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Louisiana Hot Sauce Guide
By Eric Vinje, Cosmic Chile
Hot is hot, right?
Not if you're a lover or a maker of hot sauces. Just as there are different kinds of wine or barbecue, there are different kinds of hot sauces.
Louisiana lays claim to Tabasco and, in particular, McIlhenny Company's TABASCOTM Pepper Sauce.
A sauce made in the Louisiana tradition generally uses three key ingredients: hot peppers, vinegar and salt.
According to Hormel Foods, Louisiana hot sauce is defined as "a hot sauce made with red hot peppers, vinegar, salt and special spices." Of course, there are variations. Many of Louisiana's hot sauces are made with cayenne peppers, but McIlhenny has come out with different hot sauces made from different chilies including habanero and chipolte (smoked jalapeno peppers).
One of the first growers of Tabasco chilies - so named for the region in Mexico where they reportedly came from - in the United States was Colonel Maunsel White, a prominent banker and Louisiana legislator. He grew the hot peppers on his Deer Range Plantation just before and during the Civil War.
Folklore has it that the Colonel made the first Louisiana hot sauce, and soon gave the recipe and some chilies to his friend, Edmund McIlhenny. The official McIlhenny TABASCOTM web site disputes this story and says there is no evidence that the two even knew each other. Another version of the birth of TABASCOTM has a soldier returning from United States Mexican War giving McIlhenny a gift of dried Mexican peppers. Whatever his source for Tabasco chilies, McIlhenny started selling his hot sauce about four years after White; again, according to the official TABASCOTM web site.
No matter what the source of his peppers, McIlhenny, recognizing a good thing, planted the seeds of the Tabasco peppers on his Avery Island plantation, located about seven miles south of New Iberia, LA.
Unfortunately for hot sauce lovers, the Civil War interrupted things for a number of years, particularly when the Union troops captured New Orleans and the McIlhenny family fled to San Antonio in 1863.
Upon their return to Avery Island after the war, the McIlhenny Family found its sugar cane crop decimated. But even the Union troops couldn't kill off all the chilies. The family found a few pepper plants that survived - enough to make some hot sauce.
Edmund McIlhenny first bottled his hot sauce by recycling old cologne bottles. People loved it and McIlhenny had a hot sauce hit on his hands. Based on his success, McIlhenny applied and received a patent for his TABASCOTM Brand Pepper Sauce in 1870.
Louisiana-style hot sauces proved so popular that TABASCOTM Brand Pepper Sauce launched a host of imitators. For example, a former McIlhenny employee named B. F. Trappey began growing Tabasco chilies and selling his own brand of hot sauce which carried the name "Tabasco." The McIlhenny family fought the imitator in court and received the trademark for TABASCOTM in 1906.
Other competitors which poured into the market over the years included: Red Hot Creole Peppersauce (1916), Crystal Hot Sauce (1923) and Original Louisiana Hot Sauce (1928), according to "The Hot Sauce Bible." All of these hot sauces originated in Louisiana. Crystal Hot Sauce, the Original Louisiana Hot Sauce and the aforementioned Trappey's Hot Sauce are still available today. In total there are more than 35 manufacturers in Louisiana, which produce about a hundred different brands of hot sauce, according to "The Hot Sauce Bible."
Among the newer arrivals are Frank's Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce, which came out in the 1980s and Hotter'n Hell, developed by Arthur "Popie" Devillier, a native of Louisiana, and commercialized in the early 1990s.
Although Devillier hailed from Louisiana, his hot sauce differed from the original TABASCOTM. It not only included hot peppers, but a mixture of spices, including garlic, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, all of which was slow cooked and could double as a marinade. Hotter'n Hell was passed down in the family until 1992 when Popie Devillier's great grandson, Kent Cashio began selling it commercially as "Popie's Hotter'n Hell Sauce." Poor Kent Cashio became terminally ill and sold the hot sauce. Cafe Louisiane's Hotter'n Hell Sauce is now made in Baton Rouge, carries the slogan of "a true taste of Louisiana" and is sold worldwide.
There are as many ways to use Louisiana hot sauce as there are recipes for it. As a condiment it can be added to meat, seafood, eggs, soups, and gumbos. One of McIlhenny's TABASCOTM Sauce's better known uses is as an ingredient in the Blood Mary cocktail.
One homemade recipe for Louisiana Hot Pepper Sauce, attributed to U. Taylor and published in "The New Orleans Times Picayune" in 1995 includes:
• 3 cups distilled white vinegar
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 pounds cayenne or jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped.
The recipe calls for simmering the vinegar, salt and peppers for five to 10 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender. Then place in small, sterilized canning jars and let age in a cool, dark place for about three months. Strain and serve.
Some of the trivia surrounding McIlhenny's TABASCOTM sauce includes:
• During the Vietnam War, the company sent a recipe book to soldiers which advised them to spice up their C-rations with TABASCO sauce.
• Reportedly archaeologists digging at the site of a black-owned saloon in the Old West mining town of Virginia City, Nev. (near Reno) recently uncovered a 130-year-old bottle of TABASCO brand hot sauce.
• The U.S. Territory of Guam is the world's largest per capita consumer of TABASCO sauce.
Source: McIlhenny's TABASCO's Web Site at TABASCO.com
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