For most of us, it’s not possible to pinpoint the first time we encountered Sriracha.
Perhaps it was always there—you grew up with it tucked into your cabinet, that iconic green nozzle poking among the rows of spices and condiments. Or maybe it was unfamiliar, an item that is now a permanent fixture on t-shirts and the tables of your favorite dive bar. Either way, it’s now hard to imagine life without a bottle in arm’s reach.
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So, who invented Sriracha?
The sauce emerged in the palate of David Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who settled in Los Angeles after war tore his country apart. He founded the brand behind the sauce, Huy Fong Foods, almost four decades ago, naming it after the boat on which he came to America. Tran is a humble businessman, telling the L.A. Times, “My American dream was never to become a billionaire. We started this because we like fresh, spicy chili sauce.”
Around the same time that the West Coast paper penned their story on the sauce (2013), Huy Fong moved into a massive new space that allowed them to triple production. But that move was the result of a lesson learned in 2007 when Huy Fong ran out of peppers and, unwilling to compromise its recipe, was forced to tell customers that Sriracha would be out-of-service for a few months. Despite the pause, customers remained loyal.
Huy Fong’s new facility, based in Irwindale, Cali., has plenty of size to accommodate the sauce and Tran even allows tours and open houses. During the early days of the business, Tran had a single Chevy van that he painted himself and used to deliver the sauce over a wide expanse of California. The company’s website also offers a few other interesting tidbits:
- Sriracha doesn’t need to be refrigerated
- Sriracha is kosher and gluten-free
- It’s all made in America
Surprisingly, Sriracha has also never spent a dime on advertising and they still don’t employ a salesperson. Instead, the popularity of the spice spread by word of mouth.
What’s up with Sriracha-flavored everything?
You’ve also probably noticed that there are hundreds of products calling themselves “Sriracha-flavored.” You can find the taste’s logo stamped on potato chips, assorted sauces, almonds, and even vodka. And, of course, at Chowhound we have our own Sriracha recipe. That’s because Tran never trademarked the name. When the L.A. Times caught up with him again, this time in 2015, he told them that he often has lawyers offering to sue the competitors but that he doesn’t have any interest in getting litigious, saying simply, “let them do it.”
While there was only one iteration of Sriracha in the early days, the company has branched out and now offers a handful of tastes. There’s a Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek, which is just chili paste. No matter your preference, one thing is for certain: Sriracha is here to stay.
Related Reading: 5o Ways to Use Sriracha, Just for Starters
Related Video: Turn Leftover Sriracha into Chile Oil
Header image courtesy of Leite's Culinaria