Sriracha’s stature heats up: Chili sauce goes mainstream

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 3:15 pm

It’s everywhere. On scrambled eggs, sandwiches and deviled eggs. As a flavor for potato chips, lollipops and lip balm. It’s even inspired Halloween costumes, bumper stickers, iPhone cases and comic strips.

Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha chili sauce, otherwise known as “rooster sauce,” has officially gone mainstream.

And now the slightly sweet, garlicky condiment is getting its own documentary.

Griffin Hammond, a video producer for YouTube, plans to tell Sriracha’s story, showing the passion of the people who make it and the people who love it.

“I think now more than ever, Americans are looking for something exotic,” Hammond said. “They want food to be an adventure, to take them someplace. That’s why I first tried (Sriracha) 10 years ago.”

Hammond said he should complete the 30-minute documentary in September. Like the spicy sauce, the project has cultivated a devoted following.

Hammond launched fundraising efforts on Kickstarter on June 18. Eight hours later, he met his initial goal of $5,000. His Kickstarter campaign ends Friday and recently showed pledges totaling more than $18,000.

Hammond plans to enter the documentary in film festivals, eventually distributing it online via outlets such as YouTube, Netflix and iTunes.

The condiment’s history in brief: David Tran, the owner of Huy Fong Foods, came to Boston from Vietnam in the late 1970s, arriving on a freighter called Huy Fong.

He moved to Los Angeles and started making chili sauces for other refugees. In 1980, he launched his business, and a few years later, he introduced his version of Sriracha — the generic name for the Thai-style sauce, pronounced “see-RAH-cha” — to Americans.

Love for Sriracha spread throughout Southern California and beyond. Currently, 70,000 bottles of Sriracha are produced each day in a 68,000-square-foot facility in Rosemead.

The sauce brings in roughly $60 million a year, the company has said.

This fall, Huy Fong is scheduled to move into a $40 million, 630,000-square-foot factory in Irwindale.

“I don’t think (Tran) ever imagined so many people would be eating it, and on such a variety of foods,” said Hammond.

The sauce itself is simple: chili peppers, vinegar, garlic and sugar. Traditionally the ingredients are pounded together fresh for dipping. Most Asian countries have their own variation of the recipe.

Huy Fong’s Sriracha is similar to the version from Sri Racha, a coastal town in Thailand that Hammond plans to visit for his film.

Huy Fong Foods is just one of many players in the competitive world of hot sauces.

New brands challenge Tabasco’s domination every few years, according to Dave DeWitt, food historian, co-producer of the Fiery Foods trade show in New Mexico and the self-proclaimed “Pope of Peppers.” Today, chief competitors include Huy Fong’s Sriracha and Cholula Hot Sauce from Mexico.

A testament to Sriracha’s popularity, Trader Joe’s recently rolled out its own version, plus other smaller establishments now offer small batches of their own Sriracha sauces.

“Imitation means it’s a gigantic hit,” DeWitt said.

Rachel Esralew, a hydrologist in Gold River, adores Sriracha so much that she decided to taste 19 brands in one sitting. She ordered variations from Thailand and she hunted for obscure domestic brands.

There were blindfolds, score cards and a panel of judges. Which sauce came out on top? Huy Fong’s Sriracha.

“I’ve been known to put Sriracha on my toast,” she said, explaining the name behind her blog Sriracha for Breakfast (srirachalove.blogspot.com).

Mai Pham, restaurateur-chef behind Lemon Grass, Lemon Grass Grills and Star Ginger, believes Sriracha is here to stay.

“I think it’s going to be like soy sauce — a beloved condiment people can’t seem to get enough of,” she said.

The green-tipped bottle has become a standard in professional kitchens.

“Pretty much every restaurant chef I know has Sriracha,” said chef Aimal Formoli of Formoli’s Bistro in east Sacramento. “We all love it.” In February, Formoli and his wife, Suzanne, developed a four-course Sriracha-themed menu, starting with Sriracha-braised pork belly tacos and ending with Sriracha-sauced chocolate torte.

Back when foie gras was legal, Formoli would pair it with Sriracha.

“Everything I eat starts with Sriracha and then everything else gets added to it,” Formoli said.

Jason Poole, general manager of Pour House in midtown, not only uses Sriracha in his award-winning bloody mary mix, but he also coats glass rims with Sriracha salt — sauce mixed with salt and dehydrated.

It’s so popular — 200 to 250 bloody marys sold each week — that in addition to selling his mix, he’s selling jars of the salt, too.

“People always talk about how that’s the thing that really makes the drink,” he said.

Call The Bee's Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. Follow her in Twitter @JanelleBitker.


Call The Bee’s Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. On Twitter: @JanelleBitker

Read more articles by Janelle Bitker



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