and historical references
Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (September 2009)
During a 1932 “Buy British” campaign sponsored by the British Government, Tabasco sauce bottles were removed from the tables of the House of Commons dining rooms. The Members of Parliament demanded that Tabasco sauce be returned to their tables.
Tabasco sauce has become an Internet Meme as a symbol for manliness. It is commonly used by Internet satirist Maddox, and by other smaller websites.
Turn-of-the-20th-century baseball player Norman Elberfeld was known as “The Tabasco Kid” because of his fiery temper.
On April 19, 2009 the Queen of England issued a Royal Warrant of Appointment for Tabasco Sauce because of the royal family’s use of it over the years.
Tabasco sauce appears in the Little Rascals 1932 film short “Birthday Blues”.
Miniature bottles of Tabasco are thrown at University of Louisiana football games.
Tabasco has many competitors, including:
Bfalo (hot sauce)
Chili pepper water
Cholula Hot Sauce
Crystal Hot Sauce
Frank Red Hot
Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce
Tapato hot sauce
Texas Pete (hot sauce)
Trappey’s Hot Sauce
Scoville heat scale
^ a b c Shevory 2007, p. B1
^ a b Shevory 2007, pp. B1-B4
^ a b Edwards, Bob (2002-11-29). “TABASCO’s Hot History”. National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=861201. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
^ Ouzounian, George. “Only a commie wouldn’t eat Tabasco”. The Best Page in the Universe. http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=tabasco. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
Shevory, Kristina (2007), The Fiery Family, The New York Times, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F03E7D81130F932A05750C0A9619C8B63, retrieved 2008-06-07 .
Kurlansky, Mark (2002), Salt: A World History, Walker & Company, ISBN 0802713734 .
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Categories: 1868 establishments | Acadiana | Sauces | Hot sauces | Brand name condiments | Iberia Parish, Louisiana | Louisiana cuisine | McIlhenny family | Military food of the United States | Soul foodHidden categories: Articles with trivia sections from September 2009 | All articles with trivia sections | All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements from December 2007 | Articles with unsourced statements from November 2009