How Climate Change Is Threatening to Eliminate Your Favorite Hot Sauce

Capiscum frutescens, also known as Tabasco® chile peppers
Capiscum frutescens, also known as Tabasco® chile peppers | © Mr.TinDC / Flickr
Elizabeth Nicholas

When most people think of hot sauce, it is probably in association with the countless excellent foods it makes even better—mac and cheese, tacos, breakfast sandwiches, and even oysters, to name but a few.

But did you know that the beloved condiment is actually under threat from global warming?

Tabasco® sauce

A brief primer on the history of the sauce is helpful in understanding how this is possible. Tabasco® sauce has actually been made exclusively on one island—Avery Island, on the Louisiana coast—for the past 150 years. Edmund McIlhenny was the first to bottle the sauce; he found a pepper plant near a chicken coop on Avery Island and had an idea. Today, the production of Tabasco® is still all in the family, and all on Avery Island.

Avery Island

And now, the advancing tides are threatening to cover all the land that has been used to make Tabasco®. In 2005, Hurricane Rita turned the area where the sauce was produced into a pond. The family responded by putting up a 17-foot (5.1-meter) levee around the area, but rising tides continue to threaten other parts of the island.

Avery Island isn’t the only place on the Louisiana coast feeling the effects of global warming. According to a report by the U.S. government, a football field of land is lost every 100 minutes. A combination of overdevelopment along the Mississippi River, lots of drilling for oil and gas, and climate change has caused the state to lose 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of land (which is about the size of the state of Delaware) since 1930.

Avery Island

For now, the company is bottling 750,000 bottles every day and shipping them to 185 countries around the world—the Japanese are particularly enthusiastic consumers. And if you are also a devout fan of the sauce, there is also a museum on the island where you can learn more about the history of the sauce, and of Avery Island.

The head of the company, Tony Simmons, is keen to keep Tabasco® production on Avery Island but is beginning to consider the possibility of moving off the island. “We don’t think it will come to that,” he told The Guardian, “but we are working to do everything we can to make sure it won’t happen to us. I mean, we could make Tabasco® somewhere else. But this is more than a business: this is our home.”

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