Tabasco Sauce was born in 1868 on Avery Island, a salt dome island near the coast of Louisiana. McIlhenny family lore says that the seeds for the spicy peppers Edmund McIlhenny used to make his pepper sauce were acquired from a fellow traveler he had met on a business trip to New Orleans a few years before. The stranger told him the peppers were from the Tabasco region of Mexico. Over the years, that name attached itself to both the peppers and the sauce Edmund made from them.
Avery Island’s hot, humid climate proved to be the perfect environment for growing the spicy peppers. Soon Edmund began experimenting with making pepper sauce until he hit on a process that worked. He decided to market the pepper sauce he had been making for his friends and family.
His recipe was deceptively simple-freshly picked Tabasco peppers were mashed the same day they were picked, mixed with a little bit of salt, sealed in white oak barrels, and allowed to ferment for three to four weeks. Then, they were aged in the barrels for up to three years. Finally, the aged pepper mash was strained; and the pepper juice was mixed with vinegar. In the early days, Edmund used discarded cologne bottles for his sauce.
After more than 100 years, the Tabasco peppers are still picked by hand. But because of the worldwide demand for Tabasco sauce, the company can no longer grow enough Tabasco peppers on Avery Island. Ninety-eight percent of the peppers used to make Tabasco Pepper Sauce are grown elsewhere-in Central America, South America, and South Africa. They are still mashed and packed with salt the same day they are picked. Then the pepper mash is shipped in large, disposable bags to Avery Island. (A member of the McIlhenny family checks each batch of pepper mash for quality.) During the entire production process, the peppers are never cooked. Tabasco Pepper Sauce contains only three simple ingredients: red Tabasco peppers, all-natural vinegar, and salt.
Edmund McIlhenny produced a total of 350,000 bottles of his pepper sauce during his lifetime. Today, the company manufactures more pepper sauce than that in a single day.