Tabasco sauce

McIlhenny Company
Private (family-owned)
Industry Food processing
Founded 1868 (1868)
Founder Edmund McIlhenny
Headquarters Avery Island, Louisiana, United States
Key people
Anthony Avery "Tony" Simmons, CEO
Products Hot sauce and other condiments
Number of employees
About 200 (per company web site, August 2014)
Heat Medium
Scoville scale 2,000 SHU

Tabasco sauce is a brand of hot sauce made exclusively from tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco), vinegar, and salt. It is produced by McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana.


Although the name comes from the Mexican state of Tabasco, the sauce is a U.S. product produced by McIlhenny Company.[1] According to company legend, Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who moved to Louisiana around 1840.

However, as Jeffrey Rothfeder's book McIlhenny's Gold points out, at least some of the self-promotional McIlhenny Company official history[2] is fictitious. An October 10, 2007 book review by Mark Robichaux in The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2007, quotes that book:

"The story actually begins in the pre-Civil War era with a New Orleans plantation owner named Maunsel White, who was famous for the food served at his sumptuous dinner parties. Mr. White's table no doubt groaned with the region's varied fare — drawing inspiration from European, Caribbean and Cajun sources — but one of his favorite sauces was of his own devising, made from a pepper named for its origins in the Mexican state of Tabasco. White added the sauce to various dishes and bottled it for his guests. Although the McIlhennys have tried to dismiss the possibility,[2] it seems clear now that in 1849, a full two decades before Edmund McIlhenny professed to discover the Tabasco pepper, White was already growing Tabasco chilies on his plantation."[3]

Rothfeder cited a January 26, 1850 letter to the New Orleans Daily Delta newspaper crediting the slave-owning banker-politician Maunsel White as having introduced "Tobasco red pepper" (sic) to the southern United States and asserting that the McIlhenny sauce was at least inspired by White's recipe.[3] Jean Andrews, in her book "Peppers: the Domesticated Capsicums," goes further to declare — citing United States Circuit Court testimony from 1922 — that prior to his death in 1862, “White gave some [pepper] pods, along with his sauce recipe, to his friend Edmund McIlhenny, during a visit to White’s Deer Range Plantation.”[4]

To distribute his sauce, Edmund McIlhenny initially used discarded cologne bottles sourced from a New Orleans glass supplier. On his death in 1890, McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after only a few years in order to join Theodore Roosevelt's 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the Rough Riders.[5] On John's departure, brother Edward Avery McIlhenny, a self-taught naturalist fresh from an Arctic adventure, assumed control of the company and also focused on expansion and modernization, running the business from 1898 until his death in 1949.

Walter S. McIlhenny in turn succeeded his uncle Edward Avery McIlhenny, serving as president of McIlhenny Company from 1949 until his death in 1985. Edward McIlhenny Simmons then ran the company as president and CEO for several years,remaining as board chairman until his death in 2012.[6] Paul McIlhenny became company president in 1998 and was chairman until his death in 2013.[7] In 2012, McIlhenny cousin Tony Simmons assumed the company's presidency and runs the company today.[8]

McIlhenny is one of just a few U.S. companies to have received a royal warrant of appointment that certifies the company as a supplier to Queen Elizabeth II. McIlhenny is one of the 850 companies around the world that have been officially designated as suppliers to the queen by such warrants. The warrant held is "Supplier of Tabasco Sauce HM The Queen – Master of the Household – Granted in 2009".[9]


Originally all peppers used in Tabasco sauce were grown on Avery Island. Today peppers grown on the Island are used to produce seed stock, which is then shipped to foreign growers,[10] primarily in Central and South America. More predictable weather and readily available farmland in these locales allow a constant year-round supply. This ensures the availability of peppers should severe weather or other problems occur at a particular growing location.

Following company tradition, peppers are picked by hand. To ensure ripeness, pickers compare peppers to a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge); peppers that match the color of the stick are then introduced into the sauce production process. Peppers are ground into a mash on the day of harvest and placed along with salt in white oak barrels (aging barrels previously used for Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey[11]). To prepare the barrel, the inside of the barrel is de-charred (top layer of wood is removed), torched, and cleaned, to minimize the presence of any residual whiskey. The barrels are then used in warehouses on Avery Island for aging the mash.

After aging for up to three years, the mash is strained to remove skins and seeds. The resulting liquid is then mixed with vinegar, stirred occasionally for a month, and then bottled as finished sauce.[12] Tabasco has released a Tabasco reserve edition with peppers aged for up to eight years, mixed with wine vinegar [13]. Tabasco diamond reserve edition has been released as of 2018. This sauce consists of peppers that have been aged for up to fifteen years, then mixed with sparkling white wine vinegar. It becomes black instead of red.[14]

Much of the salt used in Tabasco production comes from an Avery Island salt mine, one of the largest in the U.S.

In 2005, Avery Island was hit hard by Hurricane Rita. As a result, the family constructed a 17-foot (5.2 m)-high levee[10] around the low side of the factory and invested in back-up generators.


Several sauces are produced under the Tabasco brand name, including jalapeño-based green, chipotle-based smoked, habanero, garlic, "sweet and spicy", and "Buffalo style" sauces. The habanero, chipotle, and garlic sauces include the tabasco peppers blended with other peppers, whereas the jalapeño variety does not include tabasco peppers. None of these sauces, however, has the three-year aging process the flagship product uses. The brand also produces a selection of Tabasco Chocolate.


The flagship red variety of Tabasco pepper sauce measures 2,500–5,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. The habanero sauce is considerably hotter, rating above 7,000+ Scoville units. The chipotle sauce adds chipotle pepper to the original sauce, measuring 1,500–2,500. The garlic variety, which blends milder peppers in with the tabasco peppers, rates 1,200–1,400 Scovilles, and the green pepper (jalapeño) sauce is even milder at 600–1,200 Scovilles. The Sweet and Spicy sauce is the mildest of all the sauces at only 100–600 Scoville units. In 2017, Tabasco released a limited edition sauce made with the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper, which can reach up to 2,000,000 scoville units.[15]


Tabasco brand pepper sauce is sold in more than 185 countries and territories and is packaged in 22 languages and dialects.[16] The Tabasco bottle is still modeled after the cologne-style bottles used for the first batch of sauce in 1868.[10] As many as 720,000 two-ounce (57 ml) bottles of Tabasco[17] sauce are produced daily at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island. Bottles range from the common two-ounce and five-ounce (59 ml and 148 ml) bottles, up to a one US gallon-(3.8 liter) jug for food service businesses, and down to a 1/8-ounce (3.7 ml) miniature bottle. There are also 0.11-ounce portion control (PC) packets of Tabasco sauce.

One-eighth-ounce bottles of Tabasco, bearing the presidential seal, are served on Air Force One.[10] The US military has included Tabasco sauce in Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) since the 1980s. The Australian, British and Canadian armies also issue small bottles of Tabasco sauce in their rations.[18]


McIlhenny Company produces Tabasco brand products that contain pepper seasoning, including popcorn, nuts, olives, mayonnaise, mustard, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, 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, Hormel chili, Slim Jim beef sticks, Heinz ketchup, A1 steak sauce, Plochman's mustard, Cheez-It crackers, Lawry's salt, Zapp's potato chips, Heluva Good dip, and Vlasic pickles.

The original 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.[19]

Tabasco appeared on the menu of NASA's space shuttle program and went into orbit on the shuttles.[20] It was on Skylab and on the International Space Station and is popular with astronauts as a means of countering the bland food they frequently are provided in space.


During the Vietnam War, Brigadier General Walter S. McIlhenny issued The Charlie Ration Cookbook.[21] (Charlie ration was the name for the field meal then given to troops.) This cookbook came wrapped around a two-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce in a camouflaged, water-resistant container. It instructed troops how to mix C-rations to make such meals as "Combat Canapés" or "Breast of Chicken under Bullets."[20] Soldiers also requested their families to send them Tabasco sauce in "care packages" from home.

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.[22] 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, it was offered free of charge to U.S. troops.

In art and culture

The Tabasco bottle is an original design and has remained almost unchanged up to the present. In 1894 composer George W. Chadwick composed the Burlesque Opera of Tabasco, a musical comedy that conductor Paul Mauffray revived in 2018 with support from McIlhenny Company. Tabasco has appeared in many movies and cartoons, as well as on television. Some appearances date as far back as the Our Gang short Birthday Blues in 1932 and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times in 1936. The bottle also graced the side of Darrell Waltrip's race car for a brief period. In Back to the Future: Part III, the saloon bartender uses Tabasco as an ingredient for an instant hangover cure he calls "wake-up juice".

See also


  1. "About McIlhenny Company |". Retrieved 2017-04-01.
  2. 1 2 "An American Tradition Since 1868", Mclhenny Company website, accessed July 1, 2018.
  3. 1 2 Mark Robichaux, “Ingredients of a Family Fortune”, Oct. 10, 2007 in Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  4. Jean Andrews, Peppers: the Domesticated Capsicums, p. 121, 1995. ISBN 0-292-70467-4. Accessed July 1, 2018.
  5. The Economist, "Tabasco island: Some like it Avery hot", 26 March 2011, p. 40.
  6. "WWLTV Eyewitness News Report". Archived from the original on 28 December 2013.
  7. "CNN News Report Paul McIlhenny". Retrieved February 24, 2013.
  8. "Lead Changes for Tabasco, McIlhenny Company". Archived from the original on 9 July 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  9. Royal Warrant Holders Association
  10. 1 2 3 4 Belson, Ken. Tabasco’s Ties to Football Burn Deep. The New York Times, February 3, 2013
  11. Mali Mish – An Airstream Travel Blog. Day 185: Tabasco Factory and Jungle Gardens at Avery Island
  12. Shevory 2007, pp. B1–B4
  13. Product:Tabasco Reserve Peppers(Grab It While You Can).,October 11, 2011
  14. Wyatt, Megan. This gourmet Tabasco sauce will set tongues and wallets on fire. USA Today, April 23, 2018
  15. Scoville Archived 24 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "Tabasco around the World". Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  17. Shevory 2007, p. B1
  18. "The eat of Battle - how the worlds armies get fed". Retrieved Sep 1, 2017.
  19. FAQs | McIlhenny Company |
  20. 1 2 Edwards, Bob (29 November 2002). "TABASCO's Hot History". National Public Radio. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
  21. The Charlie Ration Cookbook
  22. "Tabasco and the war against bland military meals". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2017-04-01.


  • Shevory, Kristina (31 March 2007), "The Fiery Family", The New York Times, retrieved 7 June 2008 .
  • Kurlansky, Mark (2002), Salt: A World History, Walker & Company, ISBN 0-8027-1373-4 .

Further reading

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