Sriracha: How a sauce won over the US

Bottles of Sriracha Chili Sauce

California health regulators have put a temporary hold on shipments of Sriracha, a spicy sauce that has gained a devoted following in the US, says Aidan Lewis.

It's been a testing few weeks for fans of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. First, residents in the Los Angeles suburb where it's made complained about stinging factory fumes, and a judge ordered a curb on production. Then authorities blocked shipments out of California until mid-January.

That led to reports of stockpiling in Chicago, New York and San Diego, while social media buzzed with discussions on how to cope with #srirachapocalypse.

Sriracha is a generic name for the sauce, taken from the eponymous port city in Thailand. The famous version found on the shelves at Walmart, and at food trucks, noodle bars and high-end restaurants across the country, is made by Huy Fong Foods.

An unofficial fan page on Facebook has more than 76,000 likes. The distinctive red bottle with its green top has inspired fancy dress costumes, bumper stickers and even tattoos. Some 20 million bottles of the sauce were reportedly sold last year.

Huy Fong Foods

David Tran, owner of Huy Fong Foods
  • Founded in Los Angeles, 1980
  • Maker of Sriracha, Chili Garlic, and Sambal Oelek sauces
  • Named after boat on which owner David Tran (above) emigrated

Taste, of course, is central to its appeal. "You get this kind of rollercoaster of heat coming and going and then this wonderful balanced flavour," says Randy Clemens, author of the Sriracha Cookbook.

Admirers praise its versatility. Sriracha is used in recipes but also sploshed on soup, eggs and burgers. Sriracha jam, lollipops, salt, and cocktails have all been made.

Sriracha (pronounced see-rah-chah) is also seen as a classic American success story - one that has inspired a half-hour documentary. Huy Fong Foods is owned by David Tran, who built the business from nothing after arriving in the US from Vietnam in 1980. He started supplying sauces to local Asian restaurants from his base in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Mainstream sales of Sriracha, widely known as rooster sauce after its cockerel logo, took off over the last few years.

Dave De Witt, founder of the national fiery foods and barbeque show, says the bottle is larger and better value than other hot sauces. As Huy Fong does not advertise, Srirarcha's popularity has largely spread by word of mouth. "It's remarkable in hot sauce history."

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