12 Things You Didn't Know About Sriracha

Go into almost any Asian noodle shop and you'll see a familiar sight: A clear plastic squeeze bottle of bright red sauce with a green cap and a white rooster on the label. These trusty bottles of Sriracha — a thick, spicy blend of chiles, garlic, vinegar, and salt — are now so ubiquitous that it feels like the sauce has been part of East Asian cuisine since, well, forever. In reality, however, the version of Sriracha familiar to most American diners is a fairly recent innovation, making its first appearance on restaurant tables and store shelves in 1980. 

But it wasn't until around 2008 — with the rise of foodie culture and the recession sparking a demand for inexpensive, yet flavorful treats — that Sriracha started to go viral. By the 2010s, fans of the spicy sauce could not only find it in supermarkets, but enjoy Sriracha-flavored cocktails and potato chips, and if so inclined, even attend Sriracha-themed festivals. 

While some cultural observers have argued that the national Sriracha obsession has long peaked, the sauce continues to be a beloved pantry staple for many home cooks — and diners still count on seeing that green-and-red bottle (or one of its many imitators) on the table when their noodles arrive. 

The history of Sriracha and its rise to the top is almost as spicy as the sauce itself. Here's 12 amazing facts you probably didn't know about this famous condiment. 

The original Thai Sriracha sauce was thin and tangy

Long before bottles of Sriracha began appearing on American tables, a sauce with a similar name — Sriraja Panich — had taken Thailand by storm. First popularized by Thai home cook Thanom Chakkapak, who made the sauce using her father's recipe for her family's personal use in the 1930s, the sauce was named after Chakkapak's home town, whose name is alternately transcribed as Si Racha, Sri Racha, or Sri Raja in English.  Chakkapak's relatives began selling their own version of the family's sauce to locals and tourists, and soon it took off, becoming a top-selling brand in Thailand.

Chakkapak's Sriracha sauce, however, bears little resemblance to the version most American diners are familiar with. It's a thin, long-fermented, vinegar-based sauce, sweeter and less hot than the American version. And the family's original methods for getting the most flavor out of the sauce's simple ingredients – chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt – were a painstaking labor of love.

"We had to prepare the ingredients like pickled garlic, so we had to peel the garlic to make sure it was good," Saowanit Trikityanukul, Chakkapak's granddaughter, told NPR, "And the chilis had to be perfectly red. And then the salt — my grandmother would only choose the big chunks and boil it, then filter and strain it ... and leave it in the sun until it dried."

The familiar Huy Fong Sriracha brand was invented in Los Angeles

If you're an American fan of Sriracha sauce, there's a good chance you got your first taste of it in an Asian restaurant. And if you liked what you tasted and wanted more, you probably bought your own bottle in an Asian grocery store or in the international foods aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. But surprisingly, the version of Sriracha most of us know, wasn't not imported from Asia but first invented and made in Los Angeles by David Tran, an immigrant from Vietnam. 

Tran had developed a fondness for the original Sriraja Panich sauce while living in Vietnam — upon arriving in California as a refugee after the Vietnam War, he devised and started selling his own thicker and hotter version. He started the Huy Fong company to manufacture the sauce, naming the company after the ship on which he and his family escaped Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. The rooster on the bottle represents Tran's birth year (he was born in the year of the rooster). The growing popularity of the sauce soon inspired a wave of competitors offering their own versions of Sriracha – but for many diners, Huy Fong is to Sriracha what Kleenex is to facial tissue. And while the cultural roots of Tran's creation are deeply Asian, the popularity of the sauce is a classic American success story.

American Sriracha is unrecognizable to Thai diners

While American-made Sriracha sauce takes its name from a Thai pantry staple (and was, in fact, inspired by it), the American version is nearly unknown in Thailand, and Thai diners who've tried it don't consider it a worthy contender to the original, if even comparable at all. "No good," a Thai taster told NPR. "When I first tasted it, I wanted to gag. Too bitter. It's not klom-klom." Klom-klom is he Thai term for the proper balance of sweet, salty, and sour flavors.

Thai devotees of the original Sriracha are also saddened that when the rest of the world thinks of Sriracha, they think of the American version, not the far superior original. While Thai Sriracha is being imported into the United States, it has so far failed to gain mainstream appeal and is only sold in Asian markets. "We try to tell people we're the original Sriracha from Thailand," Varanya Winyarat, deputy managing director of Thaitheparos, the manufacturer of Sriraja Panich, told NPR. "But when Americans try Sriracha sauce, they try the Vietnamese-American one first, so they think the taste should be like that." Still, she's optimistic that American palates can be trained to appreciate the original, saying "you have to educate them about the basics of the taste first. Then I think they would understand."

Huy Fong Sriracha is made in a former Hula Hoop factory

When Vietnamese refugee David Tran began the Huy Fong company and first started making his version of Sriracha, he scrounged Los Angeles supermarkets for chiles and sold bottles of the sauce out of the back of his van to local restaurant owners. Learning that he could not legally make sauce for resale out of his home, he rented a 2,500-square-foot manufacturing space in Los Angeles' Chinatown, paying for the necessary remodeling with some of the gold he had secreted out of Vietnam when he fled the country. 

But growing demand for the sauce required a bigger manufacturing facility — much bigger. In 1987, the company moved to a 78,000 square foot facility in the suburbs of L.A., and in 1996, expanded in an empty building next door, a factory formerly owned by the toy manufacturer Wham-O. "Yeah, they made Hula-hoops," Tran said as part of an oral history project for UC-Irvine. "170,000 square feet. And we evolved into 240,000 square feet. We said it was too big for us. We'll never use it. But who knows? A couple years later, there was no room."

A shortage of chiles is causing a Sriracha shortage – again

In spring of 2022, lovers of Sriracha sauce received troubling news: Huy Fong, the best-known manufacturer of Sriracha in the United States, announced it was halting production for several months because of "severe weather conditions affecting the quality of chili peppers," per NPR. Drought conditions in northern Mexico, where the red jalapeno variety used in Huy Fong Sriracha is grown, resulted in crop failure, shutting down the company's production lines. And while many other brands of Sriracha (some arguably better tasting, depending on who you ask) were still easily available,  superfans were still distraught.

Alas, it looks like history is repeating itself. In April 2023, Huy Fong warned customers that only a limited quantity of the sauce would be available. While the company had resumed production, the lingering impacts of last year's drought are continuing to strain the company's supply chain. "Unfortunately, we are still experiencing a shortage of raw material," the company said (via CBS). "At this time, we have no estimations of when supply will increase." These challenges have forced diners and restaurant owners who rely on the sauce to get creative — either sourcing other brands or making their own substitutes.

You can make your own Sriracha sauce

If the ongoing shortages are making your favorite Sriracha brand hard to find or uncomfortably pricy, there's hope. Now might be a good time to taste-test other Sriracha varieties and perhaps be pleasantly surprised. Or, if you're serious about chiles and cooking, you can try making your own homemade Sriracha. And yes, you can absolutely do this with supermarket ingredients and ordinary home kitchen equipment.

To make Sriracha, stem and halve red jalapenos and blend with garlic, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Allow the puree to ferment for a week in a clean, sealed glass jar at room temperature (it will fizz a bit during this time). Simmer the fermented pepper mixture gently with vinegar to stop the fermentation, then blend and strain to make a smooth sauce. Add water if the sauce is too thick. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings with sugar, salt, vinegar, or garlic powder to suit your tastes. And now you can enjoy the bragging rights!

There's a critically acclaimed documentary film on Sriracha

One of the most surprising parts of Sriracha's rise from a bootstrapped family business to a viral sensation is that the makers of the original American version of Sriracha didn't advertise their product. "So the reason why we're not advertising, never advertising ... We saved all the money because we just try to get the chili, make it, package it, and sell it," David Tran, the inventor of American-style Sriracha, said in an oral history for UC-Irvine. "If we advertise it, we have no product."

Instead, Sriracha went viral on its own, and converts were eager to explore its culinary possibilities and learn about how it was made. Among these was video producer Griffin Hammond, who first tasted Sriracha at a noodle restaurant and instantly fell in love. "Ever since I picked it up, I've been putting it on most of my meals. I like it on my mac and cheese. I like turning it orange. I know it goes great on so many things," Hammond told the Los Angeles Times. His obsession led him to make a 30-minute documentary, "Sriracha, The Movie!" in which he interviews not only Tran, but Sriracha superfans and even residents of Sri Racha, the town in Thailand where the original version of Sriracha originated. The film not only gained the respect of Sriracha superfans, but also of critics: It was named Best Short Film in the NYC Food Film Fest, among other awards.

If you enjoy spicy drinks, Sriracha vodka might be for you

As the popularity of Sriracha grew, so did its uses. Soon, Sriracha found its way not only into bar snacks such as Sriracha-flavored chips and nuts, but into bartenders' pantries, replacing familiar hot sauces such as Tabasco in savory drinks like Bloody Marys and micheladas. So in 2013, with flavored vodkas becoming increasingly popular,  it was almost inevitable that someone would make a Sriracha flavored vodka.

That someone was Phillips Distilling Company, which offered UV Sriracha Vodka in red bottles with green caps, an intentional reference to the familiar Sriracha sauce bottle. But despite its obvious shout-out to Huy Fong Sriracha, Philips developed its own Sriracha recipe to use in its vodka.

"UV Sriracha is not too hot, not too spicy and the ideal vodka to punch up a Bloody Mary or any savory drink," a statement from Jim Aune, Phillips' director of research and development, read (via the Los Angeles Times). "The nose has a blend of chile peppers, including the hotter red chile pepper and the more subtle green chili pepper." And while UV Sriracha Vodka no longer appears among the product listings on the UV Vodka website,  it's still listed among the offerings at many liquor stores. So if you're curious, it might be worth a hunt.

American Sriracha is now being exported to Asia

Sriracha is so indelibly associated with Asian restaurants in many American minds that it's commonly assumed to be an Asian import — or at the very least, an American-made copy of a traditional Asian preparation. The fact that even some Asian sauce manufacturers are now making their own versions of Sriracha likely contributes to this misconception.

But the Sriracha most of us know is not only made in America, but was invented there. It was only after it became big in the United States that plans were hatched to introduce it to Asian markets. While these new markets offered plenty of opportunity — the Asia Pacific region accounts for more than half of the world's chili sauce sales — it also offers stiff competition in the form of beloved local favorite hot sauces. While Sriracha received a cool reception in Thailand, home of the original Sriracha (where locals dismiss it as "American Sriracha," per Fortune), it caught on quickly in the Philippines, where consumers see its American roots as a plus rather than a problem. Today, you can find American-made Sriracha not only in Thailand and the Philippines, but in Vietnam, India, and China.

A lawsuit nearly shut down the Huy Fong Sriracha factory

It's no secret that factories aren't always the best neighbors. While most factory operators would rather their facilities not be perceived as noisy, smelly nuisances, the very nature of their work sometimes means unpleasant sensory experiences are inevitable. Large, heavy trucks may have to come and go on the regular, and heavy machinery may generate noise or smoke as it operates.

For the Huy Fong Sriracha factory in Irwindale, California, it was the unmistakable smell of mountains of fresh chiles being ground and processed that got nearby residents in a snit. In 2013, the city of Irwindale — at the urging of local residents — filed a lawsuit demanding the factory close until it figured out how to eliminate the odors. A judge, however, ruled that the factory could stay open, but not engage in any odor-generating operations until it was able to find a way to stop them. Huy Fong immediately set to work installing a new air-filtration system, and the city dropped its lawsuit. The fact that other states, including Texas and Arizona, said they'd welcome the company to move there was likely another reason the suit was dropped.

A bitter legal feud may be why some Sriracha tastes different now

It's always sad when a longtime relationship, especially one that lasted harmoniously for years, comes to an end. And it's even sadder when that once-friendly and productive relationship ends on a sour note, with both sides hating each other. Such is the case with the partnership between Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong and Underwood Ranches, its exclusive provider of fresh chiles for 28 years. For most of their partnership, Underwood would estimate the costs associated with the year's chile crop, and Huy Fong would pay this in installments. After the harvest of each crop, Underwood would tally the total, and Huy Fong would pay anything still owed.

But in 2017, the two parties were unable to agree on a contract, and the dispute spiraled into a series of lawsuits and countersuits, with Huy Fong accusing Underwood of pulling out of the partnership without warning and suing Underwood for breach of contract — while Underwood countersued for a loss of income. When Underwood launched its own brand of Sriracha, it was clear the partnership was broken beyond repair. All this drama meant Huy Fong had to look elsewhere for chiles — and serious Sriracha fans (who may not have even known about the lawsuits) noticed something was up: To them, the sauce tasted different. "I was wondering if I were crazy thinking new Sriracha tasted differently. Now I know. Damn," a fan said in Men's Health.

Yes, you can put Sriracha in desserts

Sriracha began its life — as most hot sauces do — as an addition to savory foods. But fans became so devoted to it they began pushing its limits: What else can we put this in? Some cooks discovered it could be enhanced with a sweetener (honey comes to mind) to make sweet-spicy glazes. Sriracha even made its way into not only savory cocktails such as Bloody Marys, but also sweeter concoctions like margaritas and other fruity drinks.

In recent years, as the line between sweet and savory blurred (salted caramel, anyone?), Sriracha began making its way into desserts. Poke around the internet, and it's easy to find recipes for Sriracha caramel sauce, Sriracha cookies, and even Sriracha fudge and brownies. While this may strike some as puzzling, the addition of chile heat to sweets isn't new – Mexican hot chocolate often incorporates chiles for an extra kick. Or you can think of Sriracha as something like that of warm spices (for example, cinnamon and black pepper) in desserts. If you're skeptical and would rather know what you're in for before dirtying your kitchen with a Sriracha dessert, you can buy a hot salted Sriracha chocolate bar for taste-testing purposes.