The Island Where Tabasco Peppers Grow
OK, so there aren’t bottles growing off of bushes, and you won’t find a magical red waterfall of spicy sauce flowing from the rocks. But if you love Tabasco and all things spicy, Avery Island is your Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Named after a family that settled there in the 1830s, Avery Island is a little piece of land in Louisiana that's home to something big: A salt dome where virtually every drop of Tabasco sauce is produced. The legend goes something like this: Back in the 1860s, Edmund McIlhenny, who married into the Avery family, was given some Capsicum frutescens peppers to try growing at his in-laws’ plantation on Avery Island. They flourished, and McIlhenny quickly discovered that mashing them with some white vinegar and the island’s natural salt made for a pretty tasty sauce that greatly improved the bland food of the day. It turned out that others thought the spicy concoction was pretty good, too.
Although Tabasco sauce is produced on Avery Island, not all of the peppers are actually grown there. Sometime in the 1960s, demand outgrew the island's capacity to produce peppers—the land mass, after all, is only about 2,200 acres and 3 miles across at its widest point. In response, the company started shipping their seeds to various locations in Latin America, where they now own farms. They do grow some Tabasco-destined peppers on their property, though partially for research purposes. For example, they tested a machine that would automate the pepper-picking process (say that three times fast), but found that it was unable to detect the precise shade of red ripeness the peppers should be when harvested. As a result, Tabasco peppers are still hand-picked by workers who use a colored stick to match the right shade.
In addition to the pepper farm, the island is also home to about half of the company's 200 employees. Many of them are descendants of employees who worked there more than 100 years ago. There's also a bird colony, rare plants, and a shrine housing a giant, 900-year-old Buddha statue, which was a gift to McIlhenny in 1936. The little island that produces a sauce with a big kick is worth a visit—even if you're not a fan of all things spicy.