Made in Acadiana: Tabasco Sauce - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Made in Acadiana: Tabasco Sauce

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Avery Island is home to a brand that's recognized around the world--Tabasco sauce. Every bottle gets its start in Acadiana, first on a large farm where pepper plants are grown.

"We're not using this pepper here for Tabasco sauce so much as we're using it for the seed, that we're gonna give to a group of farmers that we work with around the world," said John Simmons, Manager of Agriculture for the McIlhenny family.

Simmons is a sixth-generation member of the McIlhenny family. His great-great-great grandfather, Edmund McIlhenny, started making Tabasco sauce commercially in 1868, but may not have known he was on to something big.

"He made no mention of Tabasco sauce," said Simmons. "It is his enduring legacy today, it is the thing his family has done a job to carry on and yet he didn't even mention it when he told the story of his life to his daughters." 

Family, still plays an important role in the McIlhenny Company. Every August, Simmons and other members of the family come out to the fields to begin the harvest, and select the best plants for seeds. 

"Only the best makes the cut," said Simmons, who marks plants to be picked with twine. "What we're looking for is a strong, multi-layered bush, we want to see a variety of color, red toward the bottom, coming up to a nice layer of green. When possible we want to see some flowering growth at the top." 

Once picked, the seeds are sent to growers in Central and South America, where the peppers are grown, then mashed. 

"It comes back here, it's barreled here, it sits in the building or another aging building for 3 years and then we make Tabasco sauce."

After three years in oak barrels, the aged pepper mash is then sent to mixing tanks. 

"We've taken aged pepper mash, we've mixed it with vinegar and it's going to stir in the tank for about 2-4 weeks," said Simmons.

Once mixed, seeds and skins are strained from the sauce, which is ready to be bottled. 

"Only three ingredients: red tabasco peppers, a little bit of salt, and then it's finished with vinegar, we stir it, and that's Tabasco sauce." 

The Tabasco factory at Avery Island can produce as many as 700,000 bottles of Tabasco sauce every day. Tabasco is sold in 185 countries, and bottled in 22 languages. Today, the McIlhenny Company employs more than 200 people on Avery Island. 

"I think for all of south Louisiana it's a brand that folks can be proud of because it's from right here, it's got its history here."

From seed to bottle, it's about a five-year process to the finish product.

"Food unites us and it brings us together, so when you have the opportunity to get around a plate of food and enhance it, which is what we think Tabasco sauce does, then it makes sense that it would've spread throughout the globe."

Tabasco Sauce: Made in Acadiana. 

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