SRIRACHA (AKA sot sriracha or phrik sriracha) is one of America's favorite condiments—but is rooster sauce really the endgame? I got together with Mercury food alumnus Chris Onstad and current Merc restaurant critic Andrea Damewood for an evening of debauched hot sauce consumption. Our mission? To discover for ourselves whether or not Huy Fong's cock sauce really rules the roost, or if budget off-brands from the Asian grocery store are serious contenders. We also aimed to determine whether or not the highfalutin yuppie brands are worth the extra skrilla.
Methodology: We tried each sauce three ways: on cheese pizza, on tortilla chips, and on plain white rice. We recorded our first impressions, noting variations in heat, sugar, acidity, and consistency. Other flavors were noted as detected.
Number of brands tasted: 9
Incidents of accidental eye rubbing: 2
Sriraja Panich (AKA "Original Gangsta")
Description and Tasters' Notes: This sauce is made by Thailand-based Thai Theparos Food Products (distributed in the US by Eastland Food Corporation), and it's apparently the very first sriracha sauce, dating back to the 1930s.
Heat level is moderate, made with a Thai pepper variety called "spur chili." Top notes of garlic with a sweet base. Texture was velvety and smooth.
"Good on rice."—HAA
"Smooth, sweet, garlicky."—CO
"Not strong and hot."—AD
Thai and True Sarachee (AKA "Food Ruiner")
Origin: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Description and Tasters' Notes: Billing itself as vegan, gluten free, and organic, this hometown sauce is made by the owner of Lake Oswego's Thai Villa Restaurant, Susie Kasem.
Texture moderately thin (like Aardvark), sugar and garlic pretty low. Heat intense; this was the only sauce that contained habanero puree. Tasters had to pass the box of tissues around. Tasters hated the punny name. Everything it touched became nearly inedibly pungent—not even rice could recover the tasters' palates.
"Terrible name, punishing heat. A winning combination!"—HAA
"I gave this to my parents for Christmas."—CO
"Do you hate your parents?"—AD
Grand Mountain (AKA "Sugar Bomb")
Description and Tasters' Notes: After tasters stopped giggling at the sauce's label, which uses Thai characters that resemble "ASS 101," they settled in to taste the "strong" variety (the "medium" variety wasn't on the docket).
Texture runny like generic Tabasco. Sugar is the second ingredient and dominates the flavor. Heat moderately low. Tasters found it left a weird aftertaste, and made no other comments.
Ninja Squirrel (AKA "Barbecue Sauce")
Origin: Austin, Texas
Description and Tasters' Notes: This sauce is a Whole Foods exclusive. Tasters found the sugar and garlic pretty balanced, heat negligible, and between the flavor and texture, it was more like a slightly spicy barbecue sauce than a sriracha. Tasters, however, were not mad about this.
"Not really sriracha."—HAA
"I can see myself at 2 am, putting that on my Crunchwrap, and being pretty happy with my station in life."—AD
3-MIÉN (AKA "The IPA of Srirachas")
Description and Tasters' Notes: This sauce stood out, with a flavor completely different than the others. The texture was very... erect. Like condensed tomato soup. Sugar was very minor, and heat was high—but not unbearable. With its bitter complexity, this sauce was Onstad's clear favorite.
"BEST. SIERRA NEVADA, MOTHERFUCKER. BEST."—CO
Sky Valley (AKA "Sauce of the Suburbs")
Origin: Yanceyville, North Carolina
Description and Tasters' Notes: Nicknamed "Sky Mall," Sky Valley was a disappointment to tasters. It was sweet, salty, and garlicky, but not in a way that made it good.
"Where the hell is Yanceyville, anyway?"—HAA
"Safeway-style, but the Safeway with the wood floors."—CO
"This is the sriracha McDonald's would have."—AD
Shark Brand (AKA "The Beauty Queen")
Description and Tasters' Notes: With its stylish label, paler-orange color and smooth, thin consistency, this sauce looked pretty—but the tasters found it a tad too sweet. It was slightly spicier than ASS 101, putting it in a mid-range of heat and garlic. Bonus for the math nerds: The label listed the ingredients by percentage.
"It's like Kraft French dressing."—HAA
"Love the bottle."—AD
Four Seasons Fresh Red (AKA "For Bleeding-Hearts")
Description and Tasters' Notes: The "Fresh Red" variety of this Northwest sriracha tasted more like a Carolina-style barbecue sauce: runny, tangy, acidic, and sweet, with a slight smokiness. It was pretty good, but the ingredient labeling was so smug that tasters couldn't stop rolling their eyes.
"'Gluten-free white vinegar'?? Fuck off."—HAA
Huy Fong (AKA "The Ubiquitous")
Origin: Los Angeles
Description and Tasters' Notes: By this point, palate fatigue had begun to set in. After slogging through so many other sauces, this one just wasn't as good as the tasters remembered. The viscosity and heat were decent, but high sugar and a slight fishiness were more forward than expected. The whole world has been changed for the tasters, and this sauce is no longer "everything."
"I hate this now."—CO
After the hot sauce bender, the dizzy and stimulated tasters went on a strange, bongo-beating spirit journey of free association and nose blowing. The conversation eventually digressed into a heated discussion about underwear longevity. The tasters ended their dangerous foray by writing haiku, and bid one another farewell.