A condiment that 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. The same day
the peppers are picked, they are 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. Numerous stirrings and
about four weeks later, the pepper skins and seeds are strained out. The
finished sauce is then bottled.
Avery Island is not really an island – it 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’s one of five along the
Louisiana Gulf Coast, formed when an ancient seabed evaporated, depositing pure salt, which rose up in large chunks and pushed the ground into a hill.
its namesake Avery family settled there in the 1830s, American Indians
discovered that Avery Island’s verdant flora covered a precious natural
resource—a massive salt dome. There the Indians boiled the
Island’s briny spring water to extract salt, which they traded to other
tribes as far away as central Texas, Arkansas, and Ohio.
1850s – Edmund McIlhenny (1815-1890), a New Orleans banker, was
given a gift by a soldier returning to New Orleans from Mexico of some
dried peppers that were acquired in Mexico during the United States-Mexican War (1846-1848. The soldier told him to try
them in his food. He used one or two and like it, 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.
1863 – In April of 1863, during the Civil
War (1861-1865), 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.
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. The area that would became
Iberia Parish was hotly contested by Union and Confederate forces during
the Civil War. Their battle lines moved back and forth through the
area, and Union troops twice looted the town. They also seized the
Weeks family mansion, now called "Shadows-on-the-Teche," and used it as
a command post — but not before it, too, was looted. As a Union
officer noted, "the boys were allowed to go through it, sack, pillage
and destroy every article within its walls."
When the McIlhenny family came back, they found
their plantation ruined and their mansion plundered. One possession remained, a crop of capsicum hot peppers.
1868 – Determined to turn the peppers into
income, he devised 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, who was the federal
administrator in the region. The general knew a good thing when he
tasted it. His brother happened to be the larges wholesale grocer in the
United States. General Hazard sent some of the hot sauce to his brother
in New York, and told him it was made from a new kind of chili pepper.
On the strength of the purchase orders that followed, Edmund McIlhenny
began a commercial operation in 1868.
At first he wanted to call this new sauce Petite
Anse Sauce (after the island), but when family members baked at the
commercial use of the family’s island name, he opted for his second
choice “Tabasco.” Some historians say it’s 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.”
- McIlhenny secured a patent
Pepper Sauce. In 1872, 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.
1893 – Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding
Club produced a play called “Burlesque Opera of Tabasco” with the
approval of Edmund McIlhenny’s son, John Avery McIlhenny. He bought the
rights to the production and had it staged in New York City.
1895 – Lord Horatio Herbert Kitcherner’s
(1850-1916), British Field Marshal and statesman, troops brought Tabasco
pepper sauce on their invasion of Khartoum in the Sudan.
1906 - In 1898, another Louisiana
entrepreneur (and former McIlhenny employee) named B. F. Trappey began
growing tabasco chiles from Avery Island seed. He founded the company B.
F. Trappey and Sons and began producing his own sauce, which was also
called "Tabasco." The McIlhenny family eventually responded to this
challenge and a several decades-long feud by receiving a trademark for
their Tabasco® brand in 1906.
1920s – 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.
- In 1929, Trappey's expanded to two plants, one in Lafayette and one in New Iberia. That same year, the McIlhenny family won a trademark
infringement suit against the Trappeys. From that time on, only the McIlhenny sauce could be called "Tabasco," and competitors were reduced
to merely including tabasco chiles in their list of ingredients. The two companies had competed with identically named sauces for thirty-one years.
1932 – When the British government began an
isolationist “Buy British” campaign, 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.
2002 - Archaeologists digging at the site of a
black-owned saloon in the historic Old West mining town of Virginia City
unearthed a 130-year-old bottle of Tabasco brand hot sauce. The bottle,
the oldest style of Tabasco bottle known to exist, was reconstructed
from 21 shards of glass excavated from beneath the site of the Boston
Saloon, which was owned by an African-American from Massachusetts and
catered to blacks and whites from 1864-75, was among the first eateries
to introduce the now-popular spicy sauce. The Tabasco bottle is
particularly intriguing because of what it implies about
African-American cuisine and the development of the West,” said
Kelly Dixon, the administrator of the Comstock Archaeology Center who is
supervising the dig in Virginia City about 20 miles southeast of Reno.
Did You Know?
Each 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco Sauce contains at least 720 drops?
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?
Profile – Pepper Seeds of Fortune, by C. Richard Cotton.
Hot Peppers – Cajuns and Capsicum in New
Iberia, Louisiana, by Richard Schweid, published by New Orleans School
of Cooking, 1987.
Hot sauce bottle offers peek into Comstock’s
past, by Scott Sconner,
Associated Press, 6/27/02.
Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday
Things, by Charles Panati, published by Harper & Row, 1987.
Serious Pig, by John Thorne with Matt Lewis
Thorne, published by North Point Press, 1996.
The Hot Sauce Bible, by Dave Dewitt & Chuck
Evans, The Crossing Press, 1996
Facts – Tabasco Pepper Sauce, by Joey Green.