Tabasco – the world’s best-known hot sauce
Tabasco is probably the world’s most recognisable hot sauce, available in over 195 countries and sells a staggering 700,000 bottles every day.
What is the origin of Tabasco hot sauce?
The company was founded in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny. He started the company after his aspirations to become a 19th-Century Wolf of Wall Street went awry due to the enduring financial crisis. Unperturbed, Mr McIlhenny worked on his pepper sauce project in an attempt to add some life to the generally bland and monotonous Louisiana diet.
Unsurprisingly, the main hot pepper used in Tabasco is the Tabasco pepper. The Tabasco pepper originates from the Mexican state of Tabasco. The peppers are unusual as they are quite ‘juicy’ rather than being dry and have a slightly acidic, citric flavour and are somewhere in the middle of the road in terms of heat (around 30k on the Scoville scale). In terms of growing they are somewhat temperamental; they’re known as the Goldilocks of the chilli world: it can’t be too hot and it can’t be too cold. For many years the peppers were grown on-site on Avery Island, South Louisiana, where the Tabasco sauce factory is located. The majority of the peppers are now grown in South America due to favourable climate conditions, greater capacity to grow all year round and more space to cultivate. The peppers have always been picked by hand and still are. The pepper collectors have a small red stick which they compare to the growing chillies in order to maintain a uniformity of ripeness and a repeatable product.
How is Tabasco sauce made?
Once picked, the peppers are then mashed and placed in whisky barrels where they are ‘aged’ for between three and eight years. This process is similar to the ‘aging’ process in whisky, wine and rum. Wooden barrels (usually oak) are ‘charred’ (burnt with a flamethrower) which unleashes a whole host of flavouring and filtering properties, giving the spirit or wine a deeper, more complex flavour. A similar process is used with the Tabasco mash. After the ‘aging’ process is complete, the mash is then mixed with vinegar and sugar and the liquid bottled in the signature cologne bottles. Tabasco has released a number of special editions such as Habanero, Chipotle, Jalapeno and Sweet and Sour.
Fun fact one: The left over peppers are sold to pharmaceutical companies which they use to produce pepper spray.
Apparently Queen Victoria was a huge fan and the bottle bears the royal crest. Legend has it that she ran out during the nadir of World War 2, she ran out and sent out one of her lackeys to scour the street of London. He came back empty handed. Apparently she took the bad news ‘philosophically’. Her disappointment meant that Tabasco wasn’t awarded the Royal Warrant until 2009.
It’s unusual that a company with such a long and esteemed history of hot sauce make a product that is so utterly dire. Astringent, vinegary, watery and super spicy, it has almost no redeeming features except for the cute label bearing the presidential seal.
Fun fact 2: the US, Australian, British and issue miniature bottles in their ration packs. I’m not sure how it would help moral. Unless you were trying to poison your enemies with it.