With its deep shade of red and remarkably pleasant spice level, Tapatío has become one of the most widespread and recognizable hot sauces in the country. For many of us, Tapatío’s accessibility made it one of the first bottles of hot sauce that we regularly reached for. Compared to other leading brands that are highly vinegar based, Tapatío’s flavor profile is less acidic but equally flavorful. Thin enough to thoroughly glaze anything it touches with its peppery, crimson sheen, there’s truly something special about the tangy blaze. With just a quick flash of gentle heat, Tapatio keeps you coming back for more.
Considering how popular Tapatío is, you may find yourself wondering about the story behind the sauce. How did Tapatío become so successful? What does the word "Tapatío" mean? And who inspired the smiling mustachioed man on the label? We’ve answered all of these questions and more in our quest to learn more about one of America’s leading hot sauce brands. This is the untold truth of Tapatío.
Tapatío is a family-run business
Back in 1971, Jose-Luis Saavedra and his wife began making small batches of homemade hot sauce together. As their son recounted in an interview with The Hundreds, they sold their bottles at Saavedra’s workplace, an aerospace parts manufacturer in Vernon, California, until a recession hit. The couple decided to fully dedicate themselves to selling their hot sauce and opened up a small space nearby to work in, getting some help from their children along the way.
Per the Tapatio website, after their kids finished college in the 1980s, they were all in on the family business. Within a decade, the company experienced record growth and moved into a new, custom-built warehouse. To this day, Tapatío remains a family-run enterprise. The family says that they spend pretty much all of their time with each other, between running the business and enjoying time off together. Part of their success is the fact that they make business decisions together as a team, rather than just letting one person call the shots, and everyone is happy to live their lives focused on connecting with their loved ones.
Tapatio’s label is inspired by Mexican horsemen
You might have a few questions when you look at Tapatío’s label. Perfectly centered in the middle of the label is a blue-eyed man with a thick mustache adorned in a pale sombrero. Wearing a bright yellow jacket and a red tie, his smile graces every bottle of Tapatío. But who is he? Is the man staring back at us on all of these bottles based on the founder of the company? Is he based on anyone in particular?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the founder insists that the label is not based on him. Instead, Jose-Luis Saavedra says the picture is a drawing of a traditional Mexican cowboy, also known as a charro. The man’s eyes and skin tone are intended to reflect the physical characteristics of people who live in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is the area where Saavedra’s children were born. While the label is not based on anyone in particular, the illustration is meant to pay tribute to the traditional horsemen of Mexico.
A bottle of Tapatío is in the Smithsonian
Making it into the world’s largest museum is an impressive achievement. And that achievement was accomplished by Tapatío. Yes, there is a bottle of the beloved condiment in the Smithsonian. So, how did a hot sauce company pull off such a distinguished feat? Sure, the delicious and distinct flavor is noteworthy, but that’s not the only reason it was put in a museum. After all, it happens to be, as Senator Alex Padilla put it, "an icon of cultural ambassadorship." As he said in honor of the sauce’s 50th anniversary, "According to Mr. Saavedra, the Smithsonian Institute displayed a bottle of Tapatio to showcase the brand’s role in spreading positive images of Latino culture."
This bottle is no stranger to the museum gallery life. Per NPR, a 2014 exhibit at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles featured work inspired by Tapatío and fellow hot sauce Sriracha. As the museum stated at the time, "these hot sauces have become interwoven into the American cultural fabric and thus becoming an ubiquitous condiment in American cuisine."
Tapatío’s big break came from a Japanese grocery store
Starting up a small business is no easy feat. One of the most challenging moments can be that initial stage when a company is still trying to get off the ground and create more awareness of its product. For the owners of Tapatío, it was a slow process at first. According to the Los Angeles Times, in the beginning, Tapatío was only available in a few markets in East Los Angeles. To further complicate matters, Tapatío didn’t have much equipment early on, so the hot sauce-making process was fairly tedious. "I’d remove the stem, grind the peppers, even applied the glue to the labels," Jose-Luis Saavedra recalled. Not only was it a tedious process, but it wasn’t necessarily the most cost-effective method. "The revenue (was) very low because everything was done by hand," Luis Saavedra said in the Los Angeles Business Journal. "We didn’t have full production as we do now."
Jose-Luis Saavedra told the Los Angeles Times that after a local Japanese-owned grocery store put in what would then be considered a large order of Tapatío, things started to really get going. After that, they were able to invest in production equipment that sped up the process. Then, they signed contracts with some major food distributors. And the rest is history.
Tapatío is named in honor of the founder’s children
Naming the company is one of the most important pieces in the puzzle of setting up a new business. And sometimes things can get off to a rocky start. As Luis Saavedra told The Hundreds, just a few years into Tapatío’s operation, a company owned by Con Agra and Del Monte foods called Patio believed that Tapatio was trying to cash in on the Patio brand by using a very similar name. In the end, Tapatío decided to fight the lawsuit all the way, insisting the word "Tapatío" actually holds significant cultural meaning for the Saavedra family. This was not the first time the hot sauce company got into a legal battle over its name (more on that in a bit), but it would be the last.
The word is a reference to a specific location in Mexico. According to Saavedra, "Tapatío" is a colloquial word used to describe someone from Guadalajara. In essence, the company was named in honor of the founder’s children, who were born in Guadalajara. The company wasn’t trying to rip off another business — it was proudly celebrating the Saavedras’ legacy.
The Tapatío owners are related to Jose Cuervo
Even before the legal troubles with Con Agra and Del Monte foods, Tapatío had a rocky start with another name: Cuervo. As Luis Saavedra explained to The Hundreds, his mom happens to be related to the Cuervo family behind Jose Cuervo — yes, as in popular tequila brand Jose Cuervo — and Jose-Luis Saavedra wanted to pay homage. However, Jose Cuervo didn’t love that Saavedra’s trademark in California meant they couldn’t market their product in the state, so the liquor company took the hot sauce company to court.
After multiple meetings, the two businesses reached a deal. After the Saavedras sold the trademark to Jose Cuervo, they then decided to go with the name Charro… which also happened to be taken already. And yes, more legal drama ensued. But the third naming attempt proved to be the charm: Per the Los Angeles Times, in 1975 the company went with the Tapatío name and, as you might’ve figured out, it stuck for good. Yes, it was out of these heavily litigated ashes that the Tapatío name we know and love was finally born.
Tapatío partnered with comedian Gabriel Iglesias
In order to celebrate Tapatío’s 50th anniversary, the company decided to commemorate the occasion with a touch of humor by partnering with one of America’s most well-known comedians: Gabriel Iglesias. Tapatío teamed up with Iglesias to release a limited edition, one-of-a-kind bottle of hot sauce that features Iglesias’ face in place of the rendering of a charro that normally graces the label. Adorably, beside Iglesias are his two chihuahuas, each of them wearing a sombrero.
As Iglesias said in a press release, Tapatío’s been a part of his life for decades, and naturally he jumped at the chance to be a part of the company’s major milestone. The special 50th anniversary edition bottles of Tapatío that feature Iglesias and his chihuahuas are available for sale online in a $85 gift set. The box includes a bottle of Tapatío with the Iglesias label, another bottle of Tapatío with a special 50th anniversary black label, a Tapatío mug, a gold-colored pen, a Tapatío bottle opener, and a Tapatío shooter glass. If you’re a fan of Tapatio and love unique hot sauce collectibles, it’s a good idea to hop on this limited-run gift set quick. But if you aren’t ready to make that financial commitment, you can buy the items individually.
There are Tapatío-flavored pickles
You know that Tapatío sells bottle of its hot sauce, but did you know that the company also collaborates with other brands to create other Tapatío-flavored products? Take the Tapatío-flavored pickles in a pouch, for example. Yes, the hot sauce company joined forces with Van Holten’s pickle company for this zinger of a snack. Van Holten’s already has a few spicy pickles in its lineup, including its Hot Pickle and its Hot Mama. But working with Tapatío, one of the leading hot sauce companies in the country, is a great way to expand that realm and connect with consumers. According to The Shelby Report, Van Holten’s was excited about the partnership because consumers are excited about spicy food products.
What’s more, there’s Tapatío-flavored Doritos, Tapatío jerky, Tapatío popcorn, Tapatío mixed nuts— the list goes on. So if you’re a fan of Tapatío and snack foods, you might want to give these products a whirl.
Tapatío sells a wide range of merchandise
Selling merchandise is an effective way to make more money and increase brand awareness. Not only does the company rake in cash from the sale itself, it also benefits from the merchandise’s continuous marketing when a customer wears the logo. Looking through Tapatío’s online shop, it’s clear that the company understands the powerful advantage of having an expansive line of products available.
Imagine floating on an inflatable Tapatío hot sauce bottle in the pool on a beautiful summer day. Or maybe sporting a pair of flaming Tapatío underwear. By offering a wide range of fun and unique merchandise, Tapatío is setting themselves apart from other companies that play it safe and stick to more traditional products. But Tapatío doesn’t just stop there — the hot sauce company also offers festive socks, packets of Tapatio-flavored ramen noodles, aprons, onesies, color-changing cups, votive candles, reusable bags, face masks, and even their own brand of hand sanitizer, among many other items. And no need to worry about your fingers bursting into flames. As the online shop notes, the hand sanitizer isn’t made of hot sauce.
Tapatío partnered with Bud Light to make beer
Buffalo chicken wings and beer. Spicy bloody marys. Nachos and margaritas. Drinking a little booze while enjoying the rush of heat from chili peppers go hand-in-hand. It’s the perfect cycle of flavors — a quick burst of heat followed by a refreshing flood that puts out the fire and quenches your thirst, over and over again, until your heart’s content.
If you’re a fan of Tapatío who also enjoys a few cold ones, then this pairing might pique your interest. As Simple Most noted at the time, Tapatío teamed up with Budweiser in 2020 to create the Chelada Fuego. This michelada-inspired alcoholic beverage combines beer, tomato juice, and the tangy zip of Tapatío. It makes perfect sense for one of America’s favorite hot sauces to partner up with one of America’s favorite beers.
If you’re not into spicy food, then Bud has a few other flavors on deck for you to try, including mango, lime, and original. But let’s be real — if you’re reading an article about Tapatío, there’s a good chance you like a little heat in your life.
A Tapatío dip exists
Ah, nachos. Perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy a little hot sauce is by drizzling some over crispy tortilla chips smothered in melted cheese and all of your favorite toppings (we happen to like our sheet pan nachos loaded up with sliced olives, red onions, diced tomatoes, peppers, and fresh cilantro). That said, sometimes you don’t really feel like going through the trouble of chopping all of that up. Sometimes you just want to dip some chips into something cheesy and delicious that requires no time or effort. That’s where the wonderful world of nacho dips come in.
The Tapatío Loaded Nacho Dip is made with aged cheddar cheese, beans, salsa, and of course, a little Tapatío hot sauce. According to the label, it boasts a medium heat level and it should be warmed up. The dip was launched in early 2022 at Sam’s Club, but it looks like it might have already been discontinued. Not only have fans taken to Instagram to that it come back, the but the Sam’s Club website shows that it’s currently unavailable. No need to worry — you can always take matters into your own hands and whip up some queso dip and add a few splashes of Tapatío.
Tapatío is one of the most popular hot sauces in the U.S.
You might be aware that Tapatío is popular, but did you know that it’s one of the best-selling hot sauces in the United States? According to an Instacart survey conducted by the Harris Poll, nearly 75% of Americans like to eat hot sauce with their meals, and almost half of them use hot sauce at least once a week. Instacart also used purchase data to analyze America’s favorite hot sauces, and you better believe Tapatío made it into the top five.
Thrillist took the ranking a step further. In 2013, the outlet selected their top 10 hot sauces on the whole planet. Out of every heat-bringing sauce that exists on the spinning orb we call Earth, Thrillist decided Tapatío is the seventh best overall. If Tapatío-flavored Champagne exists, we’d happily raise a glass of it to these rankings.