Someone once said that when you visit the South, you need a translator
Geographically speaking, anyone north of Kentucky and west of Texas won’t have a clue what we’re talking about. But if you were born or raised in the South, or travel for an extended period of time, you most definitely will relate to these 40 things.
1. Y’all better believe “y’all” is a word.
2. And y’all better believe we understand grammar just fine. But some things are tradition.
3. You know everyone in town—and all their cousins.
4. And if you need to know anything about any one of ’em, just ask Margene down at the hair parlor.
5. A true Southerner knows that “fixin’” can be a noun, a verb, or adverb.
6. You know the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption, and that you don’t “have” them, you “pitch ‘em.”
7. Grits aren’t just a breakfast staple. They’re a potluck mainstay when smothered with cheese and baked in a 9 x 13.
8. Y’all know, with absolute certainty, that anything can be fried, eaten, and enjoyed.
9. You like to fry everything—fried bananas, fried shrimp, fried chicken, and especially hush puppies, which are the best!
10. Favorite Foods. Cornbread, biscuits and gravy, turkey dressing (not stuffing!), peach cobbler, grits, collard greens, fried okra, jambalaya, and jumbo, and of course, irresistibly rich chocolate cake topped with pecans and more chocolate.
11. A meal without collard greens is no meal at all. It’s a staple of the South, and don’t you forget it.
12. And, yes, we ask for hot sauce at every meal.
13. You know tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, and coffee are perfectly wonderful; that red eye gravy is also a breakfast food, and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.
14. Sweet tea is the only kind of tea. Get out of here with your unsweetened crap.
15. You could never and should never ring in the New Year without having some black-eyed peas. These good luck charms are the only way to make it the best year possible.
16. Honey, sugar, dumpling, pumpkin, and sweetie pie are usually not referring to food.
17. The squeak of a porch swing and the slam of a screen door will always make you feel at home.
Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce
Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce, has been owned for over 180 years by the interrelated Marsh, Avery, and McIlhenny families. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.
The 2,200-acre tract sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago. Fossils suggest that early inhabitants shared the land with mastodons and mammoths, giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and three-toed horses.
A salt production industry dates back to about 1000 AD, judging from recovered basket fragments, polished stone implements, and shards of pottery left by American Indians. Although these early dwellers remained on the Island at least as late as the 1600s, they had mysteriously disappeared by the time white settlers first discovered the briny springs at the end of the next century.
After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his in-laws’ garden on Avery Island; he delighted in the peppers’ piquant flavor which added excitement to the monotonous food of the Reconstruction-era South.
Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors. After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax.
“That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes” proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868. The next year he sent out 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar per bottle wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. The public responded positively and soon McIlhenny had introduced Tabasco sauce to consumers in major markets across the United States. By the end of the 1870s, McIlhenny was exporting Tabasco sauce to Europe. So began the fiery condiment that is now a global cultural and culinary icon.
Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.
In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.
Experience the history and production of the world-famous hot sauce during your visit to Avery Island. The Avery Island Fan Experience includes a self-guided tour of the TABASCO Museum, Pepper Greenhouse, Barrel Warehouse, Avery Island Conservation, Salt Mine diorama, TABASCO Country Store, TABASCO Restaurant 1868! and the 170-acre natural beauty of Jungle Gardens. Admission is $12.50 with a 10 percent seniors and veterans discount.
E.A. McIlhenny created a 170-acre garden, in 1935 he opened it to the public to enjoy his collection of camellias, azaleas, and other imported plants. You may see wildlife such as alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife as you walk or drive along man-made lagoons that trail Bayou Petit Anse. The over 900-year-old Buddha sits in the Temple he created. And visit “Bird City”, home to thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds!
Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou. Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou. Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Enthusiasts are drawn to their colorful culinary potential—or simply the thrill of the challenge
Grab a glistening, hot chile pepper—one jewel-toned beauty with a volcanic pedigree—and take the dare. Just know that once you pop that capsicum into your mouth, there is no turning back. No amount of water, beer, milk, or bread can fully put out the flame.
Of course, for every coughing and gasping amateur daredevil, there are dozens of die-hard chile-heads for whom the pain of eating hot peppers is all pleasure. The seared taste buds, watery eyes, and sinus-clearing fumes are part of the attraction, along with the hunt for evermore pungent pepper thrills.
Bringing the Heat
Humans have been eating peppers for at least 9,000 years. While archaeologists pinpoint the eastern coast of Mexico as the cradle of cultivation, there’s evidence that around the same time, indigenous peoples were harvesting and eating wild peppers from what is now the southwestern United States through Mexico and south to Peru.
Nobody knows exactly why humans crave the culinary drama of hot peppers, but scientists have come up with a few theories. The word addiction has been bandied about, in part because capsaicin, the substance that gives chiles their signature punch, causes pain followed by an immediate release of endorphins. Endorphins floating around the brain trigger a sense of euphoria. In addition, capsaicin releases chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain (which is why it is a popular ingredient in topical pain relievers).
In 1912, Parke-Davis Co. pharmacist Wilbur Scoville began exploring the capsaicin kick of different types of peppers. He wasn’t aiming for chile-head immortality but for a more efficient way to produce a capsaicin-laced liniment. He crushed chiles combined them with sugar water and had a panel of taste-testers take sips. Over time, Scoville diluted the chiles with more and more water until the tasters could no longer detect any heat in their cups. The pharmacist rated different chiles based on how much water was required to negate the capsaicin.
Scoville called his process the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Today, in his honor, pepper punch is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) arranged on the Scoville Scale. No taste-tester tongues were harmed in the ranking process. Now, SHUs are measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a process that measures the heat-generating chemicals in chiles.
For context, pure capsaicin ranks at 15 to 16 million SHUs, and sweet bell peppers come in at 0. In between is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million, orange habaneros at 150,000 to 325,000, cayenne peppers at 30,000 to 50,000, and jalapeños at 2,500 to 8,000.
Pepper growers continue to try to out-spice each other with new tongue-searing cultivars. At any given time, a new hybrid could explode to the top of the scale.
What are the mechanisms through which the human body responds to the varying degree of heat in chile peppers? As it turns out we didn’t know until very recently. In fact, in 1997, Dr. David Julius discovered the neural pathway that gets activated by capsaicin, causing spicy foods to feel “hot” when consumed.
And, on October 4, 2021, David Julius, a physiologist, and Ardem Patapoutian, a molecular biologist and neuroscientist, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The men were honored for their research into human sensory perception; each had, independently of the other, discovered mechanisms through which human bodies respond to touch and temperature.
The importance of the five senses cannot be understated. They are mediums through which we experience and understand the world around us, transforming external stimuli into electrical signals that our brain translate into the sensations of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. How exactly this transformation works out on a molecular level, however, was long unclear and still remains one of the most elusive questions in modern science.
Dr. Julius currently serves as the chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California in San Francisco. In 1997, his team of researchers compiled a library of neural pathways that are activated by capsaicin, a compound that gives spicy foods like chile peppers their burning sensation when consumed. Along the way, Dr. Julius discovered TRPV1, the ion channel that acts as our primary capsaicin receptor.
In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up a tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers (and wasabi) give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case.
Dr. Julius answered this question by showing us that TRPV1 is responsible for keeping our bodies safe from high temperatures. The channel responds not only to capsaicin but also to temperatures that are greater than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. TRPV1 also acts up when we are injured or sunburned, causing damaged tissue to feel hot to the touch. In all cases, the channel transmits a signal that our brains turn into the sensation of heat.
A Matter of Taste
Chile aficionados know their way around the Scoville Scale but they also insist that chile varieties like grape varieties and wines have terroir. Put simply, terroir is a subtle turn of flavor based on the location where a pepper is grown. By this measure, a Hatch green chile from New Mexico will taste distinctly different from the same variety grown in California.
Likewise, different peppers carry different signature taste prints. Habaneros are known for their fruity, floral flavors; jalapeños tend to be herbaceous; Thai chiles have an earthy flavor; Tabasco peppers have a slightly smoky taste.
Experimenting with chiles of different pedigrees and forms—fresh, dried, crushed, powdered—could become a lifelong obsession. At what point does the chile overpower the food? What blends work together? What chile paste perfectly accentuates a stew, a kebab, barbecued ribs, or a block of tofu?
Of course, while you’re pondering, shopping, and cooking remember one thing: capsaicin, the thing that brings the truth-or-dare pleasure and pain to hot peppers has exactly no flavor. None! So if you’re expecting to add a sweet, tart, or vegetal aura to your food, start with a pepper you can actually taste before moving up the scale.
On Hot Pepper Sauces
Chile-heads love to sample and collect hot sauces for the flavor and potency of the specific elixirs as well as for the opportunity to grab a portable pepper fix. For most, the hot sauce hobby has the makings of a lifelong obsession simply because there are so, so many different commercially produced sauces to try.
Market researchers quantify the U.S. hot pepper sauce market at around $1.2 billion as of 2018 with the spicy condiment snaring more than $2.3 globally. At any given time, more than 100 major brands are vying for a share of that pie.
The invention of hot sauce is credited to the ancient Aztecs who cultivated chili peppers to add some flavor and nutritional value to their limited food choices. By the time the conquistadors arrived, the Aztecs were already mixing peppers, herbs, and water into sauces and serving them on ancient versions of the corn tortilla.
Fast forward several hundred years and hot sauces have spread from their birthplace in Central America to North America, Europe, Asia, and outer space. Walk into your average grocery store and you’ll be confronted with a dazzling array of hot sauce bottles filled with liquids in red, green, yellow, and orange. Different brands come with different types of peppers, ingredients, spice levels, and suggested food pairings—and not all are created equal.
Edmund McIlhenny, a banker from Avery Island, Louisiana, founded Tabasco in 1868. The recipe evolved over time. A soldier returning from Mexico in 1840 gave McIlhenny, a known gardener, seeds from wild peppers he had collected. McIlhenny planted the seeds and the peppers that grew became the basis for Tabasco sauce. McIlhenny named the unique Mexican pepper strain for the sauce which he had already named for a region in Mexico.
To this day, Tabasco is made from the McIlhenny family’s original recipe: Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt aged in oak barrels for up to three years. Tabasco peppers are handpicked when they turn a deep red, which apparently signifies optimal flavor and heat.
Tabasco has many competitors including regional hot sauces, sauces with international pedigrees, and sauces created for different cooking techniques. I’ve tried many of them including:
Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce which was engineered in New Iberia
Tapatío, a popular Mexico hot sauce with a guy with a sombrero on it that’s not actually a Mexican hot sauce but made in California
Cholula (Choe-loo-la), named for a 2,500-year-old city in Mexico but actually manufactured in Chapala in the Mexican state of Jalisco—not Cholula—and instantly identifiable by its signature wooden bottle cap
Crystal Hot Sauce, the best-selling Louisiana hot sauce that has been in New Orleans since 1923 and popular around the world
Frank’s Hot Sauce, a Louisiana-born sauce made from Cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder
Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.
Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce
Avery Island is the home of Louisiana’s iconic hot sauce: Tabasco.
See how it’s made during a factory tour, pick up a few souvenirs at the Tabasco
Country Store, and tour the island’s Jungle Gardens.
Touring food factories can be a hit or miss venture. Sometimes
you get a really hands on tour that gets you up close and personal to the
action which can be fun and tasty. Other times you’re stuck sitting in a room
watching animated characters tell the company’s history circa 1987.
We’ve taken a tour of the Tabasco Factory and then
explored Avery Island on two occasions; it is worth the drive and your time.
When planning your visit to tour the Tabasco factory be
aware that there are three distinct attractions to check out. If you want to do
everything, plan on a half day visit or longer.
The first part of our Tabasco Tour adventure began with the
requisite factory tour. The tour is free and takes about 30 minutes. The tour
guide takes you through a few different production areas, relating interesting
facts and details about the operation and its history.
The pepper sauce that Edmund McIlhenny created in 1868 on
Avery Island is much the same that is produced today, on that very same site.
The basic recipe, the process by which it’s made, and the ingredients remain
virtually unchanged. And five generations of McIlhennys and employees have
dedicated themselves to preserving its legacy.
Edmund McIlhenny was given seeds of Capsicum
frutescens peppers that came from Central America, and he first planted
them on Avery Island over 140 years ago. Today, just as then, when the peppers
reach the perfect shade of deep red and are at their juiciest, they are
carefully picked by hand. (Young peppers are green and then turn yellow, orange
and, finally, deep red as they age.)
When in doubt, pickers can gauge the color by comparing it
to a small wooden dowel, “le petit bâton rouge,” painted the preferred hue of
The pepper mash is placed in white oak barrels, and the
wooden tops of the barrels are then covered with more Avery Island salt, which
acts as a natural barrier to protect the barrels’ contents. The mash is allowed
to ferment and then aged for up to three years in the McIlhenny warehouse.
After going through the tour you finish up with a short
video presentation that gives you history of the McIhenny Family and
their five generations of Tabasco sauce making experience. The best part? They
give you numerous mini-bottles of Tabasco at the end of the tour.
If you aren’t into factory tours, you can skip it and head
right over to the Tabasco Factory Store. Here you will find all the Tabasco
merchandise that any shopper could desire. You can also sample every sauce
flavor available here along with super delicious Tabasco Ice Cream.
While touring the factory and wandering the store is cool, a
favorite part of touring Avery Island is a visit to the Jungle Gardens.
Avery Island is one of five salt dome islands rising above
the flat Louisiana Gulf Coast. These islands formed over the eons when alluvial
sediment covered a vast plain of salt left behind by an ancient saltwater
ocean. Surrounded by low-lying swamps and marshes, Avery Island stands 163 feet
above mean sea level. The Tabasco Factory was built on one such salt dome island
that is home to North America’s first ever salt rock mine in 1862.
Jungle Gardens is a 170-acre garden with semitropical
foliage, abundant wildlife, and a centuries-old Buddha statue. The garden’s
rolling landscape stretches along Bayou Petite Anse on the northwest side of
Jungle Gardens is home to a large collection of camellias.
Thousands of plants represent some 600 varieties, including imports from Japan
and France as well as varieties that McIlhenny developed on Avery Island.
You might even spy some alligators, deer, and raccoons that
live in the hills and marshes around the gardens. And then there are thousands
of snowy egrets that nest on the island each spring on specially built,
pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.”
You can stroll the gardens along a path covered by gnarled
oaks laced with Spanish moss and stand at the shrine that houses a
centuries-old Buddha—a gift to E. A. McIlhenny in 1936.
Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.