Vol.1, No.9

All about tabasco

From Mexico to Louisiana: Discover the story of Tabasco.

Tabasco peppers and sauce
All about Tabasco

Tabasco is a brand name and registered trademark coined by the McIlhenny Company headquartered in Louisiana, United States. It is a spicy hot sauce best known as a condiment, or as an ingredient in Buffalo style chicken wings and Bloody Mary cocktail drinks.

Tabasco sauce is made from a specific type of chili pepper, vinegar, and salt. The peppers, which are long thin and bright red when fully ripe, are always handpicked. As soon as they are picked, the chili peppers are mashed and mixed with sea salt originating from the seawater around Avery Island, LA where the Tabasco sauce is made. Next, the “mash” is fermented in oak barrels for up to three years. At the end of the fermentation period, vinegar is added to the mixture and it is left to age for another four weeks. At this point, the sauce is ready. The skins and seeds of the peppers are strained out and sauce is bottled.

The origin of the tabasco peppers used to make Tabasco is not entirely clear. Some reports state that tabasco peppers are named after a state in southeast Mexico, although that particular variety (Capsicum frutescens) does not appear to grow there at all now. The following story seems more likely to have occurred.

An amateur botanist from Louisiana gathered the seeds from a chili pepper he found while on a trip to Mexico. He cultivated a few of the peppers in his garden and then gave some of the seedpods to his friend Edmund McIlhenny. Mr. McIlhenny began growing the peppers on his property on Avery Island. According to the official history, he created the recipe for the hot sauce in 1868 and patented it in 1870, which he called Tabasco pepper sauce.

It was not until 1888 that a botanist classified the particular chili peppers used in making Tabasco sauce as a new varietyâ€"Tabasco peppers. Prior to that there were no such peppers by that name. Tabasco, a Native American word, means damp and humid place, fitting for the tropical climate of Avery Island.

Tabasco chili peppers are used to make other hot sauces as well and are an ingredient in Cajun cooking and many Caribbean island cuisines. Capsicum frutescens is probably the most famous of the capsicums because of its role as the primary ingredient in Tabasco sauce.

Tabasco pepper plants are bushy and compact in habit, and about 1 to 4 feet high. Peppers are classified botanically as a fruit, and the plants produce copious quantities of peppers--more than 100 fruits per plant are not uncommon. This particular variety of pepper is extremely hot (spicy). They contain an ingredient called oleoresin, which is responsible for making the peppers hot.

Chili peppers are ranked according to how hot they are and Tabasco peppers are one of the hottest peppers in existence. The heat content of Tabasco peppers is measured in Scoville units and measured between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville units. The sweet green pepper has 0 Scoville units, and Habanero peppers are ranked at 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville units.

Interestingly, tabasco peppers are not grown commercially in Louisiana. They were all but eradicated by wilt disease in the mid-twentieth century. Although a crop does grow on the Avery Island property today, it is used only for experimentation purposes. Tabasco chili peppers are grown commercially in Central and South America, with Colombia as the primary supplier. Tabasco peppers are not readily available to the public and are cultivated specifically for their use in Tabasco sauce.