It’s tricky to pin down the origin of hot sauce. It’s clear that people have been using hot chili peppers for some time in cooking, but harder to identify when we went from using chili peppers and spices, to creating spicy sauces.
History of the Chili Pepper
Archaeological excavations have revealed that we have cultivated chili peppers for at least 9,000 years, and to be amongst the oldest domesticated crops from the area of central-east Mexico. While we know that humans have grown and eaten these peppers for thousands of years it is unclear when exactly they began to take the form of one of our favorite condiments.
Capsaicin, the active component in found in most hot sauces, has been discovered on stoneware vessels thought to be 1700 to 2400 years old. This indicates that we were using chili peppers in cooking, but unfortunately there are few records that indicate how they were used. In these times, stoneware vessels were likely used for beverages or condiments: a good candidate for the origin of hot sauce.
So, how old is hot sauce? No one knows for sure, but it could be 2,400 years old or older!
The First Spicy Sauces
Chili peppers have long grown in lands that are now known as the Caribbean and South and Central America. The Spanish made contact with this part of the world in 1492, and chili peppers were taken back to Spain soon thereafter. In a part of what is termed the Columbian exchange, the Spanish and Portuguese acquired chili peppers and traded them all over the world.
Origins of Modern Hot Sauce As We Know It
The initial trade of chili peppers was the inception of many common types of hot sauce we can still recognize today. Indian spicy chutneys, Yemeni chili relish, North African harissa, and the Portuguese ‘peri peri’ sauce were all created created shortly after the introduction of the pepper to the rest of the world. Less than a century after Columbus’ voyage hot sauce has definitely arrived, although it takes its form as a condiment or relish, rather than the bottled form we have grown so accustomed to.
Tabasco was the First Mass-Manufactured Hot Sauce in the United States
An advertisement for cayenne hot sauce from 1807 is one of the first records we have of bottled hot sauce in the United States. By 1850 there were several manufacturers of hot sauce operating in the United States.
Several years later in 1868, Tabasco hot sauce became available to consumers. Initially Edmund Mcilhenny, the inventor of Tabasco, bottled it in cologne-type bottles and sealed it with green wax. Mcilhenny sent reduced-cost samples of his iconic red sauce to potential vendors across the Gulf Coast, and had orders coming in almost immediately. With this, Tabasco likely became the first widely available commercially produced hot sauce. The commercial success of Tabasco also spawned a host of other hot sauce companies, some of which exist to this day.
In the last century and a half, Tabasco has become one of the most widely available modern brands of hot sauce. It’s rampant popularity contributed to the increased interest in United States cuisine.
People have been enjoying spicy foods and sauces for nearly 9,000 years – and just what we know about! From Mexico thousands of years ago to the bottle of Tabasco sauce in your fridge, hot sauce has a rich history that has shaped it into one of the most popular condiments in America.