McIlhenny CompanyFAMILY-OWNED& OPERATED
Sowing the Seeds
According to family tradition, TABASCO® brand Original Red Sauce was created in the mid to late 1860s by Edmund McIlhenny. A food lover and avid gardener, McIlhenny was given seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers that had come from Mexico or Central America. On Avery Island in South Louisiana, he sowed the seeds, nurtured the plants and delighted in the spicy flavor of the peppers they bore.
The Birth of a Pepper Sauce
The diet of the Reconstruction South was bland and monotonous, especially by Louisiana standards. So Edmund McIlhenny decided to create a pepper sauce to give the food some spice and flavor — some excitement. Selecting and crushing the reddest peppers from his plants, he mixed them with Avery Island salt and aged this “mash” for 30 days in crockery jars and barrels. McIlhenny then blended the mash with French white wine vinegar and aged the mixture for at least another 30 days. After straining it, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles with sprinkler fitments, which he then corked and sealed in green wax. (The sprinkler fitment was important because his pepper sauce was concentrated and best used when sprinkled, not poured.)
“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes”
“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes” proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny, previously a banker, decided to embark on a new business venture by marketing his pepper sauce. He grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. The next year, he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar apiece wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. He labeled it “Tabasco,” a word of Mexican Indian origin believed to mean “place where the soil is humid” or “place of the coral or oyster shell.” McIlhenny secured a patent in 1870, and TABASCO® Sauce began its journey to set the culinary world on fire. Sales grew, and by the late 1870s, he sold his sauce throughout the U.S. and even in England.
Still Made the Same Way
Over 140 years later, TABASCO® Sauce is made much the same way except now the aging process for the mash is longer – up to three years in white oak barrels – and the vinegar is high-quality distilled vinegar. Labeled in 22 languages and dialects, sold in over 165 countries and territories, added to soldiers’ rations and put on restaurant tables around the globe, it is the most famous, most preferred pepper sauce in the world.
Five Generations Later
TABASCO® Sauce is still made on Avery Island, Louisiana, to this day. In fact, about half of the company’s 200 employees actually live on Avery Island, with many of their parents and grandparents having worked and lived there as well. Anthony “Tony” Simmons, the current Chairman of the Board and CEO, is the seventh McIlhenny in a chain of direct descendants who have strived to preserve the legacy and traditions of the company’s creator.
History[edit source | editbeta]
Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland-born former banker who moved to Louisiana around 1840. McIlhenny initially used discarded cologne bottles to distribute his sauce to family and friends. In 1868 when he started to sell to the public he ordered thousands of new cologne bottles from a New Orleans glassworks. On his death in 1890, McIlhenny was succeeded by his eldest son, John Avery McIlhenny, who expanded and modernized the business, but resigned after a few years to join Theodore Roosevelt‘s Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment.
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. Previously, Walter had served in the U.S. Marines during World War II, fighting atGuadalcanal and two other major battles.
Edward “Ned” McIlhenny Simmons then ran the company as president and CEO for several years, and remained chairman of the board until his death in 2012. Paul McIlhenny, sixth in the line of McIlhenny men to run the business, assumed the presidency in 1998, and occupied the post of chairman until his death in early 2013. In 2012 McIlhenny cousin Tony Simmons assumed the company’s presidency and runs the company today.
In 2009, McIlhenny became one of just a few U.S. companies to receive a Royal Warrant of Appointment that distinguishes the company as a supplier to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In earning the warrant, McIlhenny joins an elite group of 850 companies around the world that have been officially designated as suppliers to the queen.
Production[edit source | editbeta]
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, 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 handpicked, and to ensure ripeness they are compared by pickers to a little red stick (le petit bâton rouge). 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). To prepare the barrel, the inside of the barrel is de-charred (top layer of wood is removed), torched and cleaned, leaving no trace of 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 mixed with vinegar, stirred occasionally for a month, and then bottled as finished sauce.
Much of the salt used in Tabasco production comes from an Avery Island salt mine, one of the largest in the U.S.
Varieties[edit source | editbeta]
Several sauces are produced under the Tabasco 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 have the three-year aging process the flagship product uses.
Spiciness[edit source | editbeta]
|Heat||Medium Hot (SR: 3,500–8,000)|
The original 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 at only 100-600 Scoville units.
Packaging[edit source | editbeta]
Tabasco brand pepper sauce is sold in more than 165 countries and territories and is packaged in 22 languages and dialects. The Tabasco bottle is still modeled after the cologne-style bottles used for the first batch of sauce in 1868. As many as 720,000 two-ounce (57 ml) bottles of Tabasco 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 Tabasco sauce.
One-eighth ounce bottles of Tabasco, bearing the presidential seal, are served on Air Force One. The US military has included Tabasco sauce in Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs) since the 1980s. The British and Canadian armies also issue small bottles of Tabasco sauce in their rations.
Uses[edit source | editbeta]
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, Slim Jim beef sticks, Heinz ketchup, A1 steak sauce, Plochman’s mustard, Cheez-It crackers, Lawry’s salt, Zapp’spotato chips and Vlasic pickles.
During the Vietnam War, Brigadier General Walter S. McIlhenny issued The Charlie Ration Cookbook. (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.”
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. 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[edit source | editbeta]
The Tabasco bottle is an original design and has remained almost unchanged up to the present. It 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.