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 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” 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.
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 180 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.
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 President 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.