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Tabasco put spice in American life: Here’s the surprising origin of Louisiana heat

Tabasco is one of the world’s most recognizable condiments, the name of the alone a synonym for tongue-singing spice.

The odd origin of the all-American , however, defies its familiarity or the spicy sass associated with food born on the bayou.

Tabasco was first imagined in 1868 by a Maryland banker named Edmund McIlhenhy.

He was born to parents – infamous for its bland cuisine – and created the sauce in the aftermath of both the Irish potato famine and the privation of the American South after the Civil War.

“The story goes that a passing Confederate soldier gifted McIlhenny some seeds from a Mexican tabasco pepper,” the website of EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum of Dublin, reports.

Tabasco bottles

Bottles of Tabasco brand pepper sauce move down a production line at the McIlhenny Co. facility in Avery Island, Louisiana.  (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The diet of the Reconstruction South at the time was notoriously monotonous and tasteless, prompting him to whip up a small batch of hot sauce using this newly discovered chili variation.”

Author Jeffrey Rothfeder challenged the narrative, however, in “McIlhenny’s Gold.

“The story goes that a passing Confederate soldier gifted McIlhenny some seeds from a Mexican tabasco pepper.”

He traced Tabasco’s origin, the museum reports, to Maunsel White, “a County Limerick-born New Orleans plantation owner, who in the early 1800s had concocted his own hot pepper sauce, bottling it and serving it to his guests at meals.”

Fox News Digital connected with McIlhenny Co. CEO Harold Osborn, a fifth-generation member of the founding family, for the cold facts behind the red-hot story.

Where was Tabasco born?

Edmund McIlhenny founded McIlhenny Co. in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana.

Avery Island

An aerial view of Avery Island, Louisiana, home of the Tabasco hot sauce factory, on Aug. 21, 2019. Avery Island is a dome of salt surrounded by marshes near the southern Louisiana coast.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“It was there that he developed the recipe for Tabasco Original Red Pepper Sauce that’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Osborn told Fox News Digital via email.

What’s in Tabasco?

The recipe behind the flavor that Americans know and love is surprisingly short, which also allows it to pair well with so many different dishes.

“Tabasco sauce is made with three simple ingredients – red peppers, vinegar, and salt,” said Osborn.

“It’s incredibly versatile and can be used to make any dish more exciting. It’s just as delicious on eggs as it is on a slice of pizza.”

What makes Tabasco trendy now?

Heat-seekers want to make their food more of an experience than ever before, Osborn said, while social media fuels the brand’s fire, too.

Tabasco peppers

Tabasco peppers used to make McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce are shown inside the plant of Avery Island, Louisiana.  (OMAR TORRES/AFP via Getty Images)

“Younger people in particular live to eat and have a growing interest in finding ways to make food more exciting,” Osborn said.

He added, “Social media has rapidly increased the rate at which and expanded exposure to different cuisines and flavors all around the globe. We’re constantly monitoring these trends and listening to our audience so we can tap into what’s relevant for them.”

How much Tabasco is made, and where is it available?

Tabasco produces roughly 700,000 bottles of sauce each day.

They are shipped to about 195 countries and territories around world.

That’s basically everywhere: The United Nations reports that it has 193 member countries and two non-member observer states.

Can people visit Tabasco? 

The Tabasco Brand Factory Tour & Museum on Avery Island offers tours seven days a week, though it’s closed on some major holidays.

Bottle of Tabasco

McIlhenny Co. was founded on Avery Island, Louisiana, in 1868 — and makes about 700,000 bottles of sauce each day.  (McIlhenny Co.)

“We encourage all of our fans to visit Avery Island and learn firsthand the history of McIlhenny Company and Tabasco brand products,” Osborn shared with Fox News Digital.

How are chefs using Tabasco today?

Anthony Goldsmith, the of Kajun Twist & Grill in Lockport, Louisiana, serves Tabasco with his signature pastalaya.

“It is a rich creamy tomato sauce based dish, with the holy trinity, smoked sausage, and gulf shrimp served with bowtie noodles,” he said.

Ryan Pearson, executive chef of Couvant at The Eliza Jane Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana, offers one of the most surprising pairings for Tabasco.

“We use it to enhance our beef tartare,” he said.

The raw beef, he said, “tastes flat and doesn’t pop the way we want it to” without a splash of the Louisiana hot sauce.

“Tabasco is a clean flavor with beautiful acidity that compliments almost anything but doesn’t overpower or completely change the flavor profile,” Pearson said.

Kerry Byrne of Fox News Digital contributed reporting.