It Wouldn’t Be Tabasco Sauce Without the Red Stick


oversized bottle of Tabasco hot sauce, Avery Island“An oversized bottle of Tabasco hot sauce is displayed outside of the Tabasco factory on the grounds of Avery Island, Louisiana, in 2019. The sauce has been made there for more than 150 years. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When it comes to American-made hot sauce brands, one name stands above the rest: Tabasco. The Tabasco company was founded in 1868 in the rural community of Avery Island in southern Louisiana. New Orleans banker Edmund McIlhenny, tired of the bland cuisine of the Reconstruction era, used pepper plants of the Tabasco variety (capsicum frutescens) brought from Latin America to create a spicy and delicious sauce.

McIlhenny called his creation Tabasco Pepper Sauce, patenting the name. The hot sauce quickly gained popularity in America and Europe in the 1870s thanks to the recipes the company created to use with the sauce. It is now an important part of Louisiana’s famous cuisine, added to dishes like shrimp etouffee. Relatives of the McIlhenny family still run the company.

The pepper sauce production process has remained relatively unchanged over the last 150 years. The field hands that originally worked on Avery Island used what’s known as le petit bâton rouge, or a "little red stick," to determine the Tabasco peppers’ ripeness. The pepper had to match the color of the deep red on the stick in order to be picked.

Surprisingly, despite technological advancement, the company still uses the sticks, as workers still pick peppers by hand. So far, a machine hasn’t been developed that can make that determination on ripeness, John Simmons, the great-great-great grandson of Edmund McIlhenny, told Louisiana Farm & Ranch. Versions of the red sticks are sold in Tabasco’s gift shop.

Once the right peppers have been selected, they are mashed and barrel-aged for up to three years in white oak barrels sourced from bourbon distilleries. Nowadays, most of the peppers are grown in Latin America and South Africa, but the pepper seeds all come from Avery Island. These are then shipped overseas for growing. After they are harvested, the peppers are ground, mixed with salt into a paste and shipped back to the island. Avery’s abundant salt reserves come in handy, as a thick layer of salt is placed on top of each sealed barrel. The salt settles into any small air holes that may exist in the barrel and prevents moisture from seeping in.

But don’t sample yet, as this pepper mash is a whopping 10 times hotter than Tabasco’s completed sauce. Each batch of mash is inspected by a member of the McIlhenny family to confirm that the color and aroma are just right. After the aging process, the mash is mixed with vinegar and churned for about three weeks. Then, the liquid is strained and poured into the classic red-topped glass bottles. Each of the 2-ounce (59-milliliter) bottles can hold 720 drops of the sauce and the Tabasco factory can produce up to 700,000 bottles per day.

The flagship variety of the sauce varies in heat, usually between 2,500 and 5,000 Scoville units, the measure of spice level. The brand boasts eight total varieties, including habanero, chipotle and sriracha, some of which may be hotter.

So, the next time you add Tabasco to your food, remember the process that goes into it, from one little red stick to a red-topped container.

Now That’s Spicy

Tabasco has also been a part of military rations around the globe and served to members of the British royal family and NASA astronauts. You can also visit Avery Island and take the factory tour, visit the gift shop and dine at the 1868 restaurant, where almost everything on the menu has some of the famous sauce in it.

Share this article

Recent posts

Teachers’ Top Needs for 2019

Teachers’ Top Needs for 2019Great classrooms don’t happen by accident. Teachers across the country work hard to build vibrant, energizing learning environments for their students, which often means ev

Top Tips to Transition Back to Work After Baby

Top Tips to Transition Back to Work After BabyMany new parents spend hours preparing for the arrival of a new baby – reading books, seeking professional advice and consulting friends and family. Howev

Get Away Without Going Away

Get Away Without Going Away5 family staycation ideas that won’t break your budgetFamily vacations are a great way to bond and take a step back from the hectic schedules that accompany everyday life, b

5 Common Questions for Memorializing a Loved One

5 Common Questions for Memorializing a Loved OneOne of the most difficult conversations in a person’s life typically takes place near the end of that life. Planning for a funeral can put an emotional

Boat Safe

Boat SafeEnsure your boat is ready for the water with this checklist No matter how much experience you have on the water, prepping your boat – and your passengers – before leaving the dock can make fo


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent comments