Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Dispatch Magazine
Sriracha’s origins can be traced to the village of Sri Racha in Thailand, the brainchild of Ms. Thanom Chakkapak and bottled under the label Sriraja Panich. But most fervent hot sauce addicts insist that the only one that matters is still the “rooster” or “cock” sauce invented by David Tran of Huy Fong Foods in California. Rightfully so, as it Is sweet, tangy, and perfectly balanced with heat, making it a nearly flawless accompaniment for damn near anything (except ice cream, if you recall season 3 of Bravo’s Top Chef).
Generally, sriracha sauce is a mash of chilies, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. Though I had been noticing a few knock-offs of the Huy Fong brand on the shelves, I never paid them much heed until one day I found a very small bottle, produced in New England, that was retailing for around $8 (exceedingly higher than most others). Are these knock-offs any good? I promptly made a trip to four stores and purchased 15 different brands to taste side by side.
We tasted each on a spoonful of steamed jasmine rice. As it turns out, there is no better pairing for tasting hot sauces than several bottles of tart, sour beer from Oxbow Brewing to neutralize the heat.
The Tasting Panel
Dispatch Magazine food editor and TV Personality
Andy Gerry and Baxter Key:
Proprietors of the High Roller Lobster Company, a mobile operation that puts out some of the best rolls in the state
Huy Fong Foods Sriracha, California
$2.99 for 17oz at Hannaford’s Supermarkets
As stated, this is the OG when it comes to sriracha. Bright, fresh flavor with pleasant acidity, and a reasonable price tag make this go-to for everyday use.
Texas Pete “Cha” Sriracha, USA
$2.99 for 18oz at Hannaford’s Supermarkets
We all expected to hate this one, but were pleasantly surprised. Andy referred to it as “spicy Italian pasta sauce,” as it has a ketchup-y quality that nicely compliments its heat and smokiness. It would almost be better if they didn’t call it sriracha – it’s unique.
Vermont Maple Small Batch Sriracha, Vermont
$12.99 for 8oz at Rosemont Market
The astronomical price tag on this one held it to some seriously high standards, but I must say this is the one that I find myself reaching for at home now that the tasting is over. They did a really nice job emulating the flavor of Huy Fong while adding a lovely maple syrup component. This kind of “artisinal” hot sauce generally goes against everything I stand for, but I will always admit when I’m wrong.
Kikkoman Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, USA
$2.39 for 11oz at Hannaford’s Supermarket
This one lost points for being in a French’s mustard-style bottle. Little did we know that this would be its best feature. Bitter and astringent, it has a long, chemical burn that got progressively hotter while showcasing favors of cheap soy sauce. Andy concludes that, “If I saw someone going to use this, I would spike the bottle right out of their hand.”
Frank’s Slammin Sriracha, USA
$2.99 for 12oz at Shaw’s Supermarket
My first impression of this one is Lemon-scented Pledge. Andy offers to wash dishes with it after we taste it. Maybe wash this entire bottle of sweet, gooey mess right down the drain.
Co Gai Farmer Brand Sriracha, Thailand
$2.99 for 25oz at Veranda Asian Market
This one had flavors that toe the line between a prune fruit roll up and a jar of tom yum soup concentrate. We were also less than thrilled with the sandpaper-y texture.
Lee Kum Kee Sriracha Chili Sauce, USA
$4.49 for 18oz at Shaw’s Supermarket
Yes, it tastes a lot like sweet and sour crockpot meatballs. But there’s something undeniably interesting, like addition of anchovy extract. It would be much better if it came in packets.
Shark Brand Sriracha Chili Sauce, Thailand
$2.29 for 7oz at Veranda Asian Market
While it tastes a bit musty, liked corked wine, we feel that this might be the closest in resemblance to the original Sriraja Panich. It has a strange, vegetal quality we can’t really decide if we like or not, yet we can’t stop eating it.
Kitchen Garden Brand Farm Fresh Sriracha, Massachusetts
$7.99 for 8oz at Whole Foods
The packaging bears a very strong resemblance to Huy Fong, but it ends there. The consistency is watery thin, with a sweet flavor that is reminiscent of SpaghettiOs with hot dogs. At this price, one should expect much more.
Most Noteworthy: The Original Recipe
Sriraja Panich, Thailand
$2.99 for 17oz at Hannaford Supermarket
Known as the original sriracha sauce, it has characteristics resembling ketchup (including the style of glass bottle), but a very bright, pleasant acidity and lingering heat. It is also worth noting that it contains an ingredient called an “acidity regulator” and lists its expiration date as “mm/dd/yyyy” – so it should take you through the apocalypse.