A splash of magic

From Buckingham Palace to the foothills of the Himalayas, a famous pepper sauce has been bringing spice to life for more than 140 years

I n 2009 the McIlhenny Company, which makes Tabasco, was granted a royal warrant by the Queen, and became the only privately owned US food company to have achieved that honour.

Tabasco Pepper Sauce was created by Edmund McIlhenny in 1868 on Avery Island, Louisiana, USA, and it is truly remarkable that this family recipe has remained unchanged to this day.

Tabasco’s ingredient list is short and simple: crushed red tabasco peppers, a little salt from Avery Island’s own mine and high quality natural vinegar. The salted peppers are matured for three years in old bourbon whiskey barrels before being strained and mixed with the vinegar. The result is a traditional hot pepper sauce that teams heat with a distinctive flavour. When Edmund McIlhenny started commercial production Tabasco quickly became a runaway success. The first bottles reached Britain in 1874 and soon the McIlhenny family opened a London office to cope with the influx of orders.

Through the years Tabasco has been enjoyed on expeditions to China; missions to the Sudan; and in the Himalayas to help spice up the rations of climbers attempting to climb Mount Everest. In 1922 the party excavating King Tutankhamun’s tomb included supplies of Tabasco on their provisions list. England’s love affair with Tabasco almost ended in 1932 when the sauce, a regular fixture on tables in the House of Commons dining rooms, was banned as part of a ‘buy British’ campaign. The resulting outcry from MPs was dubbed ‘the Tabasco tempest’ but the sauce soon resumed its rightful place on parliamentary tables.

Today Paul McIlhenny, Edmund’s great grandson, oversees production of more than 150m bottles a year – still made on Avery Island to the original recipe – and the sauce is sold in more than 160 countries. As well as the original Tabasco Pepper Sauce, McIlhenny Co produces Tabasco Jalapeno Pepper Sauce, Tabasco Habanero Pepper Sauce and Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce.

As home cooks become more adventurous they are finding more ways to add a splash of Tabasco magic to their dishes. Use it as a subtle flavour enhancer in everything from braised meat to seafood, pasta and even desserts such as ice cream and chocolate cake. Why not try it for yourself and make the chocolate cake from the recipe given here?

Once you’ve experienced the subtle, extra flavour that a few drops of Tabasco will unlock, you’ll always keep a bottle to hand – like those 1920s explorers and the kitchens of Buckingham Palace.

Tabasco Chocolate Cake

Serves 8-10

250g plain flour

350g demerara sugar

65g plain cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

250ml water

2 tsp Tabasco Pepper Sauce

240ml extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g melted dark chocolate


1. Preheat the oven to 180 C.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in water, Tabasco, olive oil and vanilla and the dark chocolate; mix until combined.

3. Place into an 8” loose bottomed lined cake tin.

4. Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven (the surface will be matte) Allow to cool slightly, dust with cocoa powder and serve while still warm.

For more Tabasco recipes, visit www.tabascofanclub.co.uk