Sriracha, the fiery Thai-inspired condiment from California that until a few years ago few Americans knew how to pronounce, is definitely having its TMZ moment—and all the drama that entails.
In what is no doubt the equivalent of a blockbuster Hollywood premiere, for the first time the hot sauce has landed the starring role on the menu at a national fast-food chain. Subway has just rolled out two new sandwiches, the Sriracha Chicken Melt and the Sriracha Steak Melt, nationwide.
Now, of course, you can already buy Sriracha at Walmart, and the sauce featured prominently as a runner-up in last spring’s nationwide Frito-Lay contest that asked participants to create a new chip flavor.
But until now, no fast-food chain seemed willing to give top billing to such an “exotic” ingredient. Subway’s move is sure to leave some hard-core Sriracha fans disappointed, the equivalent of finding out the girl you loved in some obscure indie movie has suddenly been cast opposite Sandra Bullock in a holiday chick flick.
Beyond the potential loss of its hip quotient, however, Sriracha is also facing something of a scandal.
As of a few months ago, the tale of Huy Fong Foods, the company that makes Sriracha and other chile-based condiments, was nothing short of a heartwarming American success story. David Tran, the company’s founder, grew up in Vietnam, but facing discrimination there because of his Chinese ancestry, he booked passage on a freighter, the Huy Fong, to the U.S. some 34 years ago.
Tran eventually landed in Los Angeles, according to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, where he began bottling his own recipe for Sriracha: a proprietary blend of serrano chiles (now jalapeños), vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic. Demand for his product increased gradually, mostly among stores and restaurants that catered to Asian immigrants.
But with the explosion of interest in Sriracha, Tran decided to build a $40 million factory in Irwindale, in suburban Los Angeles, which would allow him to triple production. In the lobby, according to Businessweek, there’s an enlarged photo of two astronauts in the International Space Station—with a cap from a bottle of Huy Fong Sriracha floating alongside them.
When production season rolled around for the first time after Huy Fong made the move, the tons and tons of red chilies rolling into the factory every day—being crushed every day—caught the ire of neighbors, who complained about noxious clouds of jalapeño fumes floating around Irwindale. Welcome to Srirachagate.
As we reported last month, the city sued for production to be halted, but a judge threw out the request. Sriracha production marches on.
Meanwhile, a Seattle-based specialty food company has released what will no doubt become Christmas’ hottest stocking stuffer this year: Sriracha candy canes.