I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. This week’s post is by Kurt Solomon

Tabasco – the little glass bottle, a household name, a delicious accompaniment and one helluva powerful global brand. 

I have always been a fan of hot sauce, my girlfriend freaks out at all the sauces I buy, which takes up at least 25% of fridge space. 

One of my favourites is the Tabasco product and brand.  You can literally ask for it at any restaurant around the world – It is consistent and a firm favourite of mine (and many others around the globe).  I mean, what is an oyster without Tabasco? Visually recognisable, the saying holds true – Dynamite really does come in small packages bottles. 

The power of brands and marketing has always fascinated me and I have been meaning to learn more about the history of Tabasco. I did a bit of research and found the history and heritage so interesting that I decided to share my learnings through this “I wish” blog. 

According to the website,  “ Tabasco was founded by Edmund McIlhenny in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana. It was here that he developed the recipe for TABASCO® Original Red Pepper Sauce that’s been passed down from generation to generation. To this day, the company is still family-owned and -operated on that very same island.

Avery Island- Crop field
Image Source – Cnn.com

The story behind the sauce (the brief version)

The diet of the area back in the day was so bland and monotonous that Mr McIlhenny, an avid gardener and foodie, developed a pepper sauce to add flavour and excitement to the food. He received capsicum frutescent peppers from Mexico and central America. He sowed the seeds,  nurtured the plants and many years later, they bore peppers. 

Edmund McIlhenny recipe book

Edmund grew his first commercial crop in 1868 and the next year sent 658 bottles of the sauce, at a dollar apiece,  to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans. It was friends and family, who he made the sauce for, that actually prompted him to start selling his delicious pepper sauce commercially. He called it “Tabasco” which comes from Mexican Indian origin, believed to mean “Place of the coral or oyster shell”. In 1870 McIIhenny patented his sauce and from there, the journey of Tabasco started. 

First bottle ever produced – 1868

“McIlhenny packaged the sauce in 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. Though we no longer seal our bottles with wax, the sauce inside is every bit as pungent as the one McIlhenny first bottled back in 1868.”

A few things that impressed me most about the hot sauce – they produce 700 000 bottles a day, (yes you read that right), it is “labeled in 25 languages and dialects and sold in over 194 countries”, that in itself is incredible. It is even added to soldiers rations in a few countries. 

Each bottle is barrel-aged in white oak for at least 3 years and nearly 150 years later, the ingredients have hardly changed and the company has come along way, 5 generations later and what started with one flavour, now boasts over 8 different varieties, including the recently popular Siracha flavoring.  

A few hot facts about Tabasco

  •  The precious pepper seeds have their own designated bank vault – Growing crops is inherently unpredictable, so the McIlhenny Co. is understandably wary of putting all its eggs in one basket. Once the best plants from a season’s harvest have been selected as the source of the next year’s seeds, the dried pepper seeds are stored in two locations—one of them a local bank vault—to ensure that even in case of, say, weather-related disaster, there will still be plenty of peppers to go around.
  • Even the salt is proprietary – The makers of Tabasco sauce would never stoop to ordinary store-bought salt! No, the occupants of Avery Island extract the salt needed to age the mashed-up chili peppers from mines located directly beneath the island itself—talk about vertical integration. 
  • If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, it’s good enough for anyone – Tabasco seems to be Queen Elizabeth II’s hot sauce of choice—in 2009, McIlhenny Company was given an official warrant of appointment designating it an official supplier to the British royal household. It’s also served aboard Air Force One.
  • There’s Tabasco-flavored everything – You name it, the McIlhenny Company has probably found a way to work their signature condiment into it: popcorn, steak sauce, mayo, mustard, pickles, Spam, Slim Jims, chili, chocolate, and more. At the Tabasco Country Store on Avery Island, there’s even Tabasco-flavored ice cream. Beyond that, it’s probably best to draw the line. 
One of many Tabasco products – Tabasco flavoured popcorn

If ever you are in Louisiana, The McIlhenny Company Tabasco plant is open to the public, and visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour of the factory, which has an on-site museum.

Learning about the Tabasco brand and history reminded me of a few things:

  • The power of consistency and quality
  • If you don’t try and just get started with an idea or passion, you will never know
  • The importance of family and heritage
  • Keep things simple (I mean it’s a sauce, made with peppers, vinegar and salt) 😉

I hope you enjoyed learning more about the history of Tabasco as much as I did, if so, please give this a blog a share.

Sauces (see what I did there) : History and Images – Tabasco.com , Cnn.com & Hot Facts  – Mental Floss