#4: The Swag of Sriracha

Hey kids.  Are you a chili head?  Do you suffer from a compulsion to constantly spice up your mundane cuisine?  Can’t put down that capsaicin fueled magic juice?  Don’t fret… Donna Summer understands.

“Sittin’ here eatin’ my heart out waitin’
Waitin’ for some lover to call
Dialed about a thousand numbers lately
Almost rang the phone off the wall

Lookin’ for some hot stuff baby this evenin’
I need some hot stuff baby tonight
I want some hot stuff baby this evenin’
Gotta have some hot stuff
Gotta have some love tonight
I need hot stuff
I want some hot stuff
I need some hot stuff”

Without further ado (nor further repetitive disco lyrics…):

. sriracha logo The. Swag. of. Sriracha.

Sorry about that introduction.  I’m not proud, but I am a disco fan.  I actually have Donna Summer’s greatest hits on vinyl (#thanksDad for the #goodwillfind).  That has very little to do Sriracha.  So lets talk. What is Sriracha? How does it differ from other hot sauces? And why the fucking rooster?

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The coastal hideaway town of Si Racha, Thailand

Year. of. the. Rooster.

Sriracha sauce has roots back to coastal Thailand, Vietnam, and The City of Angels (Los Angeles, not the Nicholas Cage film).  The name itself comes from Si Racha, a 90 minute drive southwest of Bangkok.  The sauce produced there bears little resemblance to our American versions, but the chili pepper, garlic, and sugar base remains.  Derivations of this Thai condiment made their way to Vietnam, sparking the entrepreneurial eye of a young David Tran.  Born and raised in Vietnam, Tran concocted condiments during the 1970’s for sale to villagers and soldiers.  His top seller was an offshoot of Thai Sriracha sauce.  When he immigrated to California in 1979, Tran brought the sauce business with him and set up shop with Huy Fong Foods in L.A..  The company name hails from the ship that carried Tran to the States (#beautiful #iloveagoodimmigrantstory).  It’s a shame Jack didn’t survive his boat ride or we might have an Irish whiskey company named Titanic Spirits (I apologize for the interjection of my off-color attempt at humor). By 1983 the recipe for Huy Fong Sriracha was finalized and it hasn’t changed since.  The company is still family owned, employs only 200 workers, and pulls in $80 million annually ($60 million in Sriracha sauce alone).

So what IS the formula?  According to the label, a bottle packs chili peppers, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfate, and xanthan gum.  I am told by internet sources that 80% of the recipe is peppers, specifically ripe red jalapeno peppers.  The bisulfate prevents oxidation and browning, while the sorbate inhibits mold and yeast growth.  And xanthan gum is added to prevent liquid from separating out (think that ketchup water in an old ketchup bottle… no one needs that).  So the chemicals are there for a reason and they are NOT KILLING YOU.  Just saying.  Its fine.  Food Science frustrations.

Huy_Fong_Foods_logo
Nice cock.

As for the mystery of the rooster, the answer is one sure to please New Age folk.  David Tran was born in 1958, the year of the Fire Rooster in Chinese Astrology.  So it’s his zodiac sign.  Maybe I will start putting a bull with me on the blog logo instead of Frisco (I’m not sure my cat will be too happy about the displacement.  Plus, he bites).

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What. About. Frank?.

It has become self evident that all hot sauces are not created equal.  Nor do they hail from the same ingredients.  Growing up in the bland, Irish-German rich lands of central Pennsylvania, I didn’t develop an early affinity to spice.  Our tiny jar of Tabasco (Big T) went virtually untouched in the spice cabinet.  However, I was aware of Big T’s popularity and assumed that THAT was hot sauce.  It wasn’t until the Great Buffalo Chicken Dip boom of 2002 that Frank’s Red Hot hit my radar.  This component of Buffalo wing sauce was a different heat than Big T, and many people noticed.  I prefer it to Tabasco, but to each their own.  More recently, I have taken note of a mexican chili condiment named Cholula.  It is also yummy, but spicier and notably smokier.  What makes these red devils taste different if they are all made from peppers?

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ingredients, listed in descending order of weight percent

Lets start with the eldest member of our fiery fab four, Mr. Tabasco.  Developed in 1868, this three ingredient sauce starts by mashing ripe red jalapenos with salt.  The mash is poured into wooden barrels to ferment and age for three years, then mixed with vinegar and strained.  The result?  A rusty-red, spicy vinegar with a strong salt component.  Frank’s Red Hot also uses aged peppers but of a different variety.  Its cayenne peppers are 30,000-50,000 Scoville units (a heat scale), as compared to the  2,500-8,000 units of Tabasco’s jalapenos.  Frankie also includes garlic powder and natural flavors, which alter the profile.  The water is used to mellow cayenne’s heat.  These two hot-sauce beasts rank higher in popularity, but Senora Cholula actually packs a bigger punch. This sauce uses different peppers (arbol= 15,000-30,000, piquin= 40,000 to 60,000), and in dried form rather than fermented.  Senora Chulula’s added spices make her more suited to a narrow cuisine range, as do the fermented notes of Big T and Frankie.  The overall Scoville heat unit (SHU) ratings for finished sauces are:

Tabasco, original red: 2,500 SHU

Frank’s Red Hot, original: 450 SHU

Cholula, original: 3,600 SHU

Sriracha: 2,200 SHU

With the competitors in mind, lets check out Huy Fong’s golden boy.  Sriracha is composed of 80% chili peppers that are fresh, not aged/fermented/dried.  It is the only one of the big four to use sugar, which provides the characteristic sweetness.  Sriracha is less acidic, with vinegar listed below sugar and salt.  There are no other flavors or spices involved.  This leads to clean heat with subtle sweetness.  With a neutral profile, Sriracha reigns supreme in cross-cuisine usage.  For instance, it shines in pho and stir-fries as well as on pizza, eggs, mac & cheese, or even ice cream (yes, i will be using it on ice cream in a few paragraphs).

And here is yet another reason to love the folks of Huy Fong.  While every other food company seems to flood our shelves with line extensions and “limited time” crazy flavors, Huy Fong resists.  It sells Sriracha, Chili Garlic Sauce , and Sambal Oelek. That is IT.  Three products.  Three delicious flavor profiles.  Three different uses.  No gimmicks, no artificial flavorings, no fuss.  Compare Sriracha’s one identity that to Cholula’s four, Tabasco’s seven, and Frank’s eight.  “One for you Huy Fong, you go Huy Fong.”

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Geek. Heat. Hour.

Your science section today focuses on the physiology behind the burn (see next section for pretty pictures and underwear if you aren’t nerdy).  Still with me? Great.  Chili peppers contain varying amounts of a molecule called capsaicin (I mentioned this last week in my post #3: Black Pepper, The King of Spice).  Capsaicin causes pain by binding to oral receptors and alerting your brain that something of a high temperature is in your mouth/lips.  This nerve is responsible for temperature heat, resulting in a burning sensation akin to sipping boiling water.  The molecule doesn’t trigger pain directly, but instead lowers the activation energy needed for a signal to be sent.  In other words, it lowers the threshold for oral pain from boiling hot to right below body temperature.

To test this theory, make one of my featured ice cream sundaes in the recipes section below.  Upon eating the first bite, no heat will come through.  While the capsaicin may be bound to receptors, the ice cream has cooled the mouth to below body temperature.  The molecules are attached and have lowered the threshold, but the activation temperature for a pain signal has not yet been reached.  Once the dessert melts ands comes to body temperature, tingling will shoot up your heat pain nerve.  The second bite will seem as mild as the first, but the after burn will prove otherwise.  Sound fun?  If you said yes, then you may be a chili head.  Congrats! Lets talk about some other spice-lovers.

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The. Cult. Following.

(Drink. the. Spicy. Kool-Aid.)

It is no surprise that a high quality, affordable, versatile, delicious product has become so popular.  The fame of Mr. Tran’s spicy stuff has grown faster than you can say cock-a-doodle-doo.  It seems like everyone’s kitchen stocks the stuff, making it a household name.  Bon Appetit even awarded it the title of “Ingredient of the Year for 2010.”  Here are some of my favorite Sriracha themed products on the internet market:

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High class heat

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MOM. Get me these for x-mas. Size men’s small. I’m totally serious. Thanks.

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Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 4.22.08 PM
The Scoville Force is strong in this one….

What about you?  Is Sriracha the Sultan of your sauce shelf, or does another product reign supreme?  Let everyone know by voting below!

If you or a loved one is struggling from Sriracha overuse take this online quiz… you may be exhibiting behavior above normal use levels.  Take the test.  Know your limits.  #themoreyouknow.

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Life. Changing. Recipes.

I wanted to utilize seafood as a way to showcase the sweetness of Sriracha.  Since I was in the mood for lobster roll (a New-England favorite), but am watching my budget, I whipped up this gem.  What starts with shrimp sauteed in bacon grease and chilled in a spicy/sweet mayo dressing ends in ecstasy.  Served on a toasted roll with chips, this was a dinner that left me smiling.  Plus my mom loved it, and isn’t that what life is all about? (#HIMOM #shamelessasskissingmidblogpost):

sandwich
Sriracha BLT Shrimp Roll.  Click photo for recipe.

I also wanted a chance to show off how versatile Sriracha and other spicy condiments can be.  I’ve had some spice cream once or twice, and it left a lasting impression.  So I present to you two United Tastes originals:  The first uses hot fudge, cinnamon, pistachios, and coffee ice cream, while the second features peaches, pecans, gingersnaps and vanilla ice cream.  They both pack a punch of Sriracha heat, but in a pretty cool spoonful:

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Sriracha Ice Cream Sundaes.  Click photo for recipe.

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My. Peeps. Be. Fierce.

So a bit off topic for a sec, but go with it.  I wanted to send a random shout out to my good friends Erin and Josh of EcoVents catering.  I had the pleasure of lending them a hand again this year for Lemont’s Granary Gourmet Dinner.  This event is a yearly fundraiser to rally support for renovations and improvements to the area’s beautiful granary building.  Erin and Josh’s menu blew me away (as always) and the crowd agreed.  Thanks guys for letting me sear your tenderloins and assemble your canapes!  Read more about EcoVents catering and last night’s Granary Gourmet Dinner.

A big holla to my FB faithful for their input on this week’s post.  Here are their suggestions on how to use Sriracha to spice up your daily dish:

  • Sheryl R: On eggs is the best!!!!!!!!! or pretty much anything savory……..lol. makes a great condiment when mixed with mayo as a sandwich spread or in ranch dressing for a veggie dip with a kick………
  • Susan D: Siracha – the duct tape of the kitchen!
  • Bobbyjo B: I love siracha on eggplant fries! I tried it for the first time when I was about 12 at a music festival on “chicken on a stick” that this beautiful old Filipino woman was making!
  • Chelsea G: the second has a cheesesteak egg-roll with sriracha dipping sauce. boom.
  • Meg M: I use it in a sweet and spicy sauce for pork stir fry. I mix it with honey and red pepper flakes.
  • Morgan R:  I use sriracha on everything… In buffalo chicken dip and turkey meatloaf and on any vegetables!! It goes well with anything
  • Adrienne L: Super basic culinary school but one of my faves…. saracha shrimp summer roll with mango.
  • Curtis R:  i LOVE sriracha on mac n cheese. especially the cheesy goodness from noodles and company
  • Elizabeth C:  It’s my default.
  • David D: I first tried the rooster in the co op oh I mean the coop
  • Robin T: I second that Mac n cheese + sriracha combo. Also…everything.
  • Becky T: I love it on Baked Potatoes!!! And I tried it on Cereal once when I was younger and probably not sober… Epic fail!
  • Roberta G: IN my omelets, pre-frying.
  • Stephanie Z: Sriracha. butter.
  •  Jessica H: I’m interested in this post– I use the korean oil based one more often! I recommend a sriracha, line, garlic style asian marinade for stirfry meat and reserving half for sauce. I have an easy one I make but would love a twist!
  • Jessica L: Ragin’ Cajun chicken wings  Cajun wing with Sriracha on top from Park Tavern, ur parents old favorite

Also, thank you to my parents for use of their kitchen (#youguysrock) and to my sister S for her camera skills (#sherocks).  Professional portraits are her specialty, but her food photographer skills are rising.  Props to C for her mad proof-reading skills. As they say, blogging takes a village.

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Welp, that’s all for now.  I’m off to cool my palate with some milk (releases capsaicin from it’s receptor molecules) and maybe satisfy my sweet tooth (possibly helps decrease the pain of capsaicin).  Speaking of sweet dairy, what do you guys think about White Chocolate for next week? Yeah? Sounds like a plan?  Great.  I’m off to take my nightly melted white chocolate bath.  Does wonders for soft skin.
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Until next time… Bon App Y’all.
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Sources de la Info

The All-Mighty Wiki

Bon Appetit article

Huffington Post weighs in

Huy Fong home page

Business week article

Tran LA Times article

Upcoming Sriracha documentary homepage

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2 thoughts on “#4: The Swag of Sriracha

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