AVERY ISLAND, La. -- Tabasco ice cream, Tabasco mayonnaise, Tabasco Spam; visitors to Avery Island can find and learn about any and all things related to Tabasco . That's because Avery Island is home to the popular hot sauce.
Avery Island is in southern Louisiana, about halfway between New Orleans and Lake Charles. Every bottle of Tabasco in the world is made there, about 720,000 bottles a day.
The McIlhenny Company, founded in 1868 on Avery Island, is the company responsible for all things Tabasco. Edmund McIlhenny started the company.
"The diet of the Reconstruction South was bland and monotonous, especially by Louisiana standards," notes Tabasco.com , which details the history of the company. "So Edmund McIlhenny decided to create a pepper sauce to give the food some spice and flavor — some excitement. Selecting and crushing the reddest peppers from his plants, he mixed them with Avery Island salt and aged this 'mash' for 30 days in crockery jars and barrels. McIlhenny then blended the mash with French white wine vinegar and aged the mixture for at least another 30 days. After straining it, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles with sprinkler fitments, which he then corked and sealed in green wax."
"'That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes' proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny, previously a banker, decided to embark on a new business venture by marketing his pepper sauce. He grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. The next year, he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at $1 apiece wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. He labeled it 'Tabasco,' a word of Mexican Indian origin believed to mean 'place where the soil is humid' or 'place of the coral or oyster shell.' McIlhenny secured a patent in 1870, and Tabasco Sauce began its journey to set the culinary world on fire. Sales grew, and by the late 1870s he sold his sauce throughout the U.S. and even in England."
"We have a letter from an English soldier serving in India in 1888 who was writing to his mother back home in England," executive vice president Tony Simmons said. "(The letter said) he had just tried a product that had been made in the United States called Tabasco sauce and he thought it tasted wonderful and if she could find it in the U.K., would she please buy him some and ship it to him in India, and by the way, she may want to buy some for herself."
Today, the McIlhenny Company and production of Tabasco is still family-owned and operated. Members of the McIlhenny family are intimately involved in the entire process, from growing to picking to producing. Simmons is part of the fifth generation of the McIlhenny family involved in the business. His grandmother was a McIlhenny.
From 1868 to 1994, the company only produced the red Tabasco sauce. Over the last 17 years, the company has added green jalapeño, garlic pepper, habanero, sweet and spicy, chipotle and buffalo style sauces.
"We are constantly amazed at what people will put Tabasco on," Simmons said. "Per capita, Guam is the largest user of Tabasco sauce in the world, and Hormel actually came to us and asked if they could make a Tabasco Spam because Guam is also the largest user of Spam in the world."
Tourists and locals alike can visit Avery Island, learn about the company's history, watch a movie about the growing process, walk through an active bottling facility and visit the Tabasco Country Store.
When Visitors finish their Tabasco shopping, they can venture to the Jungle Gardens, too. The 250-acre Jungle Gardens are the creation of Ned McIllhenny. The son of the Tabasco founder created the sanctuary in 1895 to help protect the then-endangered snowy egret. The centerpiece of the Jungle Gardens is Bird City, where thousands of snowy egrets nest. Visitors may spot alligators, other wildlife and plenty of trees and plants on a visit to the Jungle Gardens, too.