What’s one of the hottest (literally) trends in foodservice? Anything with sriracha sauce.
For example: Wendy’s just introduced a Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich, a launch that a company spokesperson told Fortune was in response to “customers who didn’t just want [a sandwich] with sauce poured on it, but one with sriracha infused in every single ingredient.”
The burger chain had previously marketed other “sriracha-infused” menu items, including Bacon Sriracha Fries, where the sauce is, indisputably, poured onto the item.
Earlier, in a Southern California test market, McDonald’s offered a Signature Sriracha Sandwich featuring Artisan Grilled Chicken or Buttermilk Crispy Chicken (just don’t try communicating all that via that high-tech drive-thru speaker). And Subway now offers a sriracha sauce option — to go along with the other 274 optional combinations of ingredients and condiments that take a good 10 minutes to convey to the “sandwich artist” behind the counter busily trying to scoop up bits of black olive slices while wearing those thin plastic first basemen’s gloves.
And when the chains at the bottom of the culinary hierarchy start hyping a relatively unknown ingredient as a core addition to their menuboard, you know the concept’s gone mainstream. Sriracha is no longer confined to ethnic Asian restaurants. Now, it’s in the kitchens of all kinds of restaurants, splashed across the pages of culinary magazines and cookbooks, and stocked on the shelves of supermarkets nationwide.
What is Sriracha, Anyway?
The bright red, multi-purpose condiment is a hot sauce — that much we know. It’s formulated from red chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar and is described by one foodie website as being “hot and tangy with a hint of sweetness.” According to most culinary authorities, that latter quality is what sets it apart from other spicy sauces.
Sriracha is frequently served as a condiment in Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants, which is why there’s some controversy over its origins and ethnicity. The best-selling brand is actually manufactured in the United States by Huy Fong Foods, which is owned by a Vietnamese immigrant who named it after the local hot sauces in the small town of Sri Racha in Thailand, according to FoodReference.com.
And you know they can’t put anything on the Internet unless it’s true.
Spice Makes Nice
Here’s the story.
In the early 1980s, David Tran immigrated to Los Angeles from Vietnam. According to several culinary websites (and of course, the irrefutable Wikipedia), he was unable to find a hot sauce that he liked. So, Tran started making his own version and began selling the sauce out of the back of his van (isn’t that a phase every entrepreneur goes through? Or was that just Chris Farley?) As the popularity of the product grew, Huy Fong Foods grew to become a marketer of more than 10 million bottles of Sriracha Sauce sold annually.
Here’s what’s most intriguing: Sriracha has now become a hot new household condiment. According to a book by Randy Clemens titled, “The Sriracha Cookbook: 50 Rooster Sauce Recipes that Pack a Punch,” sriracha can be used in numerous applications, including:
Straight: Use it as a dipping sauce by squeezing it into a bowl or squirting it directly onto the food.
Sauces: Combine sriracha’s tangy flavor with creamy sauces. Or mix it into sour cream, mayonnaise, or cream cheese-based dips, cheese balls and scrambled, fried or deviled eggs.
Soups or Stews: Add it to ramen, tomato soup, gazpacho and cream-based soups and chowders.
Finally, sriracha sauce adds a kick to tomato juice, vegetable juice or a pitcher of Bloody Marys — assuming your Bloody Marys could stand some extra kick, that is.
And on that note, it’s time to repair to the kitchen and get busy mixing, blending and seasoning.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.