Many of us have tried Tabasco peppers, however, it may not be in its natural form. No, the way most of us try these chilies is through a special variety of hot sauce, the Tabasco sauce.
Whether it’s on deep-fried fish, giving a bit of an extra kick to your Bloody Mary, or just sprinkled all over your quesadilla, everyone loves this hot sauce and for good reason.
There are very few varieties of chili that can be turned into a viable sauce without a lot of other liquids involved, but thanks to the Tabasco’s naturally juicy structure it is easily made into a perfect chili sauce with only a little peppered vinegar added.
Though, apart from information about the famous sauce, not many people can tell you much about the Tabasco peppers themselves. Therefore, it begs the question: what do we know about the Tabasco pepper?
Where do they come from? What do they look like? And how are they grown? Today, we seek to answer these questions for you and tell everything that we can about the Tabasco pepper.
Tabasco peppers are from a wild family of chili peppers called ‘Capsicum Frutescens’, that still grow wild all across Central and South America.
This pepper has spread quickly over these two geographic areas, due to the high heat and high rainfall that occurs there, and can be commonly seen almost everywhere up to the northern states of Mexico.
The pepper is even named after a prominent Mexican state in the south of the country. However, the pepper was never considered on par with other chilies in terms of culinary value.
Peppers such as the Jalapeño or, its relatives from the Capsicum Sinense family, the Habanero have always been at the forefront of a lot of our cooking and inspired many dishes themselves.
It wasn’t until 1868 when Edmund McIlhenny first produced the first bottle of Tabasco sauce in Louisiana that the Tabasco pepper’s popularity exploded.
There is some dispute whether McIlhenny was the first to make the sauce or whether it was his friend Maunsel White, either way the result was explosive.
Within a few years the sauce was selling like hot cakes and McIlhenny went from using unused cologne bottles obtained from a New Orleans glass supplier to bottle his product to a whole factory that produced the sauce on demand. Each successive generation sought to modernize and industrialize the business.
Even today the business remains in the family, being passed down through the generations, and is one of the few companies in America to obtain a royal warrant of appointment. This certifies that the McIlhenny company is an official supplier to the royal household of England.
The success of the sauce has made the Tabasco pepper a highly cultivated and sought after chili, not just in the Americas but all over the world – with the sauce being available in more than 195 countries – turning the Tabasco pepper from a chili cast aside to a capsicum that creates capital and has proven that it is a chili worth having.
The Tabasco pepper starts out green, before changing to orange then a deep, bright red. The chili is small, often being around 2 inches long, and tapers at one end with the top being wider than the base.
The peppers are oval and, although they are fairly thin and pointed, around the circumference they are circular.
Thanks to the variety of colors that a Tabasco pepper displays while ripening, they look wonderful on the plant itself. The plant has deep green leaves and a dark stem, which contrast perfectly with the fruit throughout its growing cycle.
Flavor And Preparation
True to the look of the sauce, Tabasco plants are harvested and used when they’re red.
This is when they are the most ripe, and it is the easiest time to make them into sauce. When they are a deep red, their flavor is quite sweet and fruity, however this is offset by the heat that comes off of them.
According to the Scoville heat index, Tabasco peppers range from being 30,000 Scoville heat units at a minimum to 50,000 Scoville heat units at the maximum.
This is far hotter than a lot of chilies out there – like the Jalapeño at 8000 Scoville heat units –, but still doesn’t have the fire of the hottest, meaning the Tabasco peppers act as entryway to the hotter peppers for those uninitiated to dip their toes in.
This kind of heat is perfect for hot sauces, as it gives you that drop of spice we all love without burning the roof off your mouth.
Tabasco peppers don’t require much preparation, however they have quite a unique quality amongst chilies in that they are very juicy. This juice is essential to making a perfect chili sauce, however, thanks to the chili’s high heat, if the juice touches your skin, it can be a little painful.
As such, it is best to cut these chilies while wearing gloves and make sure you do not rub your eyes or other areas that are sensitive, even if you wore gloves when preparing them, before thoroughly washing your hands.
You can use the Tabasco pepper like you would any other pepper, but the best way is to simmer them in vinegar with a fair amount of salt after chopping the chilies.
Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, before straining the liquid from the solids, and voilà, you have your very own Tabasco sauce.
Tabasco plants can reach heights of 5 feet or 60 inches tall, however the plants are normally a bit smaller than this, however this is not a problem as the plants themselves produce a lot of fruit.
It takes roughly 80 days after germination for the peppers to fully mature, and at that point they can be harvested and used for whatever purposes you need.
Being a pepper from Mexico, these plants are used to warmer climates and grow best in temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees centigrade during the day and a minimum of 15 degrees centigrade at night.
The plants also require a constant supply of water, but the area that they are planted must also drain well and not let water sit, as well as having plenty of light and heat.
These conditions can be difficult to obtain in some areas, as they require a lot of consistency in terms of heat and water. Central America has the right conditions to encourage plant growth, but North America can be a bit more temperamental and much less consistent when it comes to temperature and rainfall.
Also, it is worth noting that Tabasco plants have a very low tolerance to frost, so keep that in mind if you plan to buy some of these plants for your home.
Tabasco plants have occupied an interesting niche of the pepper world. They are not a universal pepper that can go on most foods, like a Jalapeño, nor are they a pepper that can be made into an intriguing spice blend, like the Paprika.
Yet, Tabasco chilies have cornered the hot sauce market, being the pepper we think of when we ask for a bottle of sauce, and they are perfectly suited for the job, being nicely spicy, very juicy, and easy to utilize in the kitchen.
There is no better way to enjoy them than grabbing a bottle of Tabasco sauce and making it the condiment of choice whenever you sit down to eat.