To get the signature zest in any Cajun dish, hot sauce made in Louisiana is an essential tool for any chef.
Louisiana-style hot sauce – or “Cajun ketchup” as it’s lovingly referred – has been made and sold for over 100 years. It’s what makes Cajun cooking so famously spicy – often transforming a dish with just a few shakes of a bottle.
Worldwide, sauces come in many variations, but Cajun chefs find hot sauce made in Louisiana, with its distinct chili-pepper base, to be their first choice.
Tabasco and cayenne peppers are the most popular bases, and completing the sauce can be as simple as adding salt and vinegar.
There is no hot sauce more recognized than the Tabasco brand, the No. 1 selling hot sauce in the country.
The McIllhenny Co. of Avery Island has been making Tabasco (from tabasco peppers) since 1868, when Edmund McIllhenny first started selling it. McIllhenny invented the hot sauce category and the family still runs the company, with Tony Simmons, Edmund McIllhenny’s great-great grandson, as the company’s president and CEO.
Simmons says, “We’ve carried on the tradition with nearly the same three all-natural ingredients for the last 146 years. We’re honored to carry on the traditions of generations of Louisianians that came before us.”
A 200-person workforce produces more than 700,000 bottles of Tabasco each day.
Crystal Hot Sauce came on the scene in 1923 when Alvin and Mildred Baumer produced the first bottle at a plant on Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans.
In the 1940s, the Baumers’ operations moved to a location at Carrollton and Tulane avenues, where it was home until Hurricane Katrina flooded the entire building in 2005.
The company opened a new plant in St. John the Baptist Parish following the storm, where it still makes its Crystal Original and Crystal Extra Hot Sauce (three times hotter), as well as a number of complementary sauces, including wing sauce and steak sauce.
Another long-standing brand, Frank’s Red Hot, is famous for being the primary ingredient in the first buffalo wing sauce ever made.
Its history dates back to 1918 when pepper farmer Adam Estilette partnered with Jacob Frank in New Iberia to create a sauce spiced with the rich flavor of cayenne peppers. In 1920, the first bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce emerged from Estilette’s pickling plant.
The Louisiana Hot Sauce brand was the first to trademark the name for Louisiana-style hot sauce. The cayenne peppers used for the base of this unique sauce are aged for a year or more. The red dot on the label distinguishes it on the shelf.
While most hot sauces are manufactured in south Louisiana, Lake Providence in upstate East Carroll parish is the home of the Panola Pepper Company and its line of items including its name brand hot sauce as well as over thirty other seasonings and condiments.
Other brands, including Trappey’s Louisiana hot sauce, offer an authentic product in a different style. Trappey’s uses jalapeño chili peppers and offers pickled peppers in its line.
Already an institution in Louisiana, the hot sauce trend is steadily growing nationally. Named last year as the eighth fastest-growing industry in the country by IBIS World, hot sauce is everywhere – on hot dogs, hamburgers and even as garnish for Bloody Marys.
With all these brands, one thing is certain: the distinct flavor of Louisiana is found in every bottle.
Hot Sauce Festival
The 2014 Louisiana Hot Sauce Festival will be held at the Acadian Village site in Lafayette, July 19-20. There will be cooking contests, samples from companies and vendors, music, food, exhibitors and more – each with a goal of encouraging the use of hot sauce in cooking. For more information, visit lahotsaucefest.com.
Louisiana-style hot sauces always have a base of chili peppers. The most common are tabasco and cayenne chili peppers. The tabasco plant produces bright yellow-green or red peppers with hints of celery and green onion flavors. The level of heat in chili peppers is measured by a Scoville scale, based on the amount of capsaicin, the heat-producing active ingredient. Pure capsaicin measures at 16 million. Tabasco peppers measure at a heat between 25,000 – 50,000. The cayenne chili pepper can be decidedly less hot, depending on the variety, ranging from a mild 3,500 to a hotter 50,000.