This 1988 TODAY show feature tells the story of Tabasco "hot" sauce -- a mixture of Tabasco peppers, salt and vinegar -- made by the McIlhenny family in Louisiana for more than a century.
The History of Tabasco Sauce
JANE PAULEY, anchor:
About 150 miles west of here is a community called Avery Island. It’s the manufacturing home of a product widely used by people who like to cook and people who like to eat. You’ll find it on the tables of Randol’s restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana. It’s in the kitchen of the Acapulco restaurant in Burbank, California. And it’s in the bloody marys served at Hurley’s bar in New York City. It is Tabasco pepper sauce: the condiment that seems to go with just about anything. Its roots are found in the fields of Avery Island, Louisiana, a special community that includes one of the world’s largest salt mines. As well as an important bird sanctuary, credited with preserving the graceful snowy egret. Tabasco has been produced here by the same family, the McIlhenny’s, for over 100 years.
PAUL MCILHENNY (Tabasco Pepper Sauce): E. McIlhenny, Edmond McIlhenny, who was my great grandfather, and he made a sauce which was a pepper sauce and it was complimented to him by friends and family so he was encouraged to sell it, even though he just made it for his own use and that of his friends. So in 1868 he sent 300 bottles to New York to a wholesale grocery and the most readily available bottles were cologne bottles, ladies cologne bottles that had sprinkler fitments. Tabasco being concentrated you don’t pour it on your food. You want to sprinkle it on. The color, the flavor and the heat all derive from the pepper. And the pepper has to be absolutely ripe before it’s picked for the famous Tabasco red cause we don’t add food coloring to our product. It comes right from the pepper.
DAVE LANDRY (Tabasco Pepper Sauce): The peppers are brought in from the field, ground up in its own juices, salt is added and stored in wooden kegs for three years. After three years of aging, the barrels are opened.
MCILHENNY: That’s pretty too. Good color.
LANDRY: In each barrel that we inspect, we’re looking for the proper color, the proper moisture, the right consistency, and probably the most important in many respects, the aroma.
MCILHENNY: No, that’s too dry and too brown.
LANDRY: We transfer the mash into these two thousand gallon vats and add vinegar and then we mix the contents in there for four weeks. Pepper, vinegar and salt: these are the only ingredients used in making Tabasco.
MCILHENNY: Today we’re producing over two hundred thousand bottles a day. The most popular size is the ubiquitous little two-ounce bottle. It’s all over the world. It’s small. It’s compact. Because Tabasco is a concentrated condiment, it holds enough to season a number of meals. The little one-eighth of an ounce miniature sample bottle has just been amazing in its popularity. We sell it and we give it away up into the millions now. It’s hand labeled, hand filled, hand capped. It’s a pain in the neck and yet it’s just been very successful.
PAULEY: There are plenty of other sauce brands on the market, but Tabasco is a trademarked name helping to make it the big seller. Diners like these at Bob Chin’s Crab House in Wheeling, Illinois ask for it by name. It’s popular with fish and other dishes.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: I put it sometimes on vegetables just to spice them up a little bit.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I use it in dips. I use it in a lot of different meats and things in marinades.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: I like it with chili.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: I put it on McDonald’s quarter pounders.
MCILHENNY: It’s concentrated. A little bit does go a long way. You have to learn how to use it. You use one drop, one dot and we hope you graduate to two or three. Then a dash. Then a splash. Soon you’ll be swimming in it.
PAULEY: In which case you’ll want to buy your Tabasco by the gallon!
Mike and Patty Hultquist like their food scary hot with names to match. They gravitate toward Reaper, Scorpion and Ghost. When it comes to these superhot peppers, the hotter the better.