What Is in Tabasco Sauce?
Tabasco. Crystal. Frank’s Red Hot. If you like your food spicy, you likely have an allegiance to one of these bottles of fiery liquid. But unlike its capsaicin-laden cousin salsa, you rarely see homemade versions of Louisiana-style hot sauce. Why is that? Well, for starters, when you’re talking about brand-name hot sauces, the recipes are often secret and always proprietary. But it’s more than just business: These are aged chile sauces, and they can sometimes takes years to perfect. Not exactly practical for the home cook, not matter how ambitious.
Here’s what goes into that thin, vinegary hot sauce you love to sprinkle over eggs—and why it’s maybe a process best left to the pros.
Louisiana-style hot sauce starts with chile peppers. Which type of chile pepper varies by brand of hot sauce. Although many hot sauce brands make several variations, the classic red sauce is made with super spicy red chiles. Tabasco uses tabasco peppers (surprise), while Crystal and Frank’s Red Hot use cayenne.
The Aging Process
The aging process is key to Louisiana-style hot sauce. The ripe red chiles are chopped up or mashed, then set out to ferment in vats, sometimes for years. The length and method of aging varies by brand—Tabasco famously uses charred Jack Daniels whiskey barrels—but the chiles must be aged. You’ll even see them listed on the label as "aged chile peppers." At the end of the aging process, the chile solids (skin, seeds) are strained out of the liquid, living a potent elixir behind.
Most Louisiana-style hot sauce is comprised of just three ingredients: aged chiles, salt, and vinegar. When these seasonings are added to the chiles varies, with salt and occasionally vinegar added before or during the aging process. Some hot sauces get an additional aging period after they are strained and seasoned, as well.
That’s the very basic, deceptively simple process behind Louisiana-style hot sauces. Each brand has its own secret process that results in unique flavors (and wins diehard, lifelong fans). But no matter whether you’re a Tabasco gal or a Crystal dude, you can appreciate knowing all the effort that went into your hot sauce.