Tabasco pepper is a chile pepper native to Mexico. It is most popularly known for being used in Tabasco sauce, the most popular hot sauce brand in the world. These tapered, small fruits only grow under 2 inches long. Yet, they provide heat that ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. It is also the only chile variety that is juicy or not dry on the inside. Plus, it’s also noted for its vibrant and colorful pods. They start out green and they change to yellow, orange, and bright red as they mature. And unlike the other pepper varieties, tabasco peppers are commonly harvested when they’re ripe or bright red as they’re much sweeter and fruitier at this stage.
Around the year 1850, American businessman and manufacturer Edmund Mcllhenny got some dried chili peppers from a US-Mexico war veteran. Along with his wife, Mcllhenny planted the seeds in their garden. Then, the American Civil War came and food wasn’t enough in Louisiana. Thus, the tabasco sauce was created and called upon through Mcllhenny Company. To date, Mcllhenny still goes out in the fields around Avery Island to put a mark on successful specimens of tabasco with a ribbon. These excellent pods are sent out by the pickers for seed collection.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum (Pepper)
Species: Capsicum Frutescens
Binomial Name: Capsicum Frutescens ‘Tabasco’
Tabasco Pepper Trivia
- Tabasco pepper was named after the Mexican state of Tabasco.
- Tabasco pepper became a victim in the 1960s. A large part of its stock suffered from the tobacco mosaic virus, especially those in the areas of the Southern United States. Thankfully, a tobacco mosaic and etch-resistant variety, Greenleaf tabasco, was developed a decade after.
- Tabasco pepper is 6 to 10 times hotter than jalapeños. Thus, they become more comparable to cayenne peppers in terms of heat and flavor profile.
- Although the famous Tabasco sauce is primarily made with tabasco peppers, it only provides heat that ranges between 2,500 and 5,000 Scoville Units.
Tabasco Pepper Buying Guide
You can find fresh tabasco peppers in specialty grocers. However, they are not as prevalent as the famous Tabasco hot sauce. Therefore, when you found a fresh one, here are some things to check out for:
- Check the size of the peppers and choose the ones that are under 2 inches long.
- Check out the pepper’s skin. Choose the ones that are firm and glossy and avoid the ones that have soft spots.
- If possible, buy organic tabasco peppers. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, peppers from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to get a free taste before you buy them.
Moreover, while the standard tabasco pepper is the only tabasco variety that is commonly grown in North America, there are also some rare tabasco varieties that are grown around the world. Hence, if you’ve encountered one them, don’t miss the chance of trying or growing these:
- Tabasco Greenleaf – This variety was developed by Auburn University in Alabama. It’s specifically created to mimic the standard tabasco pepper while being resistant to the tobacco mosaic and tobacco etch virus.
- Tabasco Hawaiian – This variety is a cross between tabasco and Hawaiian hot pepper. They’re yellow to orange in color and yet they provide a mean pungency that is comparable to the habaneros.
- Tabasco Short Yellow – This variety grows on a smaller pepper plant, which is roughly 1 foot tall and wide. The plant produces an inch-long, blunt-tipped, orange or yellow fruit. Due to these, this variety is commonly mistaken for the orange pekoe plant.
Tabasco Pepper Production & Farming in Texas
Tabasco plants are frost-tender, high-yielding perennial plants. They can grow up to 60 inches tall, with cream-colored flowers that eventually turn into upward-oriented pods or fruits. Like most chile pepper varieties, they also thrive best in warm climates. As a matter of fact, tabasco seeds need a lot of warmth to germinate nicely. Thus, they grow best when the temperature is around 77 to 86ºF. In Texas, tabasco peppers are planted 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost date, when the temperature surpasses 50ºF and the weather has finally settled. These peppers can be temperamental when it comes to setting their fruits. Night temperatures outside the range of 60 to 75ºF can reduce the set of fruits. When choosing a location, place them in an area where they can get plenty of light and heat, and avoid the areas that have been used for tomatoes, potatoes, or other crops from the same family. Plant them on soil that is fertile, well-drained, lightweight, and has a pH level between 5.5 to 7.0. When the soil reached 50ºF, you can now place them into the ground. Unlike the other peppers, these plants should be relatively close to one another (1 to 2 feet apart) to promote a slight contact between the plants. It takes roughly 80-90 days for these peppers to mature and be ready for harvest, which is commonly done when they’re orange-red to bright red in color. But, if you’re worried about the frost, pick them while they’re still unripe or green, and finish the ripening process indoors. Another option is to use them to make salsa verde or other delicacies. Still, it’d be best to pick them continuously for the plant to reproduce. Use a sharp shear when cutting branches and harvesting peppers as hand-picking can easily damage the plants.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
As mentioned, tabasco peppers are native to the Mexican state of Tabasco. This subtropical climate state has high humidity, sunny-warm climate, and a nutrient-rich soil that makes them the perfect area for growing these chiles. Thus, for as long as these conditions are met, tabasco peppers can thrive. Generally speaking, China remains to be the world’s largest producer of sweet and chile peppers, accounting for more than 70% of world production. Mexico and Indonesia rank next. Other major producers include Spain, Turkey, and the United States.
Fresh tabasco peppers are commonly sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Meanwhile, you can also buy Tabasco sauce or other byproducts of tabasco peppers that are packaged in glass jars, bottles, or containers.
Enjoying Tabasco Peppers
Tabasco peppers are traditionally turned into salsas and hot sauces. They are also popular pickled in vinegar or turned into jellies. Still, you can toss them onto your favorite meals. But, just be careful on how much you put as these peppers can be hot that they can burn your mouth. Thus, we wouldn’t also recommend you eat them straight off the plant.
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. They should be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for a week or two. You may also marinate peppers in olive oil to extend its shelf life for up to 1 month. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thick skins last longer than the thin ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 6 months but take note that frozen peppers can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Meanwhile, Tabasco hot sauce has a 5-years shelf-life.
While tabasco peppers can be sauteéd or stir-fried, they are most popular to be turned into a hot sauce. But certainly, you can make one at home. You may choose to ferment them (kind of like the brand Tabasco sauce), or you may opt to leave them unfermented. For fermented tabasco sauce, simply pack around 5 ounces of chopped peppers into a jar, leaving at least an inch of space onto the top. This space will be occupied by the peppers as they rise slightly during the fermentation process. Then, add 3 tablespoons of sea salt to a quart of unchlorinated water and pour the brine mixture over the peppers, making sure that they are completely submerged. Press the peppers down a bit if needed. Close the jar and place them on a dark area or cabinet, away from direct sunlight. Let it ferment there for at least a week. Also check it daily, assuring their complete submersion and allowing it to burp by opening the jar slightly to let out some gas. After a week or two, the brine will turn cloudy and the mixture will taste acidic. Pour the entire mixture into a pot and add a cup of white vinegar (preferably distilled). Bring to a quick boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it reach room temperature. Process in a blender or food processor until smooth. Then, strain the mixture to remove any solid particles. Transfer the hot sauce into bottles and store accordingly. On the other hand, if you may also skip the fermentation process and start boiling peppers, vinegar, and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Do the same process as you would on the fermented ones.
Raw tabasco pepper is composed of 7% carbohydrates, >1% protein, and >1% fat by weight.
- Carbohydrates: This pepper is naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Shishito peppers are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. As a matter of fact, a 30g serving gives 50% of DV for vitamin C and 25% of vitamin A. They’re also a good source of potassium, calcium, and iron.
- Tabasco peppers do not contain any bad or risky components like sodium, cholesterol, added sugar, and saturated fat.
- The high levels of vitamin A promotes healthy vision. It also helps in preventing cancer too!
- The high levels of vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- Tabasco peppers contain capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their heat. They’ve been proven to kill cancer cells efficiently. It also boosts our immune system, helping our bodies fight against inflammation. It also contributes to weight loss as it speeds up our metabolism.
- Besides these, tabasco peppers also help improve the digestive tract, relieve joint pain, reduce psoriasis, soothe migraines, and promote heart health.
When Are Tabasco Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Tabasco Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.