"To See A World" Spotlights 

Avery Island, 

Besides being the home of Tabasco Sauce, Avery Island has a fascinating natural history.

The "island" is really a little hill in the deltaic wetlands of Louisiana that was created by the upwelling of ancient salt deposits that exist beneath the Mississippi delta region.  At it's highest point it is only 152 feet above sea level.

The salt was formed in a narrow sea that existed during an early stage in the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea some 200 million years ago. The salt was later buried by sandy and muddy deposits. The accumulated deposits also contained organic material that has been converted to petroleum and natural gas.

In value per square acre, the McIlhenny family must be one of the most resource rich and entrepreneurial families in the world. They exploit salt from the salt dome below the island; recover oil from the oil traps created by the rising salt; at one time utilized the agricultural potential of the elevated and dry land to grow capsicum red peppers for their Tabasco sauce; host tourists with their bird gardens; sell Tabasco trademark souvenirs and charge a small toll to get on their little island (don't make the mistake that I have twice now, of going to the island on Sunday, you won't even get to visit the Tabasco Factory and get your free sample!).

Avery Island is south of Lafayette on Highway 90 as shown in this map.

A little geography of the island (from a high altitude aerial photo, note how the channels and crops outline the extent of the "island")

Aerial photo of entrance road 
(lines show where ground view below was taken from).

(photo by jl, June 1996)

View approaching the "Island"

(photo by jl, June 1996)

Aerial View from South (shows fields that dramatically 
demonstrate the "dome" shape of the feature.

(photo by jl, June 1996)

Aerial View from West (shows salt mine, extensive marsh and channels)

(photo by jl, June 1996)

A high altitude aerial photo of Avery Island

Clemson Univ. map resources

A large topographic map of both Jefferson and Avery Islands

A model of a salt dome from the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Virtual Museum

Info on the adjacent Jefferson Island Oil Drilling Episode

Another salt dome in Portugal and a very different way of production

For 128 years, the McIlhenny family has used a secret recipe to make Tabasco pepper sauce on this tiny island in the bayous. Visitors can tour the factory (bottling and packing operations only), see capsicum pepper plants in the fields and sample new products like garlic and jalapeno pepper sauces. The 250 acre estate is also home to 20,000 snowy egrets.

Edmund McIlhenny returned to his Avery Island plantation after the Civil War to find that not much had survived. The salt works on this Gulf Coast Island were inoperable. The sugarcane fields had been destroyed. But Mr. McIlhenny was delighted to find that the special red peppers he had planted in his garden before the war had miraculously survived. He began to experiment with making pepper sauce, and eventually hit upon a formula that worked by crushing the ripest, reddest peppers, mixing half a cup of local salt with each gallon, then aging the mixture in crockery jars for thirty days. He added fine French wine vinegar, and aged the sauce for another thirty days before straining and bottling it. He chose a Central American Indian name for the product, "Tabasco", and shipped the first batch of 350 bottles in 1868. The hot sauce took off like wildfire, and orders came in faster than they could be filled. Tabasco has since become the definitive seasoning sauce, offering people around the world a taste of south Louisiana. Just a few drops helps to accentuate the flavor in foods. Some folks wouldn't dare eat eggs without a dash of Tabasco and it is a vital additive to many recipes, including Bloody Marys. The company celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1993, and it continues to be one of the truly American food products.

Original source of above: WCBS Newsradio 88

The Official Tabasco Web Site

The Salt Institute

Order your Tabasco chiles (90 days to production). 

The principal ingredient in the most famous hot sauce in the world, and central to Creole cooking. The McIlhennys of Avery Island, Louisiana, developed their famous patented sauce after the Civil War, and the rest is history! While commercial Tabasco Sauce production involves salting and barrel-fermenting the chile mash, gardeners can enjoy growing these fiery hot, good-tasting chiles at home for their own fresh sauces and spicy hot dishes. Tabasco chiles have a unique, dry/hot smoky taste combined with fiery pungency for unbeatable flavor. These small, pointed chiles grow on branching plants 2 to 3 feet tall, and do best where summers are long and hot. Each plant can bear 100 erect little chile pods that color up from yellow to orange to red. Rightfully famous, Tabasco's smoky hot flavor is exemplary and no other chile tastes quite like them.

But don't expect to find colorful pepper fields on your visit. While crops like sugar cane, sweet potatoes and soybeans are plentiful in the area's lush countryside, pepper harvesting is now almost nonexistent. According to Gene Jefferies, director of agriculture at the McIlhenny Company, which produces the famous Tabasco brand pepper sauce, the culprit is the local oil industry. When it boomed in the early '80s, the industry stole many field laborers. Today, finding field hands is difficult, even at a premium. So difficult, in fact, that a company like McIlhenny, which produces about 300,000 bottles of Tabasco® sauce a day on an exotic island near the area of St. Martinville and New Iberia, has been forced to grow more than 90 percent of its pepper crops in other states or foreign countries. You may not find many pepper crops in southwest Louisiana these days, but there are three pepper sauce plants in St. Martinville alone. And that fact, the locals say, was quite enough to justify the creation of a Pepper Festival.

Source of above: 
(a now defunct website.)

Even if you don't like to fish,  for a real "Cajun" experience check out Theophile Bourgeois' Cajun Chalet.


Tabasco Ties

Location Map for Avery Island

Author: Jim Locke (jim@marin.edu)