Edmund McIlhenny: Inventor of the World’s Favourite Hot Sauce

The Irish Tale of Tabasco

On July 11th, their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (AKA Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) made their first visit together as a couple to Dublin, Ireland. In fact, this was the first time Prince Harry had set foot in the city. During the whistle-stop two-day trip, the pair were shown around some tourist favourites – the Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin, Croke Park, Ireland’s national stadium and last but certainly not least, our very own EPIC.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex

Picture shows, H.R.H. The Duke of Sussex and H.R.H. The Duchess of Sussex being given a tour of the EPIC Museum, CHQ Building. Picture shows centre, Mr. Neville Isdell, Founder and Chairman of the EPIC. JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

EPIC chronicles Ireland’s influence on the world through the lens of its 10 million emigrants. Spanning topics such as design, sports, politics and theatre, we knew there would be a wide spectrum of stories that would appeal to the Royals.

However, having recently learnt of Ms Markle’s penchant for hot sauces, as professed on her former lifestyle website ‘The Tig’, there’s one tale we knew was bound to pique her interest…

The petite glass bottle with its signature red cap and diamond-shaped label has long occupied a proud place on drinks carts, kitchen pantries and dining room tables worldwide. At 2,500–5,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, just a few drops of the chili pepper sauce are enough to inject some life into your morning eggs or to spice up a curative Bloody Mary.

Yet despite the world’s familiarity with the sauce, it is a little known fact that Tabasco’s origins lie in Ireland; in County Limerick to be exact. The first clue lies in the bottle’s label where the surname ‘McIlhenny’ can be read (a name has long been associated with County Donegal in the northernmost tip of Ireland).

Believed to be first produced in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny, an Irish-American Maryland-born banker, just three ingredients are used in the making of Tabasco; distilled vinegar, red tabasco pepper and salt. The story goes that a passing Confederate soldier gifted McIlhenny some seeds from a Mexican tabasco pepper. The diet of the Reconstruction South at the time was notoriously monotonous and tasteless, prompting him to whip up a small batch of hot sauce using this newly discovered chili variation.

However, in 2007 a former Business Week editor, Jeffrey Rothfeder published ‘McIlhenny’s Gold’, a book that aimed to get to the bottom of one of America’s most profitable family businesses. His research led him to discover one Maunsel White, a County Limerick born New Orleans plantation owner, who in the early 1800s had concocted his own hot pepper sauce, bottling it and serving it to his guests at meals.

Regardless of who bottled what first, one thing’s for certain, without the vision of these two Irish emigrants, this world favourite hot sauce would not exist.