By now, you’ve probably tasted sriracha. What started as a simple Thai condiment has since exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, and the only way to have not tried it by now is to have actively avoided it. A thing of cultish devotion, some people never leave home without some handy.
But even if you never encounter a food you don’t deem sriracha-worthy, we bet there’s a lot you didn’t know about this now-legendary condiment.
Sriracha most likely was invented in Thailand in the 1930s, although the exact place and inventor is still disputed.
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A slightly different version cropped up in Vietnam shortly thereafter, and this is the version we know and love here today, largely thanks to one man: David Tran, the founder of Huy Fong Foods, the maker of the famous red bottle that you’ll find nowadays in nearly every supermarket.
Tran founded Huy Fong in California in 1980, using a recipe he developed in Vietnam. The sauce, which is made with red jalapeño chiles, sugar, salt, garlic, vinegar, and preservatives and thickeners, was a regional favorite for many years before its cult of followers began to grow in the latter part of the 2000s, and demand soon outpaced production.
While sriracha is technically a generic term, meaning that anyone can make and market their own, it’s Huy Fong’s version that really captured the zeitgeist.
When sriracha’s popularity hit a tipping point sometime around 2011, it really hit it. After spending years as a cult favorite, suddenly it became the exciting new condiment, and everybody wanted in. Not only did millions of people buy a bottle of their own and begin experimenting with it, companies from White Castle to Chobani began adding sriracha-kicked foods to their lineups, and now there’s even sriracha-flavored vodka (and much worse).
Today, sriracha has settled into a comfortable place as the cool kid on the block that’s got plenty of street cred, and it looks like it’s going to be there for a very long time.
1) It’s Named After a City in Thailand
Si Racha is a small coastal city in the Chonburi Province of eastern Thailand, where the sauce may have first been produced.
2) It Has Different Uses in Thailand and Vietnam
In Thailand, sriracha is tangier and thinner than its Vietnamese (and American) counterparts, and is primarily used as a dipping sauce for seafood. In Vietnam, it’s thicker and more garlicky, and is used as more of an all-purpose condiment for everything from pho to spring rolls.
3) David Tran Is Largely Responsible for Its American Success
Sriracha was still relatively unknown in the U.S. when Vietnamese entrepreneur David Tran founded Huy Fong Foods in 1980. Over the next three decades the sauce grew in popularity from cult favorite to certified fad as production and distribution steadily increased, and now it’s gone mainstream.
4) Huy Fong Got Its Name From a Surprising Source
Tran started making sriracha in 1975 in Vietnam, but because he was an ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese authorities cracked down on his family, forcing him to flee to Hong Kong with 3,000 other refugees on a Taiwanese freighter in 1979. The name of the freighter was Huey Fong, and Tran modified the name when he founded his company in California the following year.
5) It’s Made With Jalapeños, But Isn’t as Spicy as Eating One
The chile pepper used in Huy Fong sriracha is the red jalapeño, but don’t think that eating the sauce carries the same heat intensity as popping a jalapeño into your mouth. The pepper loses a lot of its heat during the manufacturing process, so the sauce is only about as spicy as a banana pepper.
6) It’s Called Rooster Sauce for a Reason
Some people call sriracha “rooster sauce” because of the rooster on the Huy Fong label. It’s there because Tran was born in 1945, the Chinese Year of the Rooster.
Check out more Things You Didn’t Know About Sriracha (Slideshow)