Tabasco Sauce Is a Big Deal

I didn’t know this until we spent a day at the McIlhenny farm and factory and bottling plant, all on an “island” in southern Louisiana.

It’s called an island because the land is a big circle and much higher than surrounding flat Louisiana; it’s, interestingly, a naturally occurring salt mound that was shoved upwards during geological movement long, long ago.

The geology is worth looking up, if you’re into that sort of thing, as well as the evidence of prehistoric life that visited the salt dome, and the culture that was drawn to the salt before the Europeans took over. What you’re getting from me though is my impressions from when we visited the highly promotional Tabasco museum and factory (sorry).

Tabasco Museum

Compared to the historic and bar-focused Sazerac House in Nola, this product museum seems overly pushy with the product. You got display after display of the amazing McIlhenny family (they do seem accomplished) who invented hot sauce in 1886 (the name of the restaurant on the farm is 1886 with an exclamation mark in the shape of an inverted Tabasco bottle). Plus info on the close relationship Tabasco has with the U.S. military (it’s been in rations forever) and with international markets.

And everything in the world has been made in the likeness of the little old perfume bottle that Tabasco comes in, including a guitar played by a non Van Halen in Van Halen. I was actually overwhelmed with what a big deal Tabasco is to so many people. It’s definitively American.

Tabasco Production

So, this island is where the special Tabasco peppers used to be farmed (now small farmers all over the world provide them, but they’re shipped here for processing). Still, we walked among an interesting display of types of peppers, since there are something like seven flavors now made, each based on a different pepper.

These are the Tabasco, duh.

The barrels the pepper mash is aged in (with salt) are all bought used (we saw a lot of whisky barrels among them) and then cleaned and refitted with new hoops. The aging buildings smell so much like an old horse barn that it’s weird: there are no animals around. Old wet wood, I guess. You’d think they’d smell like peppers!

Jungle Gardens

One of the McIlhenny sons was big into botany, and he experimented with a ton of plants and trees on the island, including many types of bamboo. One strand is one of the largest in the U.S., and we both got goosebumps when the wind blew the tops of the trees as we walked through them.

The main “garden” was turned into a car park back when one of the brothers was in with the national campaign to encourage more driving. We drove the truck through the self-guided tour but got out as often as we could to walk on the spongy grass and read signs identifying the types of bamboo and camellias and palms.

This alligator didn’t move throughout the hours we spent exploring the gardens.

I didn’t get shots of the giant Buddha statue or the 300-year-old witness tree or the floating aviary because my knee was all out of sorts so I kept doing dumb stuff like leaving my phone in the car when we went out limping.

Suffice it to say we enjoyed being among the live oaks more than among the Tabasco sauce kitch in the gift shop, but they all seem to be bound up together, in an odd way, with the history of invention and grand grace in Louisiana.

2 thoughts to “Tabasco Sauce Is a Big Deal”

  1. Has been on our list for a while, but it’s a ways from NOLA and we can never justify taking that time away from the city. We’ve only left long enough to see a couple of plantations, do a swamp tour, and ride the paddle wheeler down to Chalmette National Historic Park. Maybe next time! Dave has a whole range of Tabasco ties, as you can imagine!

    1. Renee, you guys really have been to Nola a ton! We enjoyed this tour but only because we were already out of the city. So so many items in the gift for Dave!