A Lot of Hot: The History of Hot Sauce

Hot Sauce Photo Shoot

by Natasha Young

Photo Courtesy of sporkandbarrel.com

Food, prior to hot sauce, was often bland.

But a flavor hero came out of the bushes, quite literally, to save our taste buds from boredom forevermore. 

Chili peppers are one of the oldest cultivated plants. Archaeological evidence suggests that chili peppers began domestication in South America around 6,000 years ago.  Central Americans used peppers in foods, drinks and medicine. However, it was not until the beginning of the Columbian Exchange, the start of a wide-spread international exchange between Africa, Europe and the Americas, that chili peppers found their way into the rest of the world, spicing up cuisine and influencing cultures. 

Pepper sauce spread all over the world, however, the commercialization of American pepper sauce started back in the 1860s when J. McCollick & Co. sold a bird pepper, also known as chiltepin pepper, hot sauce

Colonel Maunsell White, a wealthy Louisiana banker, started a crop of tabasco peppers and began producing a tabasco pepper hot sauce in 1849. A decade later, Edmund McIlhenny also began farming the tabasco peppers on Avery Island, Louisiana. After the American Civil War, Mcllhenny began producing his own aged hot sauce. The sauce was a success, and in 1870 McIlhenny patented his Tabasco Brand hot sauce. It soon became one of the most influential sauces in Louisiana’s food.  

It would not be decades later until the hot sauce market picked up, and new inventors of the spicy craft emerged. California is home to many iconic sauces such as Jose-Luis Saavedra’s Tapatio invented in 1971 and David Tran’s Sriracha hot sauce created in 1980. 

In more recent history, hot sauce has brought about a cultural revolution. Hot sauce makers began experimenting and inventing new sauces. This also means more Americans have been testing their limits with adding some fire in their food. Huffpost.com reported hot sauce in 2012 as “The 8th Fastest Growing Industry In The Country,” showing the increase in interest in hot sauce in America

The history of the chili pepper shows that it evolved into sauces that changed not just America, but the world. A small, typically 4-foot plant shook the planet to help put some extra spice in all of our lives. 

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