Tabasco Sauce is a condiment that springs to the average person's mind when "hot sauce" is brought up in casual conversation. It was invented in 1869 by Edmund McIlhenny, who, upon moving to Avery Island, Louisiana, started farming the peppers that make up the sauce's primary ingredient and distilling them into sauce. He was granted a patent on the sauce the following year. The success of the product was immediate in New Orleans restuarants (Avery Island is about 140 miles from there), and national success quickly followed. By the end of the 1870s, it was being regularly exported to Britian and mainland Europe. Between then and now, it has become one of the most popular condiments in the world, as it is available in 105 different countries worldwide.

The pepper, officially known as the Tabasco pepper, has been cultivated on Avery Island since at least 1848. They're small, about half the size of the average jalapeño, and are of a red/orange colour on the bush. They're among the middle of the road as far as hot peppers go, as they rate about 30,000 Scoville Heat Units when raw (depending on environmental conditions during the pepper harvest), and that gets beaten down to only about 3,000 SHUs during the sauce refinement process. This is kind of pedestrian as far as SHU ratings go, as habanero peppers generally rate between 100,000 and 350,000 SHUs, and those peppers usually retain their gargantuan ratings during sauce refinement. Nevertheless, to the average consumer, the Tabasco pepper packs enough punch. (To me, the original sauce tastes more like vinegar than pepper, and I'd venture to call it too mild to be considered a hot sauce.)

The sauce has been made on Avery Island since the McIlhennys first moved there, and it's still made by Edmund McIlhenny's descendants today. The stuff comes in five varieties, although the base ingredients for all of them are Tabasco peppers, distilled vinegar, and pure cane sugar. Slight tweaks in the manufacturing process result in the variety of products.

The complete line of Tabasco sauces consists of the following products:

  • Tabasco® Pepper Sauce

The original and flagship product of the McIlhenny Company. It has a fairly even mix of cayenne pepper and vinegar flavours. Goes good on tomato-based foods, such as pizza, most pasta entrées, and nachos, although it's pretty ineffective when used as an ingredient. Rates between 2,500 and 5,000 SHUs.

  • Tabasco® Green Pepper Sauce

I don't normally like jalapeño sauces, although this one is pretty good. It's hardly spicy at all, but it is quite tasty. Leaves a slight vinegary aftertaste. Packs a mere 600 to 1,200 SHUs.

  • Tabasco® Garlic Pepper Sauce

Quite good. You can't taste the vinegar at all; mostly it tastes like roasted garlic salsa. Goes great on Italian food. 1,200 to 1,800 SHUs.

  • Tabasco® Habanero Sauce

The best of the bunch, in my opinion. Excellent for cooking, and it goes good as a condiment on anything. Officially, it's heat level 7, which is not for the meek. It leaves a not unintense burn in your mouth for about 30 minutes, and it tastes great. One of the best habanero sauces I've ever had, which is surprising since their other products are geared primarily at non-chileheads. It's a relatively new product, too, as it first appeared on grocery store shelves in June 2003, joining the extremely small number of other habanero sauces sold in grocery stores. While it pales in comparison to the fire that Dave's Insanity Sauce brings, it's much more suited to everyday use. Only 7,000 to 8,000 SHUs, but somehow they make it work.

  • Tabasco® Chipotle Pepper Sauce

I haven't tried this one yet. As of this writing it's just arriving in grocery stores, and I tend to go for spicier wares rather that chipotle-based stuff, since chipotle is derived from jalapeño peppers. The Tabasco website describes this as primarily a meat sauce, and its dark, steak sauce-like colour seems to agree with this. 1,500 to 2,500 SHUs.

Tabasco sauce comes in a multitude of containers. The most recognisable is the 2oz bottle commonly found in grocery stores, although you'll also find 8oz bottles in restaurants and gallon bottles (!) available directly from McIlhenny.

Tabasco also produces a spicy soy sauce (with Kikkoman), which is quite good, and a myriad of other, similar products, such as spicy ketchup (released in collaboration with Heinz), spicy mustard (made together with Plochman's), shaker spices and spicy seasoning salt, spicy marinades, spicy steak sauce (via A1), spicy kosher dill pickles (with Vlasic), chili (via Hormel), a wide variety of branded snack foods (such as Cheez-Its and Slim Jims), spicy popcorn, spicy pork rinds (ugh), Bloody Mary mix, even cinnamon jelly beans and pepper-flavoured lollipops, presumably for the more mischievous renegade school girls and anime characters.

The shape of the thin-necked bottle that Tabasco Sauce comes in is apparently a registered trademark, and it has been in use since the first commercial version of the product.

The box my bottle of Tabasco Habanero Sauce came in