Sriracha Challengers: The New Sriracha??
Skimming the big food sources this month, the trend I’ve found most prominent comes in arena of one of my favorite food forms – the condiments. Salsas, sauces, dips, chutneys, and dressings claim a significant portion of my fridge, and there are probably at least 10 of which running out would be an emergency situation in our household. (You know you're a foodie when...) My friends know I can be quite the critic when it comes to food, but when I find a great product, I’m loyal fan girl - and when I see one of my favorites being threatened, I jump to the defense.
In what I can’t help but see as a somewhat hipster-esque, counter-popularity rebellion against the newly crowned 2012 Food and Wine “Ingredient of the Year”, sriracha is suddenly being presented with an array of upstart spicy-sauce challengers. Left and right I’m seeing claims that this new red sauce is destined to be “The New Sriracha.” (Somewhat ironic as “The Splendid Table’s” Lynn Rosetta Casper just recently proposed sriracha as the next ketchup.)
Now, never say I’m not an open-minded girl. I’ll reserve judgment for a taste test, but “The New Sriracha?” That’s ballsy. Their sauce had better be phenomenal!
Sriracha: The Rooster Sauce Story
The story of sriracha’s origins is actually a two part tale. The first sauce called sriracha was named for the coastal town of Thailand - Sri Acha -where locals needed a compliment for their abundant seafood supply. The sauce they produced is similar, but unique from the sauce most of us know. As “The Sriracha Cookbook” author Randy Clemens explained, today’s sriracha has the same characteristic heat and garlicy flavor of the traditional sriracha, but it’s a little thicker and a little less sweet – a sauce created for the Asian community, but made with American palates in mind.
Yep, that’s right! Contrary to popular belief, Rooster Sauce actually started in the US.
Creator David Tran was a Vietnamese immigrant who came looking for a better life away from war and a place where he could carry on his family’s sauce making trade. He boarded a freighter heading to America where he ended up in Boston, but quickly left for Los Angeles for what his brother-in-law told him was an abundance of red jalapeños.
“I landed the first week of January in 1980… By February, I was making sauce.” – David Tran
Favoring a thicker, more savory sriracha, Tran named his company Huy Fong foods for the freight he’d arrived on, decorated his bottles with a rooster as homage to his astrological sign and released his sauce to the public in 1983.
“I knew, after the Vietnamese resettled here, that they would want their hot sauce for their pho, But I wanted something that I could sell to more than just the Vietnamese… After I came to America, after I came to Los Angeles, I remember seeing Heinz 57 ketchup and thinking: ‘The 1984 Olympics are coming. How about I come up with a ‘Tran 84’, something I can sell to everyone? I know it’s not a Thai sriracha, it’s my sriracha.” – David Tran
Instant hit? Not exactly. In fact, for a long time Rooster Sauce could only be purchased in specialty Asian stores or by ordering from the phone number provided on the bottle – a key factor in sriracha’s current success. As Clemens pointed out “Before you could get it anywhere, there was this sort of cult. You were in the know if you knew about sriracha.” Luckily (or smartly) the Huy Fong company, understanding the power of good customer service, were willing to ship a bottle to anyone, anywhere. Slowly, over time, of course the good word spread and today, sriracha is everywhere. Not only can you find it in your local grocery store, you could probably find it at your local well-stocked gas station. It’s at nearly all your favorite restaurants, and not just the Asian ones. Even Applebee’s serves their fried shrimp with a mix of mayo and sriracha and Subway has announced plans to test a new “Creamy Sriracha Sauce.”
And yet, though ever-present now, people still hold a unique amount of loyalty to the condiment. People don’t just “like” sriracha. They LOVE it. Memes, infographics, and comics (including The Oatmeal’s famous “Dear Sriracha” love letter) celebrating the spicy red wonder are prevalent on the internet. There are entire cookbooks like Randy Clemens dedicated to the sauce and chefs around the US shout its praises.
“It’s well balanced…” - Jean-Geaorges Vongerichten, Perry St. restaurant in New York City
“It’s not heavily fermented, it’s not acidic… it burns your body, not your tongue.” – Bryan Caswell, Reef restaurant in Houston
“That heat level that’s almost too much, (but not quite!) the more you put on, the more it burns, but then the next time you put on even more, and it’s just a vicious cycle!” – Randy Clemens, “The Sriracha Cookbook
The "Next Sriracha" - Who Dares Challenge the Rooster?
BON APPETITE'S PICK: Gochujang
- Flavor Profile: Red Chili, Glutinous Rice, Fermented Soybeans, Salt
- Origins: Korean
- What They’re Saying: “The Korean chile paste gochujang is catching fire outside of Koreatowns. Think bold miso meets that stuff in the rooster bottle. Dab it on egg sandwiches or sliders, toss with chicken wings, or try it in bibimap.”
- Buy It: Sunchang Gochujang
CHICAGO TRIBUNE'S PICK: Sambal Olek
- Flavor Profile: Red Chilies, Garlic, Ginger, Lemon Grass, Vinegar, Sugar, Salt
- Origins: Indonesian
- What They’re Saying: “Each of the three green-capped sauces (which my kids just call "red rooster" sauce) have bright tangy chili sauce flavor but, for me, the sambal oelek wins the rooster fight with its intense chili flavor and maximum bite.” – Monica Eng “The Stew”
- Buy It: Huy Fong Foods Sambal Olek
- Make It: Food.com’s “Homemade Sambal Olek”
FOOD AND WINE'S PICK: Nunya
- Flavor Profile: Miso, Mayo, Gochujang, Garlic, Green Onions, Secret Spices(???)
- Origins: Korean-Hawaiian
- What They’re Saying: “Spicy miso-mayo Nunya Sauce is a the next Sriracha. I can’t live without it.” – Kristin Donnelly
- Buy It: Marination Mobil Nunya Sauce
FOOD 52's PICK: Home-Made Sriracha
- Flavor Profile: Brighter, Fresher Tasting, But Less Earthy Than The Rooster
- Origins: The Die-Hard Hipster DIYers
- What They’re Saying: “In a side-by-side comparison, the differences between the two sauces are quite clear. Huy Fong’s is darker in color, with an almost earthy flavor and a heat that hangs back for a minute before it kicks you in the teeth. The homemade Sriracha is brighter in both color and flavor, with a heat that hits immediately and burns hotter and longer.” – Carey@Reclaiming Provincial
- Make it: Reclaiming Provincial: Homemade Sriracha
Are you a die-hard Rooster Sauce fan? Have you tried any of the competitive sauces? Do they stand a chance? Please weigh in!