Today I arrived at the beach in Mexico for the month of January---the holiday charity event in our home for nearly 1,000 persons has necessitated a v-e-r-y long siesta. Tabasco was on our dinner table tonight, along with a variety of house-made salsas. While many may think that Tabasco is a Mexican condiment, the truth is that it was created and has always been made in the good ol’ USA. Would you believe that a few months ago I even saw it for sale at food store a Rome? Tabasco, indeed, has become a universal culinary phenomenon and is currently exported to over 160 countries.
Tabasco was actually created in Louisiana. Referred to as “Cajun ketchup,” it is still being made in Louisiana by the same family that began selling it in cologne bottles shortly after the Civil War. There are 3 ingredients used in the concoction: peppers, vinegar and salt. While the recipe is no secret, the process is closely guarded and there are major quality checks along the way to guarantee that every bottle is consistent.
While these special peppers (the seeds of which originally came from the district of Tabasco, Mexico) were until recently all grown on Avery Island in the New Orleans area delta, today the peppers are cultivated all over the world from seeds that are sent abroad. (These seeds are kept in a vault at the corporate office and are not available for sale). The hand-picked mature peppers are then returned back to the US where they are combined with the other two ingredients. This “mash” is then aged for three years in oak barrels that were formerly used to age bourbon. The company’s president, a descendant of the original family that invented Tabasco, tastes the mash daily, similarly to a winemaker watching his wine evolve during barrel aging.
Trademarked in 1906, the Tabasco factory processes 10 million pounds of peppers a year. The hot sauce industry as a whole, however, is a $1 billion dollar industry. Tabasco, one of the most recognized brands, is probably the most famous---it has even accompanied astronauts into space. My chile relleno tonight was accompanied a freshly-made bowl tomato salsa…but there was a bottle of Tabasco on the table.