What Is Sriracha and Why Do People Love It?

We'll splash sriracha onto, well, just about everything. But do you know what's in the spicy sauce? We unpack what makes it so darn good.

Not many foods can boast the success of sriracha (it’s pronounced see-ROTCH-ah). The bright red condiment went from a specialty topping for Thai food to a nationwide obsession, spawning an entire industry of cookbooks, flavored snack foods and, of course, knockoffs.

While copycats abound, the original sriracha sauce is made in California by Huy Fong Foods. (It also goes by “rooster sauce,” thanks to the design printed on its ubiquitous bottle.) A single factory produces 3,000 bottles every hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week. That’s about 20 million bottles a year.

What’s the secret to this amazing sauce? Let’s dive in.

So, What’s in Sriracha?

The label says chiles, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum. The closely-guarded secret recipe doesn’t give much more away, so let’s take a closer look.

Start With Peppers and Vinegar

These ingredients form the basis of most hot sauces out there, both commercial and homemade. Sriracha gets its heat from red jalapeños peppers. Surprisingly, the sauce is only moderately spicy. On the Scoville scale, developed to measure the level of heat in chiles, sriracha measures 2,200. By contrast, Tabasco sauce clocks in at 3,750 and cayenne pepper at a startling 50,000!

Can’t get enough heat? These recipes are for you.

The chiles are ground up, seeds and all, and combined with vinegar, which generally serves two purposes in hot sauces. First, it helps break down the peppers—important as sriracha is not cooked. Vinegar also acts as a preservative for the sauce.

Add Salt and Let It Sit

Because their particular peppers are only in season four months out of the year, the Huy Fong factory mixes the chiles with salt, vinegar and preservatives and seals them in barrels. They draw from their stash to make sauce throughout the year. (Fun fact: 100 million pounds of chiles are processed in Huy Fong Foods’ single factory every year.)

Psst: You can make these popular condiments at home.

Add Sugar and Garlic

Sriracha also flavors their sauce with sugar and garlic, which adds complexity to the spicy chile flavor. Its sugar content is roughly equal to that of ketchup. (Some worry about the added sugar, but according to National Geographic: “To eat the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended limit for sugar consumption of about 12 teaspoons a day, you’d have to down half a bottle of Sriracha.”)

And Make It Thick

Most hot sauces are pretty thin—you shake the bottle and it splashes onto your taco or eggs. By contrast, you have to squeeze sriracha sauce: it’s thick and unctuous, more like America’s other favorite condiment, ketchup. The secret to the thick sauce is probably in a combination of the ratio of ingredients, as well as in the xantham gum, a powerful thickening agent.

Can you handle the heat? Read our hot sauce guide to find out about the worlds’ most famous varieties.

How to Make Sriracha Mayo

Need an excuse to eat more sriracha? Stir the sauce into a scoop of mayo and, boom, you’ve got an instant burger/brat/sandwich spread, a dip for roasted potatoes and veggies, a dash of something to brighten up your morning eggs or your evening chicken.

Next up: Keep these other Asian sauces on hand, too.

Make These Sriracha Recipes!
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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.