Home to Bird City, Jungle Gardens and the World Famous Tabasco Sauce Factory
One of the more beautiful places to visit on the Gulf Coast of the United States is Avery Island, Louisiana. Not only does it boast a spectacular wildlife preserve with a separate bird sanctuary, it is also home to the factory that produces the world’s finest condiment, Tabasco sauce.
Avery Island is actually a giant salt dome that rises over 150 feet above sea level. For centuries, it provided salt to the local Native Americans who traded it to other tribes throughout the Midwestern and Southeastern areas of the continent.
In the early 19th century, the island was purchased and farmed as a sugar plantation by a New Jersey native, John March. The island passed out if the Marsh family and attained its present name when Marsh’s son in law, Daniel David Avery purchased the island. During his time, the salt resources were left relatively untouched.
The situation changed during the American Civil War. Though the family attempted to avoid the conflict by remaining isolated, the salt resources were of such vital interest to the Confederacy that this stance became impossible to maintain. Instead, the family, including Edmund McIlhenny, fled to Texas and only returned after the war. The intervening years and the war had destroyed the once profitable plantation and salt works, however. In fact, the family archives maintain that the only asset was a small crop of Tabasco peppers.
Lack of capital and severe debts forced the newest member of the family, Edmund, to search for other sources of income. He attempted to resume his banking career but to no avail. Instead, he turned to farming and the production of a new sauce called Tabasco. The sauce was an immediate success and the family fortune was once again established.
The Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory
Credit: Shane K BernardThese days, almost three quarters of a million bottles of Tabasco sauce are produced on a daily basis. All are produced at the single facility on Avery Island. They are then shipped to 168 countries with labels in 22 languages. They are included in the MREs of the United States Army and in the compo rations of the British Armed forces. It was also standard fare on the all Space Shutte missions and is available on the International Space Station. By any definition, it is one of the five most popular condiments in the world.
The factory is a modern, technological wonder that operates at breakneck speed. The tour includes the processing and bottling facilities as well as a tour of the storage locations of the white oak barrels where the sauce is aged and obtains its some of its unique flavor. Demand is so great that the factory operates every day except major holidays and tours are available any time that the factory is open.
How Do They Make Tabasco Sauce
Credit: Stefan ErrasUntil very recently, the original red Tabasco brand pepper sauce was only made from peppers grown on Avery Island and the salt mined there. Increased demand and the introduction of a wide variety of flavors has necessitated the importation of peppers from various South and Central American countries. However, all the peppers are still gown from the proprietary seeds propagated on Avery Island.
The peppers are purportedly compared to a little red stick. The peppers that match the required shade of red are then handpicked. Incidentally, it is only coincidence that the capital of Louisiana is named Baton Rouge. The harvested peppers are then ground. The resulting mash is combined with salt and stored in used, white oak barrels obtained from the Jack Daniels distillery.
The barrels are stored and left to age for three years. After aging, the intermediate liquid is strained of skins and seeds and combined with vinegar. This liquid is allowed to steep for an additional month with occasional stirring. The final product is then bottled, packaged and shipped.
Local Fauna and Flora
Credit: Adam KumiszczaTwo other attractions on Avery Island are the nature preserves, Jungle Gardens and Bird City. Bird City was originally founded by a scion of the McIlhenny family as a private bird sanctuary to protect the endangered snowy egret. The original inhabitants were eight egret chicks that have since spawned a revival of the species as a whole.
The success of the original Bird City convinced the McIlhenny family to convert a portion of the island into a wildlife sanctuary. Today, the Jungle Gardens cover almost 170 acres and contain a diverse and thriving variety of native and imported flora from around the world. In particular, there are dozens of species of flowering plants including camellias, irises and azaleas. Also , don’t miss the 1000 year old statue of Buddha sent from China but never claimed until two friends of the family sent it as a surprise gift.
It is often claimed, though mistakenly, that no birds live on Avery Island or in the surrounding areas because of the fumes from the hot pepper plant. This myth has taken on urban legend status and is often cited in trivia books. Nothing is further from the truth. The flora and fauna of the wetlands of south Louisiana are on vivid display. Not only are there plenty of snowy egrets but dozens of species of other birds as well as alligators, snakes and other reptiles.
Location & Directions
Credit: Shane K BernardA day trip to Avery Island, LA is probably best appreciated by adults and foodies. The factory tour is short and to the point. It only takes bout fifteen minutes. Hours can spent in the Jungle Gardens but only if you are intrigued by the wonders of nature. In short, it’s a great tip for those who want something off the beaten path that is relaxing and not at all stressful.
The island is located about 140 miles west of New Orleans and is accessed via a two lane toll road, Highway 329. The toll is only $1.00 and supports conservation efforts. Admission to the factory tour is free but there is an additional charge for entrance to the Gardens and Bird City. Allow two hours to make the trip once you leave Interstate-10 and, afterwards, on your way back, stop somewhere along the way and enjoy the local color.