Tabasco is one of the country’s most popular and renowned hot sauces, a perennial mate to pizza, burgers, soups, Mexican food, and just about every other food imaginable. But even if you always keep a mini-bottle in your purse, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this old standby.
1. The Salt Is the Secret
When Edmund McIlhenny and his wife Mary Eliza first settled Avery Island, Louisiana, in 1859, he realized that the foundation of basically the entire island was salt. During the Civil War salt was in seriously short supply, so he made a mint harvesting it and selling it to the Confederates. His entire operation was ransacked by the Union army, but when McIlhenny inspected his land after the war was over, he noticed something growing from the ground: a tabasco pepper. All the salt used in Tabasco is still sourced from the Avery Island salt mine, one of the country’s largest.
2. McIlhenny’s Son Left the Company for a Historic Cause
Edmund McIlhenny willed the company to his son John upon his death in 1890, and over the next nine years John expanded and modernized the business. He left the company to his brother Edward in 1899, however, when he decided to run off and join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The company is still family-owned to this day.
3. The Peppers Grown on Avery Island Aren’t Made Into Sauce Anymore
For years, all the peppers needed to produce the sauce were grown on Avery Island, but there’s no way that supply can keep up with production today. Today the peppers that grow on Avery Island are used almost exclusively to provide seeds to the company’s many growing operations around the world, while a small portion of those peppers are used to make Tabasco Family Reserve Pepper Sauce.
4. It’s Aged in Barrels Formerly Used by Whiskey Distilleries
All peppers are hand-picked to ensure ripeness, then they’re mashed, mixed with salt, and aged for up to three years in recycled oak barrels that were previously used to produce whiskey, including Jack Daniels. Before use, the barrel is “de-charred” and cleaned to remove any residual whiskey.
5. It was Hit Hard by Hurricane Rita
When Hurricane Rita tore through the area in 2005, Avery Island was hit hard. As a result, the owners built a 17 foot high levee around part of the factory and installed backup generators.