How Did Tabasco Sauce Become an American Icon?

The musical comedy known as Burlesque Opera of Tabasco was a hot ticket in 1894, selling out around the United States. And then Tabasco, one of America's oldest operas, disappeared. However, in 2012, New Orleans conductor Paul Mauffray discovered the opera’s missing libretto, along with other documents. Two years later, audiences were treated to parts of the reconstructed score. In early 2018, Mauffray unveiled the entire re-assembled opera, retitled Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera, at Le Petit Théâtre Du Vieux Carré in New Orleans.

An opera with a little kick:

  • The opera revolves around a Middle Eastern pasha who loves spicy food. His chef searches high and low for the right seasonings, which turn out to be the iconic pepper sauce still made in Louisiana.

  • The production faded away after a dispute about profits. Mauffray has been piecing together its musical history ever since finding remnants of the original libretto in a locked box.

  • “We still have the flavor of an 1890s Gilbert and Sullivan-style show,” says Mauffray. And the McIlhenny Company, makers of Tabasco, is still bankrolling some of the production.

More Info: NPR

Discussion Comments


In more modern times, Walter McIlhenny served in the US Marine Corps in World War II, returned home, became the CEO of the family business, and actively promoted that business's product -- Tabasco -- as a seasoning for bland military rations.

In the 1960s, he published a cookbook detailing how to turn those rations into something edible using the sauce (and started a program that allowed people to send a soldier in Vietnam a bottle of it for a dollar).

By the 1990s, every "Meal Ready-to-Eat" came with a tiny bottle of Tabasco. Pretty much anyone who has served in the military in the last 50-odd years was introduced to Tabasco while in ranks if they didn't know about it already.

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