Tabasco Pepper Sauce is a condiment that is a spicy hot sauce made from Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt. The hot peppers are picked by hand as soon as they ripen to the perfect shade of bright red. The same day the peppers are picked, they are mashed, mixed with a small amount of Avery Island salt, placed in white oak wooden barrels, and allowed to ferment and then age for up to three years. When deemed ready by a member of the McIlhenny family, the approved, fully aged mash is then blended with all natural, high grain vinegar. Numerous stirrings and about four weeks later, the pepper skins and seeds are strained out. The finished sauce is then bottled.
Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO® pepper sauce, has been owned for over 180 years by the interrelated Marsh, Avery and McIlhenny families. Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with wild muscadine and swags of barbe espagnole, or Spanish moss, cover this geological oddity, which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.
The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago. Fossils suggest that early inhabitants shared the land with mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers and three-toed horses.
A salt production industry dates back to about 1000 AD, judging from recovered basket fragments, polished stone implements, and shards of pottery left by American Indians. Although these early dwellers remained on the Island at least as late as the 1600s, they had mysteriously disappeared by the time white settlers first discovered the briny springs at the end of the next century. After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his in-laws’ garden on Avery Island; he delighted in the peppers’ piquant flavor, which added excitement to the monotonous food of the Reconstruction-era South.
Archaeologists digging at the site of a black-owned saloon in the historic Old West mining town of Virginia City unearthed a 130-year-old bottle of Tabasco brand hot sauce. The bottle, the oldest style of Tabasco bottle known to exist, was reconstructed from 21 shards of glass excavated from beneath the site of the Boston Saloon, which was owned by an African-American from Massachusetts and catered to blacks and whites from 1864-75, was among the first eateries to introduce the now-popular spicy sauce. The Tabasco bottle is particularly intriguing because of what it implies about African-American cuisine and the development of the West,” said Kelly Dixon, the administrator of the Comstock Archaeology Center who is supervising the dig in Virginia City about 20 miles southeast of Reno.