Travel

Louisiana plans hot stuff to celebrate Tobasco's 150th anniversary

One of the world’s top travelers is not a person at all but a globetrotting condiment.

Tabasco, the hot pepper sauce made for 150 years on Louisiana’s Avery Island, is a familiar sight on tables and shelves in 187 countries and territories, from sushi bars in Tokyo to tapas bars in Brazil and Barcelona.

Bottled in 22 languages and dialects, it has flown into orbit with astronauts on space shuttles, gone to war in the ration-packs of soldiers from the United States, Britain and Canada and is an official supplier to the British royal household.

Visitors may take a Tabasco factory tour on Avery Island, 45 minutes south of Lafayette, LA. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Over the past eight decades, the iconic condiment has appeared in TV shows and movies including “Dragnet” and the James Bond thriller, “The Man With the Golden Gun”; cartoons such as “Blondie” and even in a famous 1998 Super Bowl commercial about an exploding mosquito that graphically drilled home the point that Tabasco sauce is truly hot stuff.

I learned all of this — and tasted Tabasco-tinged ice cream and soda pop — on a visit this month to Avery Island, 23 miles south of Lafayette, the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country. The island, reached via toll bridge, is actually a salt dome topped with soil perfect for growing the pepper plants used in the fiery hot sauce produced by six generations of the same family. Inventor Edmund McIlhenny, a onetime New Orleans banker, packaged it in recycled cologne bottles and began commercial sales in 1868.

On the eve of Tabasco’s 150th anniversary in 2018, visitors to Avery Island may, as I did, tour the McIlhenny Company factory, dine on spicy Cajun fare at 1868 Restaurant, shop in the Tabasco Country Store and learn about the history of the pungent sauce in the Tabasco Museum.

Still produced using McIlhenny’s  basic recipe, Tabasco Original Red Pepper Sauce is made of tabasco peppers that are ground into a mash and mixed with Avery Island’s natural rock salt, and, later, vinegar. The sauce is aged in white oak barrels for up to three years. And workers still use a red stick — “le petit baton rouge” — to determine when the peppers are ripe for picking.

Also on the island, travelers may visit Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semi-tropical garden founded in 1895 by McIlhenny’s son, Ned, to help save endangered snowy egrets. In addition to “Bird City,” it’s home to live oaks draped with Spanish moss, large collections of camellias and azaleas and wildlife, including alligators, armadillos and turtles.

Events in conjunction with Tabasco’s 150th birthday celebration include a re-staging in New Orleans of “Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera,” a lighthearted production that toured for a time in the 1890s. It will be performed by the New Orleans Opera Association with guest conductor Paul Mauffray, who has doggedly resurrected the once-lost work. Performances are scheduled Jan. 25-28 at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in the French Quarter, coinciding with New Orleans’ own year-long Tricentennial celebration in 2018. Opera tickets are available at neworleansopera.org/tabasco . For details on other New Orleans’ Tricentennial events, check http://2018nola.com/.

Find Avery Island travel information at www.tabasco.com.

@Tabasco #FlavorYourWorld #lafayettetravel @LafayetteTravel #onetimeinNOLA @VisitNewOrleans

 

 

 

Big jugs of Tabasco are sold in the store at the company headquarters on Avery Island in Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Tabasco, the hot pepper sauce known worldwide, is hot stuff. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

The Avery Island production plant produces several hundred thousand bottles of Tabasco sauce each day. (photo credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 48 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide," and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.