Home to The World’s Most Famous Hot Sauce, You Must Visit the Island of Salt and Peppers
The pungent smell of peppers and the tangy bite of vinegar hang in the humid air and greet visitors driving up the gravel road. Centuries-old oak trees, laden with moss, shade the drive and walkways weaving throughout the island.
Since the Civil War, the McIlhenny family have called Avery Island, Louisiana home and, for five generations, continue to oversee the production and quality of their globally-recognized sauce, TABASCO©.
Not much has changed since the first bottle of TABASCO© was produced and today visitors can experience first hand, from seed to sauce, the steps it takes to bring it to the world.
The Birth of TABASCO©
In 1868, years after the Civil War ruined his career as a successful New Orleans banker, Edmund McIlhenny concocted a fiery pepper sauce to excite the bland post-war diet that plagued the south.
Using old and discarded cologne bottles, he distributed his sauce among family and friends as gifts. Today’s bottle is a nostalgic nod to TABASCO’s earliest bottling practices.
Word quickly spread of McIlhenny’s coveted condiment and within 6 years TABASCO exports spread to England and France.
By 1888 it found its way into Himalayan basecamps and a year later in the uppermost regions of the Nile.
By 1906 it shipped as far as West Africa and China. In under 40 years, this modest relish became a global pop culture icon.
Today, it is labeled in 22 different languages and can be found in 180 different countries.
Making The World’s Most Famous Hot Sauce
As demand grew, the McIlhenny’s expanded their pepper fields far beyond Avery Island to small family farms and co-ops in South American, Central America, and Africa.
Besides gathering tabasco peppers from all over the world, the process from pepper to bottle is rather simple. Once the peppers turn from green to a vibrant red, they are harvested, crushed, and mashed, then mixed with salt mined right there on Avery Island.
This mash then makes its way into oak barrels and covered with a thick layer of salt that forms a crust over the top. You can see rows upon rows of salted barrels when you visit the mash warehouse.
The mash ages in the barrels for about 3 years. After the aging process, the barrels are opened and a member of the McIlhenny family approves the mash for blending.
Finally, its blended with distilled vinegar in 1,800-gallon vats and intermittently stirred for 3-4 weeks. The completed mixture is strained before bottling and shipping occur.
Touring the TABASCO© Facility on Avery Island
Completely self-guided, tours of the TABASCO Factory happen between 9 am and 4 pm. Ticket prices are $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for children 5 and up, and children 4 and under are free.
Tours begin in the museum before the numbered arrows point you onto the greenhouse, warehouse, and factory, and more. But don’t stop there.
The Country Store is the perfect place to taste test all the different varieties, such as the sweet and smoky Raspberry Chipotle Pepper Sauce and the thicker Buffalo Style Hot Sauce. You can even try TABASCO© ice cream.
Next door to The Country Store, the 1868 Restaurant dishes out some authentic Louisiana favorites, seasoned with an array of TABASCO© products of course.
Why Avery Island is the Perfect Home for TABASCO©
While much of the world may know Avery Island as the home of TABASCO©, most have scant knowledge about the island itself. The 2,200-acre island is actually a dome of salt protruding up amid the surrounding marshland.
The salt deposits that make up Avery Island, left behind from ancient oceans, are thought to be as deep as Mount Everest is high!
Rising 160 feet above sea level, in an otherwise low-lying flat inland marsh, this geological anomaly remains an alluring sanctuary enjoyed by all.
The Jungle Gardens, created by Edward McIlhenny, ensure that generations to come can study and admire both Louisiana’s natural beauty as well as his personal exotic collection.
The Jungle Gardens claim over 600 varieties of camellias, thousands of azalea plants in every color imaginable, and hundreds of species of birds and waterfowl.
There is even an authentic 900-year-old Buddha peering out over a reflection pond.
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Getting to Avery Island
For a taste of one of the world’s most iconic flavors, exit Interstate 10 in Lafayette. Then follow the signs south on Hwy 329 to Avery Island.