About two weeks ago, Quartz did a pretty amazing profile of the makers of Siracha hot sauce, namely Huy Fong Foods in the Los Angeles area. They honestly should be the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study: they sell 20 million bottles of the stuff per year, clear about $60 million in revenue, have double-digit sales growth annually, and yet their CEO isn’t sure exactly where it’s sold and mostly talks of “not wanting to be a billionaire.” There’s even a documentary forthcoming about the world of Siracha.
Here’s the problem, though: people in Irwindale are getting sick, and production of the beloved hot sauce may be forced out. That’s going to cause the cost to rise, which theoretically might create an interesting little black market in the kitchens of those that seek heat in their food. That’s kind of a big deal, because when Reddit posed a question about going back in time and blowing a caveman’s mind with one meal, Siracha featured prominently. People love the stuff; there’s a cookbook entirely devoted to recipes involving the sauce.
A serious debate is brewing in Irwindale: is the health of 30 or so people more or less relevant than the heat-seeking culinary mavens of the rest of society? The cornerstone of the issue is the production process, actually: the company only uses fresh chilis in the making of Siracha. That means they have to be processed within a day of picking; All of the over 100 million pounds of the stuff it uses is harvested in a two-to-three month period right around the fall, i.e. now, so if they get shutdown right now, it could halt production for the better part of the year.
One disastrous undercurrent of the demise of Siracha would be less ridiculous videos on YouTube of guys chugging the stuff to prove something to someone, somewhere. (All elements unclear.) Couple of additional interesting things about Siracha: it’s actually way less hot than jalapeno peppers, most of the crew behind its production is completely flummoxed by its popularity, and in 2010 it was named Bon Appetit’s ‘Ingredient of the Year.’
I cook with it, I enjoy it, I’d miss it, and I hope the court in Irwindale can figure its -ish out, but mostly I think it’s just a tremendous play unfolding before our own eyes right now. And hey, if you get priced out of the rooster sauce market, check out this video for some help: