[images: The Oatmeal, Corvossalus, Food Beast, Cafe Press, The Sriracha Cookbook Blog, Jessica Hische]
It started out innocently enough: a squirt in the stir fry, a dab added to marinades.
You marveled at how a tiny hit of heat, sweet, and garlic perked up those dishes. You branched out: a few drops in dips and dressings, a steady squeeze into scrambled eggs, a swipe of the basting brush on meats headed for the grill. Was there nothing that couldn’t be improved by this marvelous elixir?
Your second squeeze bottle was a lot bigger but disappeared just as quickly. It started keeping company with salt and pepper at every meal. You bought another bottle for the office fridge. A smidgen turned into a dollop, a smear became a slather.
Sound familiar? You just might be addicted to Sriracha.
Most of us saw our first red rooster bottle of Sriracha in an ethnic restaurant. Probably Thai or Vietnamese, but it could have just as easily been Chinese or Mexican. The sauce’s garlicky punch of sweet with heat puts it clearly in the Asian camp, but of indeterminate provenance, and its manufacturer Huy Fong Foods likes it that way. David Tran, the company’s founder and Sriracha’s creator, was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents; he named the sauce for a town in Thailand and prints the ingredient list on the back of the bottle in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish.
The All-American polyglot purée
Sriracha is a blend of red jalapenos, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt that would be unrecognizable in Mr. Tran’s native country but has found a home here. In its 25 years of existence, Sriracha has gone from ethnic exotic to pantry staple. We go through more than 10 million bottles of the stuff a year, finding it on Wal-Mart’s shelves and Applebee’s menu. Online, jokey pictures circulate of extreme consumption like hot sauce IV bags and aerated Spray-racha.
Hot sauce for everyone; a hot sauce for every taste.
Hot sauce is the rare food that crosses geography, cultures, and demographics. So much so that it’s flourishing even in the down economy, and was recently named one of America’s 10 fastest growing industries. Tabasco is still the indisputable leader. Sriracha’s yearly output of 10 million bottles is banged out every couple of weeks by the McIlhenny Company. But the dedicated legions of Sriracha addicts continue to grow. You can spot them by the trail of red sauce and the whiff of breath mints that don’t quite mask the telltale scent of garlic.
For the record, the other 9 industries on the list are: generic pharmaceuticals, solar panels, for-profit universities, pilates and yoga studios, self-tanning products, 3D printers, social networking games, green and sustainable construction, and online eyeglasses and contact lens retailers. You can download the full report on America’s top 10 fastest growing industries from IBISWorld.