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Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've probably heard of sriracha sauce—specifically, the Huy Fong brand. From its humble SoCal beginnings in 1980, David Tran's product has grown into a national phenomenon, with over 10 million bottles sold every year.
With Huy Fong's iconic rooster appearing on everything from clothing, to art gallery walls, and even movie screens, it's safe to say that this particular hot sauce is firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness.
But, with success comes imitators, and thanks to the popularity of rooster sauce, dozens of pretenders have emerged looking to take a bite out of the spicy sriracha pie. (Hey, that's not a bad idea.)
So, with an overwhelming number of Thai-inspired concoctions to choose from, what's a crew of card-carrying hot sauce enthusiasts to do? Taste as many as we can get our hands on, of course!
Our mission was simple, our task noble: Find the best sriracha sauce out there.
As much as we would have loved to try every single sriracha product, our taste buds could only take so much of the 1,000-2,500 Scoville heat. In the end we settled on 13 readily available brands, as well as one homemade option.
Our lineup includes virtually all of the most popular srirachas available in the U.S., but it's worth keeping in mind that these are just a few of the many on the market:
"I thought I was done... oh god!"
Full disclosure: We at Reviewed.com aren't exactly professional food tasters. But we are extremely enthusiastic about food. I myself have a rapidly expanding waistline to prove it.
We avoided getting too involved in the more esoteric aspects of the food-tasting process, simply rating the sauces on four criteria: appearance, heat, texture, and flavor. Tasters scored each sauce on a 1-to-10 scale in each of the four categories, with appearance and texture weighted lower in the final scoring.
Tasters were required to taste all 14 sauces. The tasting was blind, and each participant was also assigned a random tasting order to prevent palate burnout. The sauces were served with dumplings and steamed white rice, and tasters were provided with water crackers, white bread, milk, and soda water as palate cleansers.
"I really didn't think this through..."
We'll let the pictures do the talking here.
"Beautiful to look at."
★ Best Looking
★ Best Texture
★ Best Flavor
Described as having a "great spiciness," and a "funky flavor," OrganicVille's Sky Valley Srircha sauce was the (extremely narrow) winner of our taste test.
With its "deep rich color" and "beautiful, grainy texture" this sauce was lauded by our tasters for its "fruity, complex profile."
"A hot sauce for hot sauce lovers."
The unusually dark Kikkoman (not surprising, coming from a brand best known for its soy sauce) was well-received by our tasting panel.
The sauce was described as having a perfect balance of heat and flavor, and a delightfully smoky, aged flavor.
"...[there's] something very mouth-puckering about this."
Popular conventional hot sauce makers Tabasco and Texas Pete each tried their hand at a sriracha-style sauce this year, and their efforts proved popular enough to come in at a joint third position.
The (for now) limited-edition Tabasco brand was commended for its good consistency, overpowering initial heat, and strong vinegary taste.
"Not a bad heat, but a bizarre texture."
Texas Pete's "Sriracha Cha" (get it?) was most notable for its initial spicy kick, though it was also singled out for its "tangy and sharp" flavor.
Some found the tanginess overwhelming and criticized the sauce's lack of complexity.
"Peppery, with a good kick."
The venerable Huy Fong sriracha sauce is probably the most familiar to our readers.
This sauce did well, with tasters pointing out its balanced flavor profile, pronounced hints of garlic and citrus, and spicy sweetness.
It didn't escape unscathed from the barrage of opinions, though. Some tasters found its texture and consistency off-putting.
★ Best Heat
Polar's sriracha sauce distinguished itself as the hottest at the table, by far. That's no small feat, considering the competition.
It was described as "sweet, with an early and lasting burn," and "tasting like Tteokbokki sauce," but some participants disliked its thin texture.
"Tastes like candy."
Lee Kum Kee's unusually fishy Srircaha sauce earned particularly high marks from a few of our tasters. But despite having "great heat, a great kick, and a great aftertaste," others found this particular sauce "plasticy," "fishy," and "too sour."
(Indeed, it's the only one of the 14 sauces we tested that includes fish in its ingredient list.)
"A great-looking sauce that assaults the mouth with unpalatable heat and taste."
We had high hopes for this unassuming sauce, and while it didn't exactly excel, it did... alright.
A few tasters raved about its "almost perfect balance of heat and flavor" and slowly building intensity, while others criticized it for a too-overt sweetness.
"Tastes like dog$%!#."
That quote really tells you all you need to know about TJ's entry into the sriracha canon. Depending on who you asked, Trader Joe's suspiciously Huy Fong-y sauce was either "great" or "gross."
Tasters enjoyed this knock-off's solid mix of heat and sweetness, along with its pronounced garlic flavor. But they also found it flat and lacking in complexity.
"Bland flavor wrapped up in an ostentatious appearance."
We didn't expect our homemade sriracha sauce to do particularly well, and it lived right on down to our expectations.
A few tasters absolutely loved its "fresh, sweet taste," "great mouthfeel," and "nice, thick texture." But most found it "nowhere near spicy enough," "unsettling to look at," and "way too fishy."
"Tastes like a factory floor."
Despite being an authentic Thai sriracha sauce (from Thailand!), Shark Brand didn't prove popular with our tasters.
Most found it too weak and watery, with a disturbing metallic taste. Still, it did have its supporters, most of whom enjoyed its crisp tanginess.
"Orange-colored sugar sauce."
You probably didn't know Thai Kitchen had its own brand of sriracha sauce, and after trying it, you'll probably wonder why the company even bothered.
The most common complaint leveled against Thai Kitchen's entrant was its lack of heat. This distinct weakness, combined with an overly processed, too-sweet flavor, relegated this sauce to our bottom four.
This unimpressive offering from Thai Taste has a "sickly" translucent pinkness that "closely resembles duck sauce."
One taster gave it kudos for a "nice balance of sweetness and heat," but most found it "watery," "bland", and "too sweet."
"Tangy and artificial."
And finally we come to Crying Tiger, which has plenty of reason to cry.
This ridiculously salty sauce was "not as spicy as it looks," and what little heat it had didn't really mesh with the overall flavor. Some among us were impressed with its "bright, vibrant color," but most found its "radioactive hue" unsettling.
All photos: Kyle Looney
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