Who is Tannenbaum?

I do not think you would be reading this if you weren’t thinking about trying my Tannenbaum’s Sweet Habanero Sauce. And if you are thinking about trying it, I think it is reasonable to wonder if there is a real person behind the name.

Yes, that’s me. Harvey Tannenbaum. 

I live near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I’ve spent the past 20 years. Throughout my life, I’ve lived in Hawaii, Michigan, West Virginia, and Texas. Curiosity and a desire for something new led me to each of those places, and I guess that’s how I wound up as the owner of a food company, too.

Curiosity can lead to wonderful new experiences, don’t you think? 

I started out in this world thinking I’d do something in physics, but I learned pretty quickly that wasn’t for me, so I dropped out of college to enlist in the Coast Guard. I spent two years in Hawaii, then moved to a tiny desert island, called Kure Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was three months of paradise, but it didn’t last, as I was soon called to serve on an ice breaker on Lake Michigan at the tip of the Upper Peninsula. Some people are used to sub-zero temperatures, but have you ever experienced 60 below? Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!  (That’s the metal platform where cannon balls are stored.)  The spray from the water instantly freezes, so after 30 seconds on the bridge your goggles are so frozen over, it’s impossible to see.

My time in the Coast Guard lasted four years, then I returned to college and took a job as a librarian.  I had worked in libraries since I was a kid. I was always drawn to having so much knowledge at my fingertips, if I could figure out how to find it.

I remember finding and voraciously reading a book that purported to reveal the secret herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken. The secrets weren’t very secret; it’s the ratios and combinations of ingredients that matter; the book didn’t share any of that. I don’t remember much about that book, but I did start reading labels on just about every type of food, and I figured out pretty quickly, the ingredients you can’t pronounce are usually the ones that aren’t good for you.

Years later, while working the reference desk of that same library, a patron called and said her daughter had returned from college and told her that hot dogs contain sodium erythrobate, made from ground earthworms - and if that was true, she was going to give up hot dogs forever.  Doing the research, I learned that sodium erythrobate is actually a toxic carcinogen used to cure meat and give hot dogs their pink color.  The patron was relieved to learn hot dogs do not contain earthworms. Personally, I prefer the earthworms. At least they’re natural.  

With the coming of the microcomputer revolution, that started me down a path to modernizing library catalog systems. I learned all about computers and networking, and became a library automation software developer, then a Professor of Computer Science. But today, 20 years later, I still consider myself a librarian. 

Teaching myself new skills is just something I do.

Experimenting and even “failing” is part of the fun. It is in the trial-and-error that most learning happens.  And the truth is, we value the outcome more when we work a little harder to get there. 

That’s true for my Sweet Habanero Sauces, too.

When I started making my habanero products, I never intended to start a food business. It didn’t even start out as sauces! I had acquired a bumper crop of habaneros and needed something to do with them. I did the research, taught myself how to make jelly, created a habanero jelly recipe, and it became a hit with friends and colleagues. As they used it, I learned they were doing all kinds of interesting things with them, like glazing meat and adding it to chili. I started experimenting with different combinations of herbs and spices to figure out what worked well together. I researched ingredients with specific health properties, because I like my food to healthy. And I played with different textures and consistencies. Eventually, my habanero jelly became a healthy habanero sauce, lower in sugar than most other sauces and condiments, and people tell me they love how easy it is to use them on just about everything.

Getting to this point in my business feels a little like how my wife, Kate, and I approach our Saturday morning drives. We set out without a destination in mind, turning here and there just to find something interesting. Sometimes it takes a long time. And once or twice we’ve hit a bump in the road, but there’s always a discovery of some sort, and we always enjoy the ride. It is not about where you end up, it is the journey that makes it fun. Hunter S. Thompson said,

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

That’s how I like to think of my life: A series of journeys and learning connected by discoveries. So that’s the story behind Tannenbaum’s Sweet Habanero Sauce. We hope you enjoy the adventure!

Shop now

"How do I choose flavors? I really don’t know. I started off with apricot because I like apricots. Then it becomes a game to see what other fruits would work. My wife likes strawberries, so I did some strawberry. It just comes to me."

HARVEY TANNENBAUM, ON PREFERENCES