New Orleans and its surrounding areas have historically served as fertile ground for a rich sampling of trends and products. The Creole and Cajun cuisines for which the territory is famous proved to be healthy fodder for the creation of a thriving market for fiery seasoning mixes, such as Tony Chachere's and Zatarain's blends, and pepper and vinegar condiments, such as McIlhenny's Tabasco sauce and Reily Foods' Tiger Sauce.
The Chachere's, Zatarain's and Tabasco product lines became so wildly popular among both locals and others that they were expanded to include spin-off products. Chachere's and Zatarain's incorporated their secret spices into fish fry, mixes for red beans and rice, etouffee, crawfish and shrimp boil, jambalaya, dirty rice and other regional favorites. People grab them off the shelves, both here and afar, because they are good-tasting facsimiles of their homemade cousins, they have plenty of time in the kitchen, and the person you are cooking for will always be impressed.
When the McIlhenny family added hot pepper jelly, jalapeno sauce, pickled green beans and spicy mayonnaise to their offerings, they were met with applause. The new products, like their predecessors, made even the most boring foods interesting. Upon adding boldly-colored silk neckties emblazoned with varying Tabasco logo themes, stores couldn't keep the shelves stocked.
The products that come from South Louisiana are desirable all over the world because they have a special personality. For example, our coffees are blended with chicory. That isn't done anywhere else. Because our people live to eat, most products made here for export are food-related, unless you include crude oil and those neckties. Our products are found in grocery stores and specialty markets around the USA and, in some cases, the world: beers, teas, coffees, candies, spice blends, a multitude of condiments, rice, bread and even potato chips. Look for some of these products the next time you're in a supermarket and want to escape the humdrum in your kitchen.
As far as people in Louisiana are concerned, there's only one brand of dried beans: Camellia. They are packaged in several varieties - black, navy, split pea, lentil, lima, field pea, crowder pea - but the reigning king locally will always be the red kidney bean, the basis for red beans ‘n rice. The rest of the country agrees: sales of Camellia red kidney beans top sales charts all over the nation. What makes them so popular? Perhaps it's the convenient, foolproof recipes Camellia is good enough to print on the back of each package.
Abita Beer, brewed with pure water from the nearby artesian wells in Abita Springs, was received with pounding steins upon its debut in the early 1980s. Aiming for the import and premium beer-drinking market, the master brewers at Abita produce Golden, Amber and Turbodog varieties for everyday consumption. They also produce Mardi Gras Bock, Wheat, Red Ale, Christmas Ale and Fall Fest seasonally. Golden, Amber and Turbodog are distributed all over the east and southeast, and in Texas and California. For the younger crowd and teetotalers, Abita brews a root beer using Louisiana Sugar cane as its prime sweetener.
In a stronger vein, M. W. Heron, a bartender at McCauley's Tavern just off Bourbon Street, came up with a beverage he called "Cuffs and Buttons" and began serving his mixture of liquer, fruit and spice directly from a whiskey barrel in 1874. A decade later, his concoction was renamed "Southern Comfort" and described as "The Grand Old Drink of the South" at the World's Centennial Exposition in New Orleans. By 1889, Heron was bottling Southern Comfort, with a label proclaiming "None Genuine but Mine." (The home depicted on the label since the l930s is Woodland Plantation in West Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana - now a bed and breakfast.) In l939, Southern Comfort became the first alcohol to jointly promote a movie and a beverage: the "Scarlet O'Hara," made with cranberry juice, and introduced to coincide with the release of "Gone With the Wind." It remains one of the most popular Southern Comfort drinks.
Community Coffee and Tea suffered humble beginnings. When Henry Saurage founded the Full Weight Grocery in the early l900s in Baton Rouge, he began to package the ground and roasted coffee he prepared for his regular customers. Family members delivered the goods by horse and buggy to grocery stores throughout the state. The product line grew to include bagged and iced teas, the latter of which are available in a variety of fruit flavors. Community is now a firmly established and favored product throughout the South. New Orleans is dotted with locations of their cozy coffee houses, CC's.
A favorite with old-timers, since l890, French Market, a Reily Foods Company Brand, has been shipping coffee all over the nation. Blending with chicory makes the product stronger and smoother.
Luzianne was founded in 1903 by William Reily who provided his customers with already ground, ready-to-brew coffee, cutting down considerably on the time it took to indulge and making him a pioneer in the "convenience food" industry. Increasingly popular with Southerners who live on sweet tea, Luzianne Tea is the #2 brand for bagged tea for brewing iced tea in the United States, second only to Lipton. In addition to Luzianne, Reily Foods Company owns the CDM Coffee brand and recently acquired the New England Tea and Coffee Company in Boston.
New Orleans Coffee Company is continuing the great coffee tradition of New Orleans, while adding a stroke of genius to the time-honored coffee brewing methods of the South. They have developed "CoolBrew," a cold-dripped coffee concentrate that makes a fresh, delicious cup of hot or iced coffee in a matter of seconds. The product enables coffee lovers to save time and get themselves percolating - without percolation - on post-party mornings and includes chicory to give the coffee its regional New Orleans flavor.
Crystal Condiments are a creation of Baumer Foods, now found in Reserve, Louisiana (a short drive up Airline Highway). If you drive by their plant, your nose will soon tickle and your taste buds tingle, aroused by the scent of hot pepper mash cooking and fermenting. Milder than Tabasco, but similarly piquant, Crystal Hot Sauce is exported to nearly a hundred countries. The Crystal brand also includes mustard, teriyaki and fruit preserves.
Magic Seasoning Blend is the creation of Chef Paul Prudhomme, the man who started the Cajun food craze back in 1984 at his restaurant, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, in the French Quarter. Made in the suburb of Harahan, Magic is available in nine varieties, and Chef Paul promises there's one to enhance just about anything you cook.
One of the best-selling pepper sauces in the country, Melinda's Original Habanero Pepper Sauce differs from other brands because it's made with Hades-hot habanero peppers instead of jalapeno or cayenne, and is available in several, increasingly lethal strengths, instead of relying simply on vinegar as a base. Melinda's combines fiery peppers with a blend of lime, onion, garlic and carrot puree. The bottled sauce from Metairie packs more than a dollop of heat.
Reily Foods' Blue Plate Mayonnaise is one of the most popular mayonnaise brands in the country and has been named the #1 mayonnaise by Cook's Illustrated. The company also produces the nationally popular and versatile Tiger Sauce hot sauce. Their Carroll Shelby seasoning brand is popular across the country, with the Carroll Shelby Chili Seasoning as the #2 chili blend in the country, second only to McCormick.
Rex Pure Foods & Horse Shoe Pure Products has been seasoning and dressing Louisiana foods since 1888 and is enjoyed throughout the nation. Look for a variety of hot sauces, cocktail onions, horseradish and remoulade sauces, Creole mustard, fish fry and seafood boil. The company started exporting in 1978 with overseas sales now comprising over 30 percent of the business.
Since 1920, Steen's Syrup has been produced in Abbeville and is now sold throughout Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The company's molasses is what gives the sweet taste to many commercial varieties of oatmeal cookies as well as K.C. Masterpiece sauces.
Blazing both tongue and tonsils alike. Tabasco is enjoyed by people in more than 100 countries, with labels printed in over 19 languages. Established in 1868 by the family that still owns it today, McIlhenny Tabasco is still produced on beautiful Avery Island, west of New Orleans. In addition to the little bottles of hot pepper sauce, look for spicy mayo, hot/sweet pepper jelly, pickled beans, okra, loud neckties and hot boxer shorts.
Usually the product comes first and then the cookbook follows. But, in the case of Tony Chachere's seasonings, it was the other way around. In 1972, the seasoning company was founded in Opelousas, in the heart of Cajun country, after Tony hit it big with his "Cajun Country Cookbook." Look for several kinds of fish fry and "quick fix" Cajun boxed dishes.
Products from Zatarain's, established in the west bank suburb of Gretna, have been a staple in New Orleans kitchens since 1889. Zatarain's jambalaya mix is said to be the country's favorite.
Both Watermaid and Mahatma Rice are synonymous with New Orleans cooking. Mahatma is a long-grain rice and Watermaid is a medium grain. Both are distributed across the globe by Riviana, the parent company, located in Abbeville. People here say the quality of both Mahatma and Watermaid is superior to any other.
The G.H. Leidenheimer Bakery in New Orleans has been the chief provider of crispy French bread loaves to restaurants across the region. Imitators are to be found in dozens of supermarket bakeries.
King Cakes are New Orleans' famous Mardi Gras dessert, a delicious combination of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and cinnamon and first introduced to the city in the 19th century. It takes its name from the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany. Local baking dynasties such as Haydel, Gambino and Randazzo have royal status because of their original recipes and variations, such as pecan praline, cream cheese and German chocolate.
All first-time king cake feasters beware: you may hear the person next to you exclaim: "I got the baby!" In every cake, a plastic baby about the size of your thumbnail is baked in. If the piece you're given yields this surprise, you are responsible for providing the next king cake. The above mentioned bakers will gladly ship a king cake anywhere UPS or FedEx exists.
This material may be reproduced for editorial purposes of promoting New Orleans. Please attribute stories to New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019. http://www.neworleanscvb.com/. Updated in January 2015.