Spice up your travels with a Tabasco Tour on Louisiana’s Avery Island. Tours include the Tabasco Museum, Tabasco Factory, and Jungle Garden plus options for a great Cajun food experience.
Tabasco is one of the many sauces that enhance the Cajun and Creole dishes that separate Louisiana’s cuisine from the rest of the nation.
There’s a lot to love about visiting Avery Island and taking a Tabasco Tour. The island’s four tour options offer a variety of places to see and experience. Depending on your choices, you can visit the museum and factory, drive or walk through the Jungle Garden, have an Acadiana Culinary Experience, or attend a cooking demonstration.
The McIlhenny Company has been producing Tabasco Sauce on Avery Island since Edmund McIlhenny first perfected the recipe and formed the company in 1868. The sauce is popular worldwide, and all of it is processed here. They produce an astounding 700,000 bottles a day.
The Tabasco Tour is reason enough to visit this part of Louisiana, but there’s more. We were staying in nearby Lafayette and discovered several fun and interesting things to do there. We also took a few swamp tours and absolutely loved them.
What’s in this post?
- Tour Options: Tabasco Museum, Factory, and Jungle Garden and/or add other options like a Culinary Experience or a Cooking Demo
- Tabasco Flavors and Tasting
- Tabasco Peppers
- About Avery Island Louisiana
- Getting to Avery Island
- Best Time to Visit Avery Island
- McIlhenny Family and Company History
Tabasco Tour Options
McIlhenny Company offers four tour options, and you can purchase tickets on their Tabasco website:
- Tabasco — the Avery Island Experience: Self-guided tour through the museum and factory and drive or walk through the Jungle Garden (Daily except major holidays — allow about 2-hours)
- Acadiana Culinary Experience: Sample the food of Acadiana, learn bits of history, and taste test Tabasco mash with a flight of Bloody Mary’s (Mondays and Wednesdays only — 1-hour)
- Cooking Demo Experience: Experience the demo; then enjoy the food (Tuesdays and Thursdays only — 1-hour)
- Private guided tour of the factory
We took a specially arranged tour and did a combination of 1, 2, and 4. It was a great tour and a great day.
The museum has displays with artifacts, old photos and lots of interpretive signage covering the evolution of Avery Island, the history of the McIlhenny/Avery family, and the creation of Tabasco Sauce.
There are both guided and self-guided versions of the factory tour. The tour route includes lots of signage explaining the stages, which is very helpful, especially if you take the self guided option. Both options take you through the various stages of sauce production including:
- the mash warehouse where white oak barrels are prepared and filled with pepper mash, and then stacked and left to ferment
- the blending room where enormous wooden vats blend the mash with vinegar
- the bottling operation where the sauce is bottled, labeled, and packed for shipping
Avery Island Jungle Garden
Walk or drive through the wonderfully preserved 170-acre garden sanctuary:
- Flora: We were not there at the right time of year to see it, but the garden has a huge area with camellia plants. They bloom mostly during winter and spring.
- Fauna: Alligators, deer, lots of Snowy Egrets, and more. the McIlhenny family even added a raised platform in one of the island’s lagoons so the egrets could safely nest.
- Chinese Temple: The garden also includes a Statue of Buddha located in a tiny Chinese Temple on top of a small rocky hill. It was a gift to McIlhenny from friends.
Tabasco Flavors and Tasting the Pepper Mash
During the Acadiana Culinary Experience, we were seated at a bar in a private room. We each got a flight of glasses with tomato juice to use to sample the Tabasco flavors, and were offered vodka to add if we wanted to create Bloody Marys. We also tasted two vintages of pepper mash.
Next George, our host, served three different Cajun dishes for us to test the Tabasco flavors on food. We sampled sauces on red beans and rice, crawfish étouffée, and boudin (boo-dahn), a sausage made with seasoned meat and rice. George said just use a small amount of Tabasco to punch up the flavor but not so much that’s it’s hot. The purpose of the sauce is to enhance the flavor of food, not to set your mouth on fire.
Tabasco comes in 7 flavors: Original Red Pepper, Green Pepper, Chipotle, Buffalo Style, Habanero, Garlic, and Sweet & Spicy. We also tasted an additional flavor that is historically reserved for the McIlhenny family. The pepper mash for Tabasco Family Reserve is aged a lot longer and is really smooth. You won’t find it in stores, but it can be ordered from the Tabasco online store.
Does Tabasco Go Bad?
Tabasco Sauce does not need to be refrigerated, and it’s good for 3-years.
Tabasco Pepper Plants
The peppers grown on Avery Island are heirloom and are only used for seed stock. Most of peppers used for the sauce are grown in South America or Africa. After raising the peppers, the growers harvest and mash them and send the mash to the Tabasco Factory on Avery Island where all the rest of the process, from fermentation to shipping, takes place.
The scientific name for the peppers is capsicum frutescens, but they are commonly called Tabasco. The Workers who pick the peppers carry a red stick to check the color, and they only pick those that are the perfect shade of red. After picking, the growers quickly crush the peppers and send the mash to the factory where it’s mixed with salt and aged for up to 3 years in white oak barrels.
Getting to Avery Island
Driving or hiring a car and driver seem to be the only options. Avery Island is 138 miles (222 km) from New Orleans and 29 miles (47 km) from Lafayette. We were attending a travel writers conference in Lafayette and took a specially arranged day tour.
Best Time to Visit Avery Island
Avery Island is open every day except for major holidays and the museum and factory tours are indoors. You could go anytime, rain or shine. The Jungle Garden would be best in Spring when the flora is greener, the camellias are blooming, and the snowy egrets are nesting. Our October visit to the Jungle Garden was certainly well worth the time, although Spring would have been better, especially for photography.
The Culinary Experience is available on Mondays and Wednesdays. The Cooking Demo is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Can You Eat on Avery Island?
Yes, the onsite Restaurant 1868 serves local Cajun cuisine, and you will get food if you take either the Acadiana Culinary Experience, which we did, or the food demo. You can also sample the sauce at the tasting bar in the Tabasco Country Store.
If you love discovering regional food, checkout our food bucket list post featuring favorite foods from around the country.
About Avery Island Louisiana
Avery is a 2200-acre island in Iberia Parish, Louisiana. The island is actually a large salt dome surrounded by wetlands. The dome is solid rock salt pushed up from the Earth’s interior and is believed to be “deeper than Mt. Everest is high.” The salt used to produce Tabasco Sauce comes from the salt dome. (Source: Island Geology signage in the Museum)
In 2018, Avery Island was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. The National Register listing acknowledges that the island is worthy of preservation and confirms it’s importance in local, state and national history. (Source)
The island was an important source of food and salt for Native Americans. They visited the island to hunt and gather food, and also collected briny water from springs and boiled the water off to harvest the salt. They traded the salt for other goods from other tribes. Workers still find Native American pottery shards and arrow and spear heads on the Island.
McIlhenny Family and Company History
The evolution from swampy wetlands to a sugar plantation to a world famous pepper sauce company stems from two fortunate marriages. In 1818, John Craig Marsh purchased land on what is now Avery Island and created a sugar plantation. His daughter (Sarah) married a jurist from Baton Rouge named Daniel Dudley Avery. In 1855, Daniel took over as owner and the island became known as Avery Island.
Shortly before the Civil War, Daniel and Sarah’s daughter (Mary Eliza Avery) married Edmund McIlhenny. McIlhenny acquired some very hot peppers from an acquaintance and planted the peppers’ seeds. He began experimenting with the peppers and learned how to make a great pepper sauce. In 1868, he founded McIlhenny Company and began producing Tabasco Sauce. Edmund McIlhenny’s descendants still own and operate the Company. (Source)
Generations of Families Live and Work on Avery Island
What impressed and surprised me most during our tour was learning that the people working in the factory also live on or near Avery Island, and they and their families have done so for generations. Our tour guide, Keyna Amy, pointed to a large photo on the factory wall with three men and a boy. She explained that it was her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and brother. Now she and her family work here too; this has been a way of life for five generations.
One More Reason to Admire McIlhenny Company
The McIlhenny Company and family not only produce the world’s most famous pepper sauce and provide good jobs, they also care enough about the island, it’s history, and it’s flora and fauna that that they have both a historian and botanist on the payroll. Both of them conduct portions of the tours, but they do way more than that:
- Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D. has been a historian and curator for McIlhenny for 30 years. He continues to find fossils and artifacts on the island and he’s located and searched through old records, handwritten notes and even recipes to document the history of the McIlhenny family and company. He published a book about it titled: TABASCO: An Illustrated History.
- Garrie Landry is a retired professor and professional botanist who works to identify and catalog the island’s flora and fauna. He discovered and uncovered gardens that were hidden by overgrowth, and he has made major improvements to the gardens and trails. He also has a wonderful blog about the garden with fantastic bird photos.
This is one of my all-time favorite tours because there is such a variety of interesting things to see and learn and do. We learned a bit of history about the island and the McIlhenny family. We toured the factory, sampled the pepper mash, and tested the various Tabasco flavors with great Cajun dishes. Then we walked through parts of the Jungle Garden and nearly stepped on a baby alligator hidden in leaves along the path. It was a great day and a great experience.
If you are interested in Cajun cooking, we also drove a little and took a lesson at Spuddy’s Cajun Cooking. We made gumbo, jambalaya, and we had tons of fun.
We’d love to thank our friends at TBEX and Lafayette Travel for sponsoring us on this incredible Tabasco tour.
About the Author
Ginny Vail is a travel writer who loves travel planning, sightseeing, photography, and videography. She’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world. Her articles focus on discovering places to go, sights to see, and details about when and how visit them.