Tabasco is one of the world’s most well-known brands of hot sauce, but that wasn’t always the case. Located on rural Avery Island, a trip to the Tabasco Factory is a popular day trip from New Orleans or Lafayette. From New Orleans, it’s a 2.5 hour drive and from Lafayette it’s only 45 minutes away. It’s the best place to learn about the unique process in creating the sauce.
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The History of Tabasco
The Tabasco company started with the bland food during the Reconstruction Era. New Orleans banker Edward McIllhenny invented the pepper sauce 1868 using the Tabasco pepper variety from Latin America. It quickly gained popularity, especially abroad. The company created recipes to distribute with the sauce, showing people how to use it in dishes with the flavors of Louisiana.
The location on Avery Island was beneficial because it’s considered to be a salt reserve, a product used in the completion of the sauce. A company town developed around the factory with employees buying groceries at the Tabasco store.
Looking for more information about the history of Tabasco? Check out this article from HowStuffWorks.
Touring the Tabasco Factory
Tabasco is still family-run, carrying on the tradition. The famous bottles can be seen in countless television shows and movies as well as in restaurants in 195 countries. It’s even been included in military rations and served to the British royal family and NASA astronauts.
Something unique about Tabasco is the process they use to determine peppers are ready to harvest. A small red stick, or petite baton rouge, is used to confirm the correct shade of red. From there, the peppers are cooked down into a mash.
The mash is aged in white oak barrels for three years, similar to bourbon or whiskey, and the barrels are topped in salt. This mash, which is ten times hotter than the finished sauce, is sampled by an expert. Distilled vinegar is added and the liquid is strained and bottled.
There are also now eight varieties of the sauce, including sriracha and buffalo sauces. On the Tabasco Factory Tour, visitors will learn about the history and process. In the gift shop, you’ll find unique Tabasco products like Tabasco ice cream and jelly beans.
Eating at Tabasco
The Tabasco Factory also has an onsite restaurant, Restaurant 1868. It’s named for the year of the company’s founding and serves classic Louisiana fare a la carte. Offerings include gumbo, po boys, crawfish etouffee, and bread pudding. There’s also a bloody mary bar, complete with Tabasco. You can even enjoy cooking classes by reservation.
What to See on Avery Island and Nearby
But your tour of the Tabasco Factory won’t take up your entire day. The other place to visit on Avery Island is Jungle Gardens. The 170-acre botanical garden and bird sanctuary was created by McIllhenny’s son Ned in 1895 to protect the area’s snowy egrets. It opened to the public in 1935 and has a number of animals and sculptures, including a famous Buddha.
On your way back to Lafayette, stop by town of New Iberia. The Bayou Teche Museum has exhibits on the bayou that surrounds the parish including its notable residents, history, and food. You’ll find traditional Mardi Gras costumes and zydeco instruments in the exhibits.
Shadows on the Teche is a preserved sugar plantation that covers its history, including the lives of the enslaved people that lived there. In addition to tours of the home, visitors can wander throguh the gardens. You can also tour the Conrad Rice Mill, the oldest operating rice mill in America.
On nearby Jefferson Island, Rip Van Winkle Gardens was built in 1870 by actor Joseph Jefferson, who played “Rip Van Winkle” in a stage production of the Washington Irving tale. It is believed that the cypress wood included in the house was originally planted by Jean Lafitte. There’s also an onsite cafe and a bed and breakfast.
Where to Stay Near Avery Island
There are no accommodations in Avery Island proper. DoubleTree by Hilton Lafayette is the closest full-service hotel, located on the southern end of the city. It has a restaurant and bar, an outdoor pool, and an airport shuttle.
In New Iberia, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites New Iberia-Avery Island is the top-rated property, with daily hot breakfast, an outdoor pool, and in-rom microwaves and refrigerators. Rip Van Winkle Gardens has onsite cottages. There’s even an RV park at Conrad Rice Mill.
Tips for Visiting the Tabasco Factory
The Tabasco Factory is located at Highway 329, Avery Island, Louisiana 70513. It’s open daily from 9 am to 4 pm. Tickets are $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for children, and free for children under 4. Discounts are offered for seniors and veterans with proof of ID.