Tabasco Pepper Sauce was named after the Tabasco River in southern Mexico by creator Edmund McIlhenny because he liked the sound of the word.
Tabasco Pepper Sauce is made from a variety of pepper called Capsicum frutescens, known for centuries in Latin America and first recorded in 1493 by Dr. Chauca, the physician on Columbus’s voyage.
Capsicum peppers contain an alkaloid called capsaicin, a spicy compound found in no other plant.
In 1912, pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville devised an organoleptic test to rate the hotness of peppers. The mildest bell peppers rate zero; habaneras peppers score 200,000 to 300,000 units. Tabasco Pepper Sauce scores between 9,000 to 12,000 units on the Scoville scale.
Tabasco Pepper Sauce is still made much the way Edmund McIlhenny first developed the sauce. Ripe peppers are harvested, crushed, mixed with Avery Island salt, and aged in white oak barrels for up to three years. The peppers are then drained, blended with strong, all-natural vinegar, stirred for several weeks, strained, bottled, and shipped.
Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club produced Burlesque Opera of Tabasco in 1893 with the approval of Edmund McIlhenny’s son, John Avery McIlhenny, who bought the rights to the production and had it staged in New York City.
In 1898, Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener’s troops brought Tabasco Pepper Sauce on their invasion of Khartoum in the Sudan.
In the 1920s, Fernand Petiot, an American working at Harry’s Bar in Paris, created the Bloody Mary. Tabasco Pepper Sauce was added to the recipe in the 1930s at the King Cole Bar in New York’s St. Regis Hotel.
In 1932, when the British government began an isolationist “Buy British” campaign, Parliament banned the purchase of Tabasco Pepper Sauce, popular in England since 1868 and available in the House of Commons dining rooms. The resulting protest from members of Parliament was dubbed “The Tabasco Tempest,” and inevitably Tabasco Pepper Sauce returned to parliamentary tables. To this day Queen Elizabeth uses Tabasco Pepper Sauce on her lobster cocktail.
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.
President George Bush is a Tabasco Pepper Sauce devotee, sprinkling the pepper sauce on tuna fish sandwiches, eggs, and fried pork rinds. After receiving the Republican nomination for President in 1988, Bush handed out personalized bottles of Tabasco Pepper Sauce as presents for members of his family who dined with him at Arnaud’s Restaurant in New Orleans. “I love hot sauce,” Bush told Time magazine in 1992, “I splash Tabasco all over.”
During Operation Desert Storm, a miniature bottle of Tabasco Pepper Sauce was included in one out of every three ration kits sent to troops in the Gulf. The United States military now packs Tabasco Pepper Sauce in every ration kit.
Over 100,000 people visit Avery Island each year to see Tabasco Pepper Sauce being made, visit the Tabasco Country Store, and descend into the island’s salt mines. Each visitor receives a miniature bottle of Tabasco Pepper Sauce and a handful of recipes.
The McIlhenny Company sells more than 100 million bottles of Tabasco Pepper Sauce a year.
Tabasco Pepper Sauce bottles are labeled in fifteen languages and shipped to more than a hundred countries.
Americans use more Tabasco Pepper Sauce than any other nation, followed by the Japanese who sprinkle it on pizza and spaghetti.
The McIlhenny Company produced all its peppers on Avery Island until the late 1960s. Now more than 90 percent of the pepper crop is grown and harvested under the company’s direct supervision in Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Ecuador.
Food critic Craig Claiborne claims that “Tabasco sauce is as basic as mother’s milk.”