We’re not here to start any regional wars, but Tabasco is the original hot sauce of the South. This pepper sauce has a legacy that’s older than all of the beloved hot sauces in the South (go ahead, fact check us!), and maybe that’s it. The secret lies in the sauce, literally.
First bottled in 1868 by Mr. Edmund McIlhenny, it was sent just two hours away to neighboring New Orleans, and suddenly Cajun cooks had found the condiment to go with all the good stuff: red beans and rice, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and more. Finally Southern households that didn’t yet know how to season and spice with such abandon had something to bring a bland dish to life. Before long it was referred to as “that famous sauce Mr. McIlhenny makes.”
Nowadays it's hard to find a pot of greens that doesn’t have a bottle of Tabasco within arm’s reach. Just a few droplets give a whole lot of heat, which is something any Southerner can get on board with.
Here are 11 things you might not know about Tabasco, the ultimate heirloom pepper sauce.
1. The Tabasco company has been based on Avery Island in Louisiana (which is not actually an island) for over 150 years.
The family-owned McIlhenny Company is going on five generations strong. Avery Island—only about two hours from New Orleans—is where all the red pepper seeds are still grown, the hot sauce is barrel-aged, and the salt is sourced for the recipe. But Avery Island isn’t actually an island at all; it’s a salt mine, which is a dome of land that sits on top of a bed of rock salt.
You can visit the grounds, tour the factory, and even grab a meal at the on-site restaurant that features spicy Cajun and classic Southern dishes, all seasoned with Tabasco. (There’s even a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.)
Avery Island is also home to the 170-acre semitropical botanical garden and bird sanctuary known as Jungle Gardens.
2. It only contains three ingredients.
The recipe used to make this famed sauce has largely stayed unchanged since 1868: distilled vinegar, red pepper, and salt. The salt is mined on Avery Island itself, and all of the pepper seeds are still grown on the island and shipped to the various production facilities around the country. That signature Tabasco red color? All natural, darling.
3. Each bottle contains 720 drops of hot sauce.
Just in case you were wondering. That’s a whole lot of bang for your buck, hm? Back in the 1800s, “that famous sauce Mr. McIlhenny makes" was beloved for the pungent, concentrated flavor that was capable of livening up even the bland diets found in much of the Reconstruction South at the time.
A little goes a long way, and that was the whole point. The first batch of 628 bottles were sold at a dollar apiece, which—when taking inflation into account—would be about $17 today.
4. It was originally packaged in cologne bottles.
For a long time, there was a rumor that the first batches of Tabasco were bottled in used or discarded cologne bottles. Since then, the company has made it clear that the cologne bottles commissioned by founder Edmund McIlhenny were brand spankin’ new. The bottles were then fitted with sprinkler caps (after people were found to be accidentally pouring too much onto their food!), corked, and sealed with green wax.
5. The Queen of England gave it royally high marks.
Who knew Queen Elizabeth liked her crumpets with a little kick? Back in 2009, Tabasco received a Royal Warrant from the Queen of England after it was determined that the American hot sauce was used regularly enough within the walls of Buckingham Palace to deserve the honor.
6. Astronauts and the U.S. Army are big fans, too.
It was sent up with astronauts in the 1970s to give boring, freeze-dried astronaut food spice and flavor, and it has been included in the U.S. Army’s MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) since the 1980s. It’s even served on Air Force One. Talk about a star-studded lineup.
7. The company keeps the best pepper seeds in a locked vault.
This famous heirloom seed was first introduced to Louisiana in the early 1800s and became the main ingredient in Tabasco Pepper Sauce. It’s been a long-told story that the McIlhenny Company picks the best seeds from the year’s crop to store for the next year. How they see it? One should never put all your eggs—er, seeds—in one basket!
After splitting the seeds into two halves, half are housed in an undisclosed location and the other half are kept in a locked vault on Avery Island.
8. It's aged in barrels like bourbon.
Tabasco has stuck around for over 150 years, so it’s safe to say that it’s proved to be worth any wait. The original recipe calls for creating a mash of red tabasco peppers and salt; that mash is then aged in barrels (like Kentucky bourbon!) for three years before being combined with distilled vinegar to become the highly concentrated sauce that goes into the bottle.
9. It can be used as an all-natural pest control.
Make yourself a diluted spray using Tabasco to keep plants free from munchy insects. Come Halloween, use it to help preserve your pumpkins from pumpkin-eating pests. We’ve even heard of folks coating their sprinklers with the pepper sauce to keep critters from chewing.
WATCH: Slow-Cooker Collard Greens with Ham Hocks
10. There is even a Tabasco-inspired opera.
Originally performed in 1894, the Burlesque Opera of Tabasco was commissioned by a Boston volunteer militia (so beloved the hot sauce was!) as a fundraising event, unbeknownst to the McIlhenny Company. Fittingly, the plot centered on an unsuccessful chef who needed to find a magic ingredient to give his food flavor and spice. Can you guess what that magic ingredient turned out to be?
In exchange for permission to use the Tabasco logo, samples of Tabasco sauce were passed out during the show. In 2018, the opera was revamped and performed in New Orleans in celebration of Tabasco’s 150th anniversary.
11. It's beloved around the world—more than McDonald's.
You read that right: Tabasco is used and distributed in more countries than McDonald’s. You’ll find it in over 195 countries and territories worldwide, while the Golden Arches are only found in a respectable 120. The famous red pepper sauce comes in labels covering 25 different languages.
Turns out, the world’s most famous sauce has more going on than just delicious flavor and an eye-watering, sinus-clearing heat level. Who knew?