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The Bad – Tabasco, A Culinary & Cultural Misappropriation

  • Cultural Misappropriation Of Mexican Hot Sauce Is Sore Point 
  • Tabasco Sauce Is A Global Brand That Ignores Obvious History
  • Does Company Dogma And Controversy Skip By The Olmecs?
Misappropriation Of Culture

It adds a spicy kick to anything it touches, but Tabasco Sauce has very little do to with the region in Mexico upon whose name it trades. Indeed the origins of this famous condiment are an abject example of culinary and cultural misappropriation. Ignoring centuries of history those that argue over its origins now are American. This is as insulting as it is implausible, but any Mexican gambling laws might redress this, should think again; It’s global success is not to be theirs. 

Tabasco is a region in Mexico and, you might think, would be the logical place of origin of Tabasco sauce. It is, however, merely the origin of the main ingredient, the Tabasco Pepper. The name then a reference to the plant not the place. That many people believe it a Mexican condiment would be thus both right and wrong. The use of the name on the bottle a smoking gun from the obvious cultural misappropriation of an entire variety of peppers. Names are important.

Ask the French about Champagne, the Scots about Whisky, the Russians about caviar. These are names protected as national treasures. That Tabasco was unable to prevent this cultural misappropriation of its very name speaks volumes. That the debate over the sauce’s origins still overlooks this entirely is all but sickening. Edmund McIlhenny probably didn’t realize the offence back in 1870. However maybe today this Louisiana company has fewer excuses to offer up.    

Tabasco Origins Argued Over By Americans

McIlhenny Company’s view of the sauce’s history is already challenged, but not by someone from Tabasco. The perhaps aptly named Maunsel White supposedly had the idea prior to McIhenny. He may even have given McIlhenny his first Tabasco Pepper seeds. This New Orleans entrepreneur apparently was producing something similar years earlier. The descendants of two Americans arguing over whose is responsible for this ghastly cultural misappropriation. 

P J O’Rourke

“The only really good vegetable is Tabasco sauce. Put Tabasco sauce in everything. Tabasco sauce is to bachelor cooking what forgiveness is to sin.”

This is unseemly to say the least, and, frankly, just a little implausible in a manner that would make even the adherents of the Raj in India look a little askance. It’s one thing to rip off a taste, another to market it under a name that isn’t yours, but to say you invented it? That’s just a bit ridiculous. The Tabasco and Veracruz regions were home to the Olmecs some 1500BC ago. See that’s why it’s cultural misappropriation because it denies the obvious. The locals did this first.

Misappropriation Of Culture
The origin of Tabasco Sauce is still controversial – Image source: Flickr

A Knowing Cultural Misappropriation Of A Name 

One of the first of the Mesoamerican civilizations the Olmecs were a cultured people. Museums still prize their works of art, particularly their giant sculpted heads, Kunz axes and jade masks. That such a developed society wouldn’t have discovered all the possible uses for Tabasco Pepper is insulting to suggest. So this argument twixt McIlhenny and White is just too sad for words. The Olmec’s trade connections alone would have made preserving it one of the very first things they tried.

Richard Cohen
“The concept of cultural appropriation is nothing less than an intellectual fence; Keep out!”

These days you can get Tabasco Sauce in any grocery store. It is a global success, but how much of that is based on the cultural misappropriation? On the assumption it is a Mexican product? I’d not want to find out the odds online sportsbook sites in Mexico like bet365 would give on it either way. The sauce itself is coyly pretending to be something it’s not, those arguing over it ignore several entire civilizations, and in the end it is just a symbol of theft of someone else’s name and culture.   

Read more about the plundering of Mexican culture

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We take a look at the cultural misappropriations of the origins of Tabasco sauce, the famed condiment that isn’t from Mexico. 

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