This year I’m making “Tabasco Pepper Jelly” using some of those venerable hot peppers associated with Louisiana Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce. In the past, I successfully made “Hot Pepper Jelly” using jalapeno peppers. Why not take it a step further and make jelly using tabasco peppers? We’re in Louisiana now and I grew tabasco peppers in my summer garden. You don’t typically find Tabasco Pepper Jelly for sale in grocery stores and I couldn’t find any recipes using actual tabasco peppers. It’s unique! But, that did not stop me. I figured a way to make the jelly. My “Tabasco Pepper Jelly” is a pleasing sweet, red pepper jelly with mild tabasco zing. Sweet red bell peppers add color, flavor and tiny chunks of pepper. The tabasco peppers add just a bit of “punch.” It is delicious! The season to pick ripe tabasco peppers in the garden was in July for us folks here in Louisiana. But we can still make this jelly. I used commerical Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce in my autumn batch of “Tabasco Pepper Jelly.”
Use “Tabasco Pepper Jelly” on toast, biscuits, serve with cream cheese and crackers or use as a dressing for a green salad (mix with olive oil) or serve as a sauce along with chicken. It makes a great holiday gift — very bright, cheery and novel; who doesn’t like a gift from the garden?
In August 2021, we took a leisurely day trip and traveled deep in Cajun country to visit the Tabasco plantation where the hot sauce is made. It is a step back in time visit to Avery Island (which is actually a salt dome surrounded by swamp) where Tabasco Pepper Sauce comes from. The company has a very informative museum and self-guided tour in case you ever visit the coastal area of our state. And next to the Tabasco plantation is an old, old garden which you can visit with lots of native plants, trees, birds and even an alligator or two. Our day trip adventure was the inspiration for making my jelly.
McIlhenny Family and Tabasco Sauce
Edmund McIlhenny was a banker whose financial industry was destroyed by the Civil War. He moved from New Orleans to the island — where many wealthy New Orleanians had fled during the Civil War. McIlhenny says he got his seeds from a traveler in New Orleans who handed him the seeds and said, “try these”, stating they came from the area of Tabasco, Mexico. McIlhenny experimented with making a red pepper sauce from the tabasco peppers because he didn’t like other pepper sauces available on the market. He developed his recipe from from 1866-1868 and sold his first Tabasco sauce in 1869. The salt dome came in handy as salt is used both in the processing of the peppers and it is placed on top of white oak barrels (re-processed bourbon barrels) where the sauce is aged for up to three years. (Other pepper sauces use different processing techniques and do not age their sauces for this length of time. The aging process gives Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce a unique flavor.)
The company is still a privately owned company, with a fifth generation family member serving as CEO. The original recipe remains essentially unchanged from the late 1800s.
Although the peppers are no longer grown in Louisiana, the company has several large tabasco pepper plants on display. I believe that the seeds used to grow their tabasco plants still come from McIlhenny family plants on the property. The seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers are then shipped to countries in South America and Africa where the plants are grown. The peppers are picked by hand when they ripen, turned in to a salt mash and shipped back to Avery Island where the finished hot pepper sauce is produced.
These tiny little peppers sure do pack a punch. I grew tabasco peppers in my backyard garden this summer — they are easy to grown. They are small peppers, just an inch of so long and grow upright on the plants. Below is a plant in my garden with the tiny peppers.(Oramental peppers look very similar — watch out, these are much hotter and should not be used in cooking.) Why is my plant yellow? It needs fertilizer. What’s the green stuff? Weeds. And why so small? The tabasco plants at Avery Island are in a warm enough climate that they survive from year to year and grow as a large bush. In my location north of Avery Island, the plants grow as an annual and must be replanted every spring.
The peppers turn from yellow to orange to red as they ripen. The peppers should be picked as soon as they turn red and either used in recipes or dried. If left on the plants further, the peppers will soften, spoil and rot.
Tabasco peppers give a unique flavor to the jelly. Both jalapeno peppers and tabasco peppers are “hot.” However the flavor of tabasco peppers is totally different. This recipe makes a sweet pepper jelly with a peppery “zing,” totally different from Jalapeno Pepper Jelly.
Since I couldn’t find a recipe using fresh tabasco peppers to make jelly, I had to be a little creative in making my “Tabasco Pepper Jelly” recipe. Essentlally, I adapted my own recipe for “Hot Pepper Jelly” which uses jalapeno peppers. (https://beyondgumbo.com/2016/07/26/lets-make-banana-pepper-jelly/)
This fall I made the jelly again. However, I ran out of fresh tabasco peppers. So, I made the jelly using commerical Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce. Just an important note here: My batch of jelly uses only 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Just a small, small amount. Don’t ruin your jelly by pouring in too much hot sauce!
Back to my “Tabasco Pepper Jelly ” batch this summer. First, I had to figure out how many tabasco peppers to use in my recipe. Tabasco peppers are hot but they are not the hottest pepper around. The Scoville scale measures the “heat” or pungency of chili peppers based on the based on the concentration of capsaicinoids, among which capsaicin is the predominant component. Trained taste testers actually taste the peppers and then spit them out!
Tabasco peppers and cayenne peppers both range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), whereas jalapeno peppers range from 40,000 to 50,000 SHU.
Here are some other peppers:
Habaneros range from 150,000 to 300,000
Thai chili peppers range from 50,000 to 100,000 SHU
Serrano peppers, 10,000 – 25,000 SHU
Poblano peppers, (Ancho Pepper, Ancho Poblano), 1,000 – 2,000 SHU
Pepperoncini (Peperoncino, Italian Sweet Pepper, Tuscan Pepper), 150 – 500 SHU
Sweet bell peppers have 0 SHU
I figured that I could substitute tabasco peppers equally (one-to-one) for jalapeno peppers in my recipe since they are similar in “hotness.” Of course, you need something else to make the jelly flavor and red color in addition to the eight to ten tabasco peppers. For this, I chose sweet red bell peppers as a “filler.” These mild peppers gave a nice, bright red color to the pepper jelly and provided texture without changing the “heat” or character of the tabasco peppers in the sauce. They also give the jelly a “sweet pepper” taste.
Here are the ingredients for my summer batch of jelly using tabasco peppers from my garden.
These ingredients are apple cider vinegar and sugar as well as sweet red bell peppers — I used 3 red bell peppers in this batch — and tabasco peppers. Plus, you need powdered pectin — I used “Sure Jell” brand.
To make the jelly, cut the stems off the tabasco peppers, slit them and remove the seeds. Then chop up the tiny peppers. I wore gloves for this step as the capsaicin compounds can be very irritating to your skin and eyes. Thanks to Covid, I seem to have plenty of medical grade disposable gloves around my house.
Seed and cut the red bell peppers into chunks. Using a food processor, give several pulses to chop up the chunks into tiny pieces. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and/or re-process large chunks. (Do not overprocess and puree into pulp.) Three large red bell peppers yielded just three cups of finely minced peppers which was the right amount for my recipe. Drain off excess water — don’t skip this step. Too much liquid can result in liquid, syrupy jelly.
Add the drained, minced red bell peppers, chopped tabasco peppers, vinegar and one package of Sure Jell to a large pot. Stir and stir. When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, add in the sugar. That is 5 cups of sugar. Hey, this is jelly. Bring to a rolling boil, (a boil which doesn’t stop with stirring). Cook for exactly one minute. You know you will have good jelly if the mixture is thick. If it is runny. Stop. Add an additional 1/2 packet of pectin.
Quickly remove from stove. Transfer into hot, sterile canning jars. Wipe off the tops of the jars with a damp paper towel to remove debris. Add rings and seals. Either store in a refrigerator or heat prossess in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes to make shelf stable. (If heat processing the jars, make sure the water bath is boiling before you add the pepper jelly. — processing too long can break down the pectin and cause runny jelly.)
Label and date the jars. (How quickly we forget things.)
If your jelly is runny, wait 48 hours to see if it will “set.” Placing the jars in the refrigerator may also help the jelly firm up. Otherwise, just enjoy “jelly sauce.” It is still okay to use.
This recipe makes 12 jars which are 1/2 cup in volume or 6 jars which are one cup in volume. Perfect for gifts
My jelly tastes great. It is a sweet jelly with some punch. It has a different flavor profile from Jalapeno Pepper Jelly. Both are delicious. Enjoy this unique application of Louisiana tabasco peppers.
Tabasco Pepper Jelly
- 3 large red bell peppers (3 cups when finely chopped)
- 8 tabasco peppers*
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 box (1.75 oz) Sure Jell fruit pectin, plus an extra 1/2 box if needed
- 5 cups sugar
Method and Steps:
- Get everything ready by sterlizing six (1 cup or 1/2 pint) canning jars, new seals and rings. Place in a large pot of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Keep hot while making jelly. (Alternately, sterilize 12 jars with are 1/2 cup along with seals and rings.)
- Wash, stem and quarter red bell peppers. Using food processor, add small batches of bell pepper quarters to bowl. Pulse several times to chop. Do not puree. Remove any large chunks of peppers which are left and pulse again. Process in several batches. You should have 3 cups (perhaps a little more) of finely chopped red peppers.
- Transfer to strainer and drain off excess liquid. Set aside.
- Using disposable kitchen gloves, stem tabasco peppers. Remove seeds. Chop finely.
- In a large, heavy pot, add finely choppedm draubed red peppers, chopped tabasco peppers, apple cider vinegar and a box of Sure Jell fruit pectin.
- Bring to a rolling boil (one which doesn’t stop with stirring). Stir constantly.
- Add sugar. Cook and stir for exactly one minute. The jelly should be rather thick. If not thick, add an extra 1/2 box of pectin.
- Remove from heat. Using a funnel, pour into hot, sterilized canning jars. Wipe off tops of jars with a damp paper towel. Add rings and lids.
- While jars are still hot, process in boiling water bath of canner for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a tray lined with a clean cloth dish towel. Cool. Date and label. If properly sealed, store at room temperature.
- If not processing jars in a boiling water bath of canner. then store in refrigerator and use within several months.
*NOTE: May substitute 1/2 tsp commerical Tabasco Pepper Hot Sauce for fresh tabasco peppers.
NOTE: It may take up to 48 hours for the jelly to “set” and firm up. Chilling in refrigerator may help.