For sale: bottle of Sriracha, never used.
OK, maybe once or twice. A squirt here and there. But mainly, it sits wedged in the back row on a refrigerator shelf filled with other hot sauces. Hot sauces I use more often. Better hot sauces.
The world is currently facing a Sriracha shortage. In April, Huy Fong Foods Inc., based in Irwindale, Calif., announced it would have to pause production of its most popular sauce. The chile peppers used to make Sriracha are grown in an area of Mexico undergoing severe drought, and this spring’s crop was a failure. The company isn’t taking orders until September. “We hope for a fruitful fall season and thank our customers for their patience and continued support during this difficult time,” Huy Fong said in a statement.
The news was met with great lament. Fans, you are legion, and I am sorry for your pain. But I do not feel it. I’m more upset about Huy Fong’s other affected products, stir-fry staple Chili Garlic Sauce (better and more complex, because garlic) and chunky cousin Sambal Oelek (not pureed, not sweetened). Let’s be honest: Sriracha is one of the lesser condiments. It is the ketchup of hot sauces, sugary, smooth, ubiquitous. And that’s not even fair to ketchup, which is essential when eating burgers, fries, and the like.
Sriracha has its place, to be sure — in pho restaurants, for example, where its presence is canon. But when the pho is really good, when the broth is deeply flavorful, rich, and nuanced, Sriracha obscures all that. It’s a heavy hand, painting over a fine and subtle canvas with broad, bright-red strokes and the triumphant cry of a rooster. Just … cock-a-doodle-don’t?
For those of us who love spicy food, Sriracha’s greatest strength has been its widespread availability — now shown to be as fragile and tenuous as everything else in life we take for granted. (I’m not reading into this, you’re reading into this.) But there are other srirachas out there. For starters, look no farther than Sunderland, Mass., where Kitchen Garden Farm makes the sauce with organic peppers from its own fields. The company’s sriracha comes in regular (hot), habanero (really hot), and ghost pepper (you’re dead) versions, in bottles adorned with a bad-ass rooster-dragon hybrid breathing flames. Meanwhile, California’s Underwood Ranches — for nearly three decades the exclusive supplier of chiles to Huy Fong, a partnership that ended in a multimillion dollar lawsuit — recently posted an image of its own sriracha on Instagram, with the caption “Got Stiracha [sic]????” Weird flex when California agriculture is itself being deeply challenged by drought, but OK.
And this is what should legitimately upset us about the Great Sriracha Shortage of 2022: It is an illustration of how climate extremes can affect our food supply. I’m worried about that. I’m worried about migrant workers, farming families, Huy Fong’s employees. I’m worried about local business owners like Yeanie Bach of Banh Mi Oi and Phinista, who was able to stock enough Sriracha to last another month by traveling daily to the supplier, which limited members’ purchases to two cases a day. The hot sauce was double its usual price last week, she reports, and with the ongoing staffing crisis she may not have enough employees available to make a house version when the stash runs out. (Please, customers, do not give restaurants a hard time when they charge 25 cents for extra to-go sauce. They aren’t profiting here.)
Anyway, I’m decidedly not worried about my ability to have a hot girl summer without Sriracha on the shelves. I’ve got my ride or dies — Lao Gan Ma spicy chili crisp and Valentina black label hot sauce — for that. As for that bottle of Sriracha in my fridge, it’s available to the highest bidder.