Tabasco Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are tabasco peppers?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last century, you’ve heard of the famous Tabasco Hot Sauce. It is made in America and is arguably the most popular (and easily found) hot sauce on the planet. The tabasco pepper is the chili behind this tasty concoction and gives the hot sauce its name. With its medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units) and surprising juiciness (unlike any other chili), the tabasco pepper has become a kitchen staple, not because of fresh pepper use, but rather because of the variety of products in which it’s found.

tabasco pepper
Tabasco peppers in various stages of maturity, growing upwards from the vine

Tabasco pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 50,000
Median heat (SHU)40,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 20 times hotter
Capsicum speciesFrutescens
SizeApproximately 1 to 2 inches long
FlavorSmoky, Sweet, Fruity

How hot are tabasco peppers?

This is a medium-hot chili (30,000 to 50,0000 Scoville heat units), very similar to the cayenne pepper in terms of overall spiciness. Compared to our reference point, the jalapeño, the tabasco pepper ranges from 4 to 20 times hotter, so it has a bit of a kick. Though, it’s nowhere near the spiciness of a habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU) or any of the hottest peppers in the world.

This may be surprising to some as Tabasco Hot Sauce (which famously uses tabasco pepper mash) is nowhere near as spicy (roughly 2,500 to 5,000 SHU.) But there’s a good reason. The tabasco pepper mash is diluted in the hot sauce’s vinegar base to the point where the hot sauce has more of a jalapeño level heat (2,500 – 8,000 SHU.)

–> Learn More: Read Our Tabasco Original Red Hot Sauce Review

What do they look like?

Tabasco chilies grow from one to two inches long, thin and tapering to a point. As they ripen they change color: starting yellow, then taking an orange hue, and finally a beautiful red shade.

The fruits are particularly beautiful to look at for a culinary chili because the peppers grow straight up toward the sun on the vine; they don’t dip down on the plant. That’s an uncommon trait among hot pepper plants (found in the chilies of the Capsicum Frutescens species, along with some ornamental peppers.) This allows the colors to really pop on the plant — a nice touch for edible landscaping for home gardens or container planting.

What do tabasco peppers taste like?

These chilies are typically picked and used in their ripe red state, and when ripe tabasco peppers have a tasty sweet and smoky flavor – bordering on fruity. Now, of course, you can enjoy tabasco peppers when green as well, but expect those flavor nuances to be muted in comparison. When green, tabasco peppers have a bright, peppery flavor. There may be hints of what’s to come (a light sweetness), especially as they begin to change color.

Tabasco history

The name tabasco derives from the Mexican state of Tabasco, but that’s about as deep as the relationship with the state goes. Some tabasco peppers are grown in Mexico, but the real powerhouse here is in Louisiana in the United States.

 On Avery Island, Louisiana, the McIlhenny family has been running since 1868 perhaps the most famous hot sauce business on the planet. Tabasco Sauce has been made there ever since, starting with Edward McIlhenny. And all tabasco peppers that have been grown commercially for Tabasco Sauce come from seeds from the island.

Because of the hurricanes and climate issues that Louisiana faces on an annual basis, along with the vast amount of Tabasco Sauce that is demanded by the market, the McIlhenny family also works with farmers that cultivate tabasco peppers (from the original Avery Island Tabasco seeds) in South America, Central America, and Africa.

Cooking with tabasco peppers

First, know that tabasco chilies are “juicy”, which is unique in the world of chili peppers. When cut open, most chilies are dry on the inside with just the white membrane which holds the chili seeds (where a great amount of the capsaicin and heat is held). Not the tabasco pepper. It is juicy on the inside. It is the only hot pepper like it, and this is perhaps what makes it so very tasty as a salsa and hot sauce pepper.

But when generally cooking with tabasco peppers, you’ll need to account for that liquid. Whether that means removing the interior completely or accounting for the additional water when adding the chili – the choice is dependent on your usage.

Outside of this juiciness, the spiciness of the chili is on par with cayenne. So any application where you’d use fresh cayenne is fair game for tabasco. Though, know – tabasco chilies are much more flavorful than the more neutral-tasting cayenne. The overall flavors of your dish may be impacted.

More cooking tips:

  • Wear kitchen gloves when handling tabasco peppers. We recommend this even for mild chilies, and the tabasco is far from mild. Chili burn from a pepper as hot as tabasco can be very uncomfortable. Kitchen gloves will keep your skin protected.
  • Know how to combat chili burn prior to handling. You don’t want to be caught unexpectedly needing this information. The short of it: milk can help remedy that burn, and water is not a good choice. To learn more, read our post on treating chili burn.
  • “Watery” dishes are good choices for tabasco peppers. This leans into the “juicy” aspect of these chilies. Beyond the previously mentioned salsa and hot sauce uses, tabascos fit very well with jellies, jams, marinades, wet rubs, soups, and stews.
  • Drying tabasco peppers is not recommended. Again, it’s the juiciness. Tabasco chilies simply don’t dry well compared to all other hot peppers.

Where can you buy tabasco peppers?

These are extremely popular chilies in terms of hot pepper products. Tabasco Original Red Sauce, as mentioned, has become the leading Louisiana hot sauce on the market. These chilies are also very popular pickled in vinegar and tabasco pepper jellies are prevalent, too. As mentioned, due to their overall juiciness, you don’t typically find these chilies in dried or powdered form. Opt for the similarly spicy cayenne pepper powder if you want dried spices.

In terms of buying fresh tabasco peppers, you may find them at specialty grocers or chili farms (call around), but they aren’t as prevalent as all of the Tabasco hot sauces and products out there. You can buy tabasco seeds and plants online, and, as was mentioned earlier, they make for great gardening due to their “reach for the sun” look. This is a culinary chili that doubles quite well as an ornamental pepper.

Must-read related posts

  • The Hot Pepper List: We profile over 150 chilies. Search them by name, heat level, flavor, and origin.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: We rank and review over 100 hot sauces, including many from Tabasco, to help you find your next new favorite.
  • Sriracha Vs. Tabasco: Two of the most popular hot sauces in the world – how do they differ?

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on December 28, 2022 to include new content.
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Tabasco peppers are exceptionally tasty right off the plant. I only wish they’d be larger in size. When I pick them to make hot sauce, I pull the fruit, which slides off, leaving the stem on the plant. In any case and however you wish to use them, it’s a tedious process to pick them (for being so small) but at the end, THEY’RE WORTH YOUR TIME!


According to Tobasco themselves, the SHU on their original Tobasco sauce (made with Tobasco peppers) is about 2500 to 5000. I don’t know where you’re getting this 30K to 50K range. At any rate, I’ve come to learn that the Scoville scale is pretty much useless because a certain pepper can grow way above it’s published Scoville rating. I grew Jalapenos this year that were at lest 2X hotter than my Datil peppers. In fact, they are so hot that I can’t eat them. They make me sick for 12-24 hours. The burning is so intense it makes eating them… Read more »