Tabasco Sauce History: Who Really Invented It?

We really like hot sauce around here. If you asked us what we put hot sauce on, it would probably be easier for us to list what we DON'T put hot sauce on. Tabasco sauce just might be America's favorite hot sauce, and it also happens to be one of ours. Odds are that you've seen it, tried it and probably tried it again.

Derived from the Tabasco pepper and produced on Avery Island in Louisiana, Tabasco is -- as an NPR article memorably described, "To hot sauce what Kleenex is to tissue and Xerox is to copying." However, the history of Tabasco sauce is so hotly contested that now has a "Myths" page, designed to de-bunk the often misquoted origin story of this vinegary legend.

So, why the debate? Well, before Tabasco Sauce existed, a man by the name of Colonel Maunsel White produced and sold his own "Concentrated Essence of Tobasco Pepper" (note the weird spelling -- this is also a man who sometimes spelled his name with one L and sometimes two). Did Tabasco's inventor Edward McIlhenny steal the recipe? Was it given to him by White? The rumors have gotten so bad, that Tabasco took to their Myths page to officially dispel them. They'll cop to the fact that Maunsel White's sauce appeared on the market four years before McIlhenny's, but a stolen recipe? They wouldn't go that far.

There is no contemporary historical evidence that Edmund McIlhenny knew Maunsel White, much less that he received his peppers or pepper sauce recipe from Maunsel White. Furthermore, we know that White’s and McIlhenny’s recipes were different: White’s recipe, descriptions of which appeared in print on at least two occasions, called for boiling his concoction, whereas McIlhenny never boiled his product, but allowed it to ferment naturally.

Some other fun-facts we learned about Tabasco sauce:

  • When McIlhenny initially bottled his recipe to give to family and friends, he used discarded cologne bottles.
  • Tabasco's hottest sauce is their Habanero, which clocks in at over 7,000 Scoville Heat Units (the original is between 2,500 and 5,000).
  • Tabasco sauce is Kosher!
  • There are about 720 drops of Tabasco sauce in every 2oz. bottle.

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