Why Tabasco Sauce Was Originally Meant To Be Sprinkled On Food

In over 150 years since Tabasco sauce was first produced, not much has changed about the original product or the family-owned company that makes it. Sure, there are many more flavored hot sauces under the Tabasco brand banner than there used to be, but the original red pepper sauce that founder Edmund McIlhenny sold back in 1869 (via Tabasco) has only had very minor recipe updates in all the years since.

In the early years, Edmund McIlhenny made his hot sauce using three ingredients: salt, chile peppers, and vinegar. But after a few years, he decided to stop using a white wine vinegar in favor of beechwood vinegar, notes Great British Chefs. The chiles have never changed — they've always been the same old Tabasco peppers. And from the company's founding under Edmund McIlhenny in 1868 to Paul McIlhenny's leadership six generations later, it was always a McIlhenny that was in charge of making Tabasco hot sauce, per NPR.

The legend of Edmund McIlhenny and his cologne bottles

The most significant change Tabasco sauce has seen since 1868 has been the bottle tops. Because of the spicy, concentrated taste of Edmund McIlhenny's original red pepper hot sauce, he always intended it to be sprinkled on food, not poured (via Tabasco). To that end, he used small, cologne-style bottles with what were called "sprinkler fitments" at the top.

"I think he found cologne bottles that had stoppers with sprinkler fitments in them," former CEO Paul McIlhenny remembered in an NPR interview in 2002. "The sprinkler would allow something to be dispensed by the drop or the dash rather than poured on and his sauce was so concentrated that it was practical, so the legend is that he found old cologne bottles and filled them with Tabasco sauce."

Back in Edmund's day, the fitments were capped with a cork and then covered in green wax before being sold, according to Tabasco. They changed the bottle style in 1927, removing the cork and green wax from the equation, shifting to the red twist-off cap they've been using ever since.