The full Tabasco lineup
The pepper fields on Avery Island are mostly a seed farm now, as the company is not able to recruit enough workers to pick the necessary quantity of peppers to grow them on the island.
While the peppers are grown mostly in Latin America (though all specifically for McIlhenny Co.), all are mashed the day they are picked and immediately sent to the Avery Island factory, where they're mixed with salt mined that day from the island (a salt dome) itself. The salt on top forms a hard crust, sealing in the peppers.
Each morning, one of the two family members who work for the company checks the 180 barrels that, having aged three years, are ready to become that day’s batch of Tabasco sauce. The rigorous quality checking is what keeps the sauce consistent.
The approved pepper barrels are dumped into bulk drainers made of stainless steel. Batches of peppers from different barrels and different origins are blended at this point, another way that the company works for consistency from bottle to bottle. After eight hours of draining, the mash has lost 25% of its weight and is washed out with vinegar and sent to spend three weeks in a 2000-gallon wood barrel.
At this point, the product has only been mashed and drained, so there are still solids like seeds and skins in it. A two-mill process deseeds and blends the solids. The potent pepper byproduct from the milling is used in products like the muscle relaxant Ben-Gay, as well as sold to companies like Kraft for making steak sauce.
The sauce makes a quick stop in the lab on the way to the gravity-fed bottling line, where it’s tested for viscosity, salinity, pH balance, and examined organoleptically (by taste), to make sure it's consistent with the Tabasco standard.
Every bottle of Tabasco (including the jalapeño, chipotle, and other flavors) is bottled right on Avery Island. Even the multi-lingual bottles and boxes for international markets (Japan is the largest consumer of Tabasco outside of the US) are produced here.
In keeping with the close-to-home theme, Tabasco packaging doesn’t travel far. The tops come from nearby New Iberia, the labels from a little further—maybe thirty minutes—in Lafayette, Louisiana, and traveling the furthest are the glass bottles themselves, which are made in New Orleans, a whopping two-and-a-half hours away.