Huy Fong Sriracha sauce recalled over fears of 'exploding' bottles: 5 things to know about the popular chilli sauce

Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce was created by Vietnamese refugee David Tran, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1979.
Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce was created by Vietnamese refugee David Tran, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1979.PHOTOS: HUY FONG FOODS, INC./FACEBOOK, AFP

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has issued a recall for the popular Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce following concerns that the bottles may explode on opening.

Bottles of the condiment could "bloat and continue to ferment" due to a build-up in lactic acid, causing an increase in pressure that may be released violently when the cap is unscrewed.

The affected batch, which has a best before date of March 2021, has also been recalled elsewhere in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Here are five things to know about the chilli sauce which is used at many Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.

1. 'Hipster Tabasco'

Made from ingredients like red jalapeno peppers, sugar, salt and garlic, Huy Fong Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce has become a must-have sauce in many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, often used by patrons to spice up dishes such as fish cakes.

According to Huy Fong's website, bottles may differ in spiciness because the chilli used is "grown naturally", and therefore "we cannot control the spiciness of our product (as well as colour and juiciness)".

Pronounced Sir-ah-cha, Sriracha is Huy Fong's most popular sauce, although its unorthodox pronunciation has led some to simply dub it "rooster sauce" after the company's trademark logo.

Its Asian billings has also led some Westerners to refer to it as "hipster Tabasco", comparing it to the red pepper sauce made by the Mcllhenny family that has also been a household name since 1868.

2. 'The story of Sriracha is the story of America'

The story of the sauce has been described by online website Vice as embodying the American dream.

Arriving in Los Angeles in 1979, the sauce's creator David Tran was a Vietnamese refugee who commercialised the spicy sauces that he used to make back home.

Naming his company Huy Fong after the ship that took him out of Vietnam, he began bottling his Sriracha sauce in LA's Chinatown, delivering the bottles in a blue van to Asian restaurants in the area.

He quickly secured a loyal following, making his personal brand easily recognisable by hand-painting Huy Fong's now iconic rooster on his van, a reference to his zodiac animal, having been born in the Year of the Rooster.

This knack for enterprise earned Mr Tran US$2,300 (S$3,110) in the first month of operations, and he went on to build what would become a highly profitable business empire.

3. The 'real' Sriracha?

In January this year, an NPR report questioned the authenticity of Huy Fong's Sriracha sauce, after residents of the so-called origin city of the sauce said Mr Tran's version was "no good".

The reporter travelled to the seaside Thai city of Si Racha, where most residents had not heard of the United States brand. There, he met 71-year-old Saowanit Trikityanukul, who said it was really her great-grandfather who first combined sweet, salty, and sour sauces to create the unique Sriracha.

 

"It's not tasty. It's not mixed together properly. There's only one taste," she said of the American brand, adding that proper Sriracha sauce needs to blend the hotness, the sweet and the garlic together seamlessly.

Her sentiments were echoed by others in the city who were given a taste of the Huy Fong sauce, a key reason why those who have tried to import Huy Fong's Sriracha to Thailand have faced some resistance.

On his part, Mr Tran has said he makes no claims to replicating the Thai version. He said: "I know it's not a Thai Sriracha. It's my Sriracha."

4. A spicy lawsuit

In July 2019, Huy Fong lost a lawsuit against its 28-year jalapeno supplier Underwood Ranches and was ordered by a California jury to pay the pepper grower US$23.3 million in punitive damages and compensation.

The lawsuit was filed after the two could not work out an agreement for Underwood's 2017 harvest. Huy Fong alleged that Underwood refused to return an overpayment of US$1.4 million, while Underwood claimed Huy Fong had breached their contract, leading to it laying off 44 of its employees.

 

The jury unanimously recommended a ruling in Underwood's favour.

Amid legal proceedings, Underwood also created its own line of hot sauces, and tweeted: "The Pepper Makes the Product. Without Underwood's pepper, it's just another condiment."

5. 'I made this sauce for the Asian community'

The ingredient list on the back of Huy Fong Sriracha sauce bottles is written in Vietnamese, Chinese, English, French and Spanish, acknowledging the international following it has secured.

From young people squirting it on hotdogs bought after a night out to chefs using it in hollandaise, people have found that the sauce goes well with so many things that its use is no longer confined to its initial conception as a hot sauce to go with pho.

 

But the Tran family, while welcoming the sauce's ubiquity, has said it still wants to focus on serving Asians.

Mr William Tran, founder David Tran's son and Huy Fong's president, said 80 per cent of the company's products are still sold to Asian companies for distribution through Asian channels. He told the New York Times in 2009: "That's the market we know. That's the market we want to serve."

Sources: Huy Fong, Bloomberg, New York Times, Vice, NPR