Why a Judge's Ruling May Spur a Sriracha Scarcity

A ruling by a judge in Los Angeles will force the chile-sauce factory to close, possibly threatening next year's stock of the condiment.

A 20-ton load of chiles arrives at Huy Fong. (Photo: Randy Clemens)

Nov 27, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

America’s annual celebration of rampant consumer consumption, Black Friday, is still a few days off, but a certain set of the population may be rushing out to the store today to buy one very hot item: Sriracha.

Last night, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the L.A. suburb Irwindale, which filed a suit in October asking that the new Sriracha factory in the city be closed. According to the city, residents were suffering from respiratory issues caused by chile fumes emanating from the plant.

After the suit was filed, the judge, Robert H. O’Brien, told the attorney for the city, "You're asking for a very radical order on 24-hour notice," refusing to immediately order the factory to close. Now, despite admitting that there was "lack of credible evidence" connecting the health complaints to the chile odor, O’Brien will order the factory's closing.

Huy Fung, the company that makes Sriracha, was started in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in the 1980s by David Tran, an immigrant from Vietnam. The sauce is inspired by and takes its name from a Thai chile condiment that originated in a town called Sriracha. Despite this polyglot backstory, "rooster" sauce is essentially a local, seasonal product: The 100 million pounds of hybrid jalapeños Huy Fung processes into sauce every fall are grown on a family-owned farm in the nearby Ventura Country. Once the chile season comes to a close, in December, no more Sriracha can be made until the next year’s jalapeños start to turn from green to red in September.

That’s why today—why don’t we call it Red Wednesday?—could see a spike in Sriracha sales: If Huy Fung can’t grind up every 20-ton truckload of jalapeños with salt, garlic, vinegar, and sugar (and potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite, and xanthan gum), there could be a shortage of Sriracha next year. The 27 days that have passed since O’Brien declined to immediately shut down the factory will certainly have decreased the chances of that happening—Huy Fung can make a lot of Sriracha in a month—but the end of the chile season is still a few weeks off.

If you’re inclined to make your own chile sauce instead of stockpiling Sriracha, don’t undertake the venture expecting a perfect copy. Recipes for DIY Sriracha abound, but the Huy Fung–made sauce has a quality that’s tough to match. Instead, try making fermented chile sauce, which gets its tanginess not from vinegar but from the same lactic acid that gives sauerkraut its distinctive tart flavor.