Do a web search for “Crystal vs Tabasco” and you’ll find lots of Louisiana stories about how one po-boy restaurant uses one, another the other as a matter of personal preference. Buy two bottles and try them side by side and I predict you will prefer Crystal. It’s got a more complex taste that starts with smokiness and proceeds to vinegar, and it’s not as fiery so you can douse your food with more of it.
But the #1 reason I love Crystal is its price—not that it’s cheap per se, but what that cheapness stands for. In my local supermarket, 2 oz. of Tabasco was $1.99 this week and 12 oz. of Crystal was $2.49. That’s SIX TIMES as much product, people, for hardly any more money. (Crystal does make a 3 oz. size but I’ve never seen it except on their website where it sells for 74 cents.)
Its price, plus the fact it’s sold in a much bigger bottle, says Crystal is for people who plan to use a LOT of hot sauce—you and me, gentle reader. We’re not like that couple in the classic (or maybe apocryphal) New Yorker cartoon who have been married for so long they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco. When we buy Tabasco, if we do, we actually go for a larger bottle. And the 12 oz. of Crystal is obviously cheaper by comparison.
The folks at Tabasco are very sophisticated marketers and brand-extenders. Baumer Foods, which makes Crystal, seems to be satisfied getting its product into as many people’s hands as possible. They also make no secret of the fact they do private-labeling; I happen to have access to a pricy little bottle from a well known fried chicken place in my town and it tastes identical to my big boy with the Crystal name.
Crystal’s been around since the 1920s, so I have to believe that Baumer is not losing money in spite of its generosity. Do yourself, and them, a favor. Go out and buy some Crystal right now. Don’t wait till your Tabasco is used up, because when you have them both side by side you can do your own taste test. I predict the Tabasco will find itself at the back of your condiment shelf, like a high-and-mighty prom queen who’s grown long in the tooth.