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MIKE KEELER: The Birth of Huy Fong Sriracha Sauce

You’ve seen the word on bottles in the condiments aisle, next to the ketchup. You’ve seen it in the Asian food section. Over at the Taco Bell. You may have noticed it on a bag of potato chips.

There’s a town in Thailand called Si Racha. It’s also spelled Sri Racha. Population of about 20,000. There they make a hot pepper sauce – which isn’t really that hot, on the Scoville scale the finished sauce is about as hot as a raw Fresno pepper – that is so perfectly spicy and delicious that it has become a staple throughout that part of the world. It is referred to generically as Sriracha – much like folks refer generically to “Soy Sauce” – regardless of who makes it.

There was a Major in the South Vietnamese army named David Tran, who fled the country after the war; in 1978 he was part of the migration of the Vietnamese Boat People to the United States. Before he left, he had perfected a mean version of Sriracha, which he bottled and sold in Gerber baby food bottles.

There was a boat in that flotilla – a run-down Taiwanese freighter – that was called the Huey Fong, which carried David Tran and others to Boston; they arrived in 1980.

The name “Huey” was pronounced “Huy” by the Asian passengers.

David Tran was born in the year of the rooster.

And so, shortly thereafter, when David Tran relocated to Los Angeles and started making his special recipe, he called his company “Huy Fong” and emblazoned his bottle with a rooster. He trademarked those elements but did not trademark the term “Sriracha.”

There was a vacant building in Rosemead, California that was previously owned by Wham-O; Huy Fong bought it and moved into it in 1987. David Tran made special modifications to the production machinery to get the product just right.

There was a choice for Ingredient of the Year by Bon Appetit magazine in 2010: Huy Fong’s Sriracha sauce.

It caused an explosion in Sriracha awareness and sales.

Food manufacturers took notice, and since the term wasn’t trademarked, the term “Srirachi” was soon splattered across the entire food industry.

But there’s only one. It comes in a clear plastic bottle with a green cap. It features text in five languages. And there’s that rooster logo. It’s family-owned, family-made.

(And though Bon Appetit offered 25 different ways to use it in recipes, you don’t need that detail. Just keep a bottle on hand and add it to basically everything.)

It’s the original, the one and only. Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.

Mike Keeler

– Mike Keeler

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