Tabasco Pepper: The Popular ‘Hot Sauce’ Pepper

tabasco peppers
Next to the jalapenos, tabasco peppers are one of the most well-known peppers. They are considered a medium spicy pepper, with a SHU range of 30,000-50,000. Tabasco peppers are used in the popular Tabasco Sauce, which is often used as a blanket term when requesting “hot sauce” by restaurant-goers.

What Are Tabasco Peppers?

Tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens) are a chili pepper cultivar from Mexico. They get their name from the Mexican state of Tabasco where they are native.

The fruit of a tabasco pepper plant starts out as bright green in color and eventually grows a deep orange and red as they ripen. The peppers usually grow to be about two to three inches in length, and have the classic tapered shape that is seen in many chili varieties.

tabasco peppers

Tabascos are smoky and bright in flavor, allowing their spiciness to take center stage when eating them!

Are Tabasco Peppers Used In The Tabasco Sauce Brand?

Yes. Aged red Tabasco peppers, salt, and distilled vinegar are the only three ingredients in the name-brand Tabasco Sauce.

If you’re a fan of eating spicy foods, then there is a good chance you’ve tried Tabasco Original Red Pepper Sauce. One of the most iconic hot sauces in the world, Tabasco owes its fame to the sauce’s namesake ingredient: tabasco peppers.

For the past 150 years, the McIlhenny Company has been producing Tabasco Hot Sauce using tabasco peppers grown locally in Avery Island, Louisiana. Grown for generations by the McIlhenny family, the heirloom tabasco pepper has always been the foundation for the brand’s famous hot sauce.

Tabasco is now sold in over 195 countries worldwide, allowing the famous tabasco pepper sauce to be enjoyed by millions of people every year.

How Hot Are Tabasco Peppers?

Even though tabascos aren’t at the top of the Scoville scale, they come in at a respectable 30,000-50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU).

This is comparable to other North American chili peppers like the rooster spur, aurora, and the super chili. All of these peppers are known for having just the right amount of heat and are used for cooking in various ways.

It’s important to note that Tabasco sauce is much milder than eating a fresh tabasco pepper. Even though Tabasco is a famous hot sauce, it only clocks in between 2,500-5,000 SHU. This is due to the production process of the sauce, where a mash of peppers and salt are aged for up to three years in white oak barrels. The mash grows much mellower over the years and is finally combined with vinegar to create the hot sauce.

Are Cayenne And Tabasco Peppers The Same?

While tabasco and cayenne peppers are often associated with one another for having similar heat levels and their use in hot sauce, they are entirely different varieties. In fact, they come from two different species of peppers.

Cayennes are in the Capsicum annuum species, which are known to produce a wide variety of peppers that vastly differ in fruit size, shape, and heat. Tabascos, on the other hand, are a variety of Capsicum frutescens that are known to consistently produce small and spicy peppers.

How To Use Tabasco Peppers In Cooking

From making a beautifully spicy cochinita pibil marinade to being the foundation of a simple hot pepper sauce, you can use tabascos in hundreds of recipes!

I personally think that tabasco peppers are best used in three primary ways: fresh, dehydrated, and as a hot sauce.

Finely chopped tabascos by themselves make for a perfect condiment to top any dish. Fully ripened tabasco peppers have a bright and smoky flavor that lends itself well to Mexican and South American cuisine. Nothing beats using fresh peppers when it comes to making a dish spicy.

Dehydrating peppers is a surprisingly simple process and rewards you with dried peppers that can be ground down and used as a seasoning. Tabasco powder is great for spicing up your winter stew or bringing some heat to your summer barbecue.

Consider using tabascos in your homemade adobo seasoning for a nice kick of heat!

Finally, hot sauce is where tabascos can truly shine. Fermenting your own hot sauce at home is easier than it seems, and you have full control over just how hot your sauce will end up. Homemade tabasco sauce made with tabasco peppers, salt, vinegar, and garlic is delicious enough to add to just about anything.

Where To Buy Tabasco Peppers

If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, dried Tabasco peppers can be found online at Amazon and other specialty pepper retailers. You can also check your local farmers’ market in the summer.

Can You Grow Tabasco Peppers?

Tabasco plants are hardy perennials and will thrive in warmer climates through multiple growing seasons.

However, they are prone to be damaged by frost. Grow them in pots (they make beautiful ornamental pepper plants in pots!) and bring them in during the winter if you plan to nurture them as a perennial. Otherwise, they can be grown just about anywhere as an annual.

tabasco pepper plant in pot

The important thing to remember is that tabascos need to be in full sun to thrive. If you’re growing from seeds, germination will occur about three to four weeks after planting, so be patient!

Having a proper balance of a sunny location, keeping the plants well watered, and occasionally adding compost to the soil will make a huge difference in the success of your plant’s ability to bear fruit.

Substitutes For Tabasco Peppers

Cayenne or aurora peppers are great substitutes if you cannot get your hands on tabascos. Both of them are also 30,000-50,000 SHU and will match the tabascos heat perfectly.

Of the two, cayennes are more common and should be readily available to you through most pepper sellers. Ground cayenne is one of the most popular hot pepper seasonings and is found in almost every grocery store.

Aurora peppers might be a bit more difficult to find, but their brilliant rainbow coloration makes them highly desirable. Found in red, yellow, orange, and an amazing purple, auroras are pleasing to the eye and palette.

How Many Types Of Tabasco Sauce Are There?

According to Tabasco’s website, they currently produce nine different styles of hot sauce. Of those nine sauces, seven of them include actual tabasco peppers in them.

tabasco sauce varieties

Their Jalapeño sauce naturally uses only jalapeño peppers, and their Buffalo Style Hot Sauce consists of red cayenne. Since both of these sauces don’t include the spicy tabasco pepper in the mix, they are considered Tabasco’s mildest hot sauce offerings.


Leland has spent most of his life in both the garden and the kitchen. A veggie garden is a place of harmony between his love of cooking and working with plants. Naturally, he loves peppers and plants about a dozen new and interesting varieties every year. His current pepper project is preparing to overwinter a jalapeño plant which he hopes will continue to flourish until the next flowering season. Leland is always excited to learn about new spicy and flavorful chilis, and he is constantly looking for new recipes to put his new peppers to the test!

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