Tabasco Chili are the only Chili that are juicy on the inside. This Chili has become famous and bellowed when the Tabasco sauce was invented in 1868

Known as the most famous of all hot sauces: Tabasco

For the most popular hot sauce there is of course also a variety of chilli, from which the sauce is made. The Tabasco plant belongs to the genus Capsicum frutescens, it grows up to 1.50 m high and it produces many chilli peppers. As with all chilli varieties of this genus, the chilli peppers also grow upwards in the Tabasco plant. Originally the Tabasco Chilli comes from Mexico, meanwhile it is cultivated almost exclusively in Louisiana, because that's where the Tabasco Sauce is produced.

In addition to its taste and heat, the Tabasco chilli is so well suited for the production of hot sauce, as it contains a lot of fruit juice despite a thin fruit wall. In the kitchen, these pods are used very rarely. They are almost exclusively used for producing Tabasco sauce. For the hot sauce, the Tabasco pods are crushed and mixed with salt. The mixture is then stored in oak barrels for several years while fermenting. Then the whole thing is mixed with vinegar and there you have it - the Tabasco sauce!

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Tabasco chilies - the stuff for the sauce dreams

Everybody probably knows it, the Tabasco sauce, in its typical bottle, made since 1868 by the company McIlhenny. The basis of this world-famous sauce is chilies, which the company founder Edmund McIlhenny received as a gift, around 1850, from a stranger from Central America, allegedly Mexico. After several attempts with sauces, production began in 1868 - but only 20 years later, the cultivated chilli variety is first described by the botanist E. Lewis Sturtevant -namely as capsicum frutescens cv. "Tabasco". The seed for the plants has always been bred in steadily improved form as tabasco chilies by the company and distributed to the growers, but of course, due to the great popularity of these chilies, similar varieties, falsely offered under this name, are available for purchasing.

What distinguishes a Tabasco chilli?

Tabasco chilies are relatively small fruits with a much stronger heat than most Capsicum annuum chilies can develop. The plants grow bushy and stocky and have a sometimes-enormous yield, which makes them ideal for large production quantities, as both care and harvest are very easy to cover. Tabasco chilies can easily convince in terms of taste, are easy to process and versatile to use. In short: The Tabascos are real all-rounders. Something that brought celebrity to the tabasco chilies is the almost unique or at least noteworthy fact that the fruits are "juicy" inside, so rather wet than dry and some have a very soft pulp.

Where do the Tabasco chilies come from?

As already described, varieties used by McIlhenny are distributed in a kind of internal growing system. Originally the Chilies were grown in the US in Louisiana, today they grow mostly in Mexico -  in the state of "Tabasco", which means in the language of the indigenous there as "land in which the earth is hot and humid" a perfect name for these chilies. Tabasco chilies belong, as mentioned above, to the species capsicum frutescens, whose origin is attributed to Central and South America. In the area of Central America, many other capsicum frutescens varieties are grown, such as Piri-Piri (which is often said to have come from Africa or India, but they were brought by the Portuguese to Goa in India and from there their obtained dissemination).

Most of the available Tabasco varieties come in some way from the varieties that McIlhenny used or reused. For example, new crops had become necessary after much of the crop fell victim to the tobacco mosaic virus in the 1960s. As a consequence, the company developed the strain "Tabasco Green Leaf", which is resistant to the virus.

The Fruit for the Sauce

While today McIlhenny produces a lot of sauces based on other chilies (and is the only company that is allowed to call these sauces "Tabasco Sauce", even though it was created on the basis of Habaneros, for example), the origin is and remains the Tabasco chilli. The fruits have a moderate heat of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville and are thus about twice as hot as a cayenne chilli or half as hot as a habanero. The ripe red fruits have a comparatively soft and juicy pulp, which is due to the high moisture content optimally suitable for processing by fermentation, but it is also suitable for a variety of other methods of processing - for example, as a chilli paste. The fruits should ideally be cut open so that no mold can form inside. Similar to their direct relatives, the Piri-Piri, the Tabasco chilli can also be well sweet-and-sour, which, like the fermentation, also ensures that some of the heat is lost (Tabasco sauce has about 5,000 Scoville, in sugar Vinegar-soaked Tabasco chilies about 15,000 to 30,000 Scoville).

The Tabasco plant - a small bush

If you let a Tabasco plant "run wild" it will usually develop to a small bush to about 1.5 m in height, on which hundreds of about four inches long fruit will grow. The flowers are whitish creamy with dark stamens and optically a mixture of c. annuum and c. chinense - who are also good crossing partners for c. frutescens plants such as the Tabasco chilies are. The small-leaved plants grow heavily branched and fall mainly due to the small leaf size compared to most other species such as c. annuum up clearly. The fruits grow upright and ripen from green to yellow to orange to red. In the oblong-pointed fruits are numerous yellowish-white seeds. The fruit ripens - if all Conditions are met - in real Tabasco chilies pretty fast. It takes about 80 days from flowering to ripe fruit. Of course, this is more than just an industrial use.

In crop production, the plant receives a special trimming, which ensures that the plants grow evenly and thereby the harvest is facilitated. This trimming is also intended to help to increase the yield, therefore it is deliberately cut so that a bushier growth with a high surface to the sun arises.

Tabasco: a mimosa among the chilies?

The Tabasco plant is a rather demanding plant compared to many other chilies, especially capsicum annuum. As indicated in the description of origin, "hot and humid soil" is a good indication of what the plant wants. This means: a loose soil, which offers good drainage capabilities, and consistently warm environment (at below 15 ° Celsius during the flowering period, the yields partly drastically break), regular water and above all: plenty of nutrients. In short - the Tabasco plant is a real mimosa, because it should not be too warm either, of course ... Ideal is therefore a sheltered, but very warm location (ideal are 25 to 30 ° C in the daily average with peaks not exceeding 40 ° Celsius) - whereby most (unshaded, unacclimated) greenhouses often fail. Even with the nutrients Tabascos tick something different than many conspecifics: Fertilizer should focus on potassium, phosphorus and calcium, too high of a nitrogen content lowers the yield. Depending on the initial fertilization of the plant substrate, an NPK fertilization ratio of about 1-1-2 would be desirable, contrary to the usual nutrient ratios for chilli fertilizer. It should be cast as well, unlike most other chilli varieties, not only when the plant is about to let its leaves hang, but at a constant rate. A Tabasco plant cannot "swim" either, but if the soil has the drainage qualities it should have, it will rarely be "too wet" anyway.

The Tabasco chilli in the kitchen

As already mentioned, the Tabasco chilli is quite versatile. Probably the simplest way to use them is to cut them into fine rings or strips and to use them like a Thai chilli, as a spice for all kinds of food.

Drying in Tabasco chilies is best done with tools such as a dehydrator, since the high water content accentuates the risk of mold growth. If you want to dry without tools, the fruits should be halved, so that in the humid climate that is within the fruit, no unwanted mold cultures develop. The same applies to the insertion in oil - it is better still to put dried chilies in the oil.

From Tabasco chilli, it is popular to make a Sambal Olek-like paste: just chilies coarsely cut small, pound together with a little coarse salt in a mortar. Then stir in a little oil and the paste is ready.

From fruit to sauce

The "secret recipe" of McIlhenny cannot be revealed at this point. Of course, the basic method of production can. The patent for the method has already expired, which is why there are several manufacturers who produce in the same way. But first of all: puree chilies and tip vinegar, but that's not what makes the sauce so exciting.

The process is quite complex compared to making other sauces:

First, the chilies are washed, then the style removed. Next, the Tabasco chilies are roughly crushed and mixed with sea salt in the ratio 10 parts of chilli, 1 part of salt. This porridge can now be added in a small amount (about half teaspoon) either to organic cider vinegar or unpasteurized buttermilk as a "jump start". Whether you add it or not, the porridge should now come in an opaque container that can be closed with a loose lid (so that the air can escape, best used would be a fermentation vat). Before the lid comes on, it is recommended to spread a thin layer of salt over it, so that germs are inhibited. Now the mixture should be able to rest and ferment for at least three months (McIlhenny's is about 3 years old) in a moderately warm place (about 20 degrees).

After completion of the fermentation process - depending on your taste - 1 to 2 parts of brandy vinegar (of course you can also experiment otherwise) are added to it and stirred well. With the lid closed again, the mass should be drawn through in the refrigerator for one to two more weeks before it is passed through a sieve and filled into sterile containers.

Text by Nico Jäkel

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