As Thai cuisine enjoys popularity across the globe, one would probably expect pad thai to be the world’s most well known ambassador for Thai flavors. A reasonable enough assumption, if you have never heard of Thai Sriracha sauce, the world’s most famous Asian hot sauce. Sriracha has taken the planet by storm, growing from a cult following by Asian food lovers in the US, to a must have condiment to spruce up eggs, sushi, and even hamburgers.
The most famous version comes in the translucent bottle with the green twist cap, and is made by Huy Fong Foods. The brand produces around 20 million bottles a year, each year attempting to close the gap on ever growing demand. In recent years the company collaborated with craft beer brewers Rogue to produce a spicy stout, and they teamed up with gourmet popcorn company POP! to create their most successful flavor to date. With Huy Fong Foods currently racking up over 60 million dollars in sales, rest assured the spicy sauce is making appearances in places, and in the mind of foodies, that Thailand’s most beloved dishes have yet to conquer.
This craft beer collaboration is Rogue’s Sriracha Hot Stout Beer.
The Huy Fong Foods Brand began as a dream of entrepreneur and former Vietnamese refugee David Tran. When Tran arrived in the US, he went immediately searching for chilies to recreate sauces he sold in Vietnam. Those sauces helped him secure the funds he needed to finance his family’s evacuation from the war torn country, and would eventually pave his path to hot sauce infamy in the United States. After a harrowing journey on a freighter named Huey Fong, Tran arrived in the US with his dream still intact, establish his company as Huy Fong Foods. For a logo he used his Chinese zodiac sign, the rooster. Then without any thought of trademarking the name, or doing any advertising, Tran went from one restaurant door to the next, selling his sauce to Asian restauranteurs in Los Angeles. The most popular of the sauces he created was Tran’s version of a Thai sauce called Sriracha, popular among Vietnamese noodles lovers as a spicy way to enhance the flavor of pho soups.
While Tran focused on developing the product and increasing sales, the popularity of the sauce slowly grew as non-Asian Americans were also enticed by the mysterious sauce, and challenged by the intense taste of chili the strange bottle promised. However beyond just craving sweat inducing heat, the sauce also represented all that is exotic about Asia to Americans. For example, before it was ubiquitously found in every Asian restaurant, from Chinese fast food to high end sushi restaurants, the name Sriracha (SREE-rah-CHA) was impossible to pronounce for most. A quick listen to the company’s answering machine, full of messages each day from fans, lends endless moments of hilarity. There you can hear average Americans describe their fascination with the new product, while struggling to pronounce the name. If they have trouble with the English spelling, then it’s no surprise the other distinctly Asian, yet cryptic foreign script on the label appears undecipherable to most.
Crispy fried chicken skin ‘nang tod’ with housemade sriracha sauce at Err.
The unintentionally bizarre name and label leaves people to identify the green capped bottles of heat as “rooster sauce”, or more brashly as “cock sauce”. For all the exoticism the label lends, the first taste of the sauce, a distinct departure from common American hot sauces like Tabasco, seals the deal. The bold flavor challenges spice lovers, and the pungency, a stamp of Asian authenticity. Soon both restauranteurs, and their customers alike, couldn’t part ways with the sauce. Today the sauce has become a household name, desired for uniquely Asian flavors and imitated at every opportunity by a horde of similar sauce brands flooding the market.
As more people become curious about the origin of the sauce, they are realizing the flavors they have the hots for are not Chinese or Vietnamese as many assume, but Thai. This has began creating a buzz in Thailand’s sauce industry. There one company claims to have the recipe for the original sauce birthed in Sri Racha, Thailand. The small, coastal city in Chonburi province, a short drive from Pattaya, is where Thanom Chakkapak is said to have created the sauce more than eighty years ago. She used the sauce as an accompaniment to seafood, of which there is an abundance in Sri Racha city. Chakkapak’s company was later acquired by the Thaitheparos brand, which still produces the sauce under the original Sriraja Panich name.
There is an abundance of seafood in Thailand’s coastal district of Sriracha, located in Chonburi province.
Sauce display in the Thaitheparos gift shop (open to public) at the factory in Samut Prakan (not open to the public).
“Yes, it was created to use with seafood, but we hope to encourage people to use it however they would like,” says Thaitheparos product manager Mr. Tanasin Ketcharoen. He’s enthusiastic that when people know the Sriraja Panich is the original recipe of the Thai sauce, true fanatics will crave a taste. The curious tasters will find the original version sweeter and tangier than it’s American counterpart. The consistency is also less viscous, and after tasting them side by side, discerning palates may also notice there is a difference between the two in the garlic heavy, bitter aftertaste.
“The most significant way that David Tran’s Huy Foong version diverges from the original Thai version is how they are used.”
Some of the variations in taste can be chalked up to the use of different chilies. The Thai version is made by blending Thai ‘prik chi fah’ or red spur chilies, while David Tran’s recipe utilizes fresh red jalapeños. However, the most significant way the sauces diverge is the way they are used. When you visit Thailand and indulge in the street food, you find every noodle stall’s tables equipped with a bevy of condiments for patrons to add; chili flakes, vinegar, fish sauce, and sugar. Thais, who emphatically add those ingredients or just heaping piles of large fresh, dried, and roasted chili to nearly every recipe, would have to be intentionally pain seeking to desire squeezing in more heat. Instead Thais use Sriracha sauce as a condiment to bring some heat to those milder dishes, using it mostly on fried eggs and omelettes. They raise an eyebrow upon hearing of far away places where the Thai sauce finds itself drizzled on people’s french fries, whipped into sandwich spreads, and even measured into cocktails!
No matter how you achieve your chili high, the world’s desire to incorporate these exciting Thai flavors into their diets can no longer stay bottled up!
Note: This article was originally written for Cape + Kantary Magazine, through Fierce Publishing which took and unreasonably long time to pay me.