It’s the sort of story the Internet lives for: In October, Huy Fong Foods, manufacturer of Asian hot sauce institution Sriracha, aka, “cock sauce,” was sued by its hometown of Irwindale, Calif., a move that threatened to limit America’s strategic hot sauce reserves and potentially send prices skyrocketing. In a word: Srirachagate.
Elation over the jobs and economic boost that the factory brought to Irwindale two years ago quickly faded as residents got a noseful of hot-pepper laden breezes and the fumes of roasting garlic the factory belched during jalepeņo-harvesting season.
People in Irwindale reported every thing from coughs, sneezes and headaches to burning throats, watering eyes, asthma attacks and nosebleeds — the same sorts of symptoms one gets from a blast of pepper-spray — even miles away from the factory.
A judge ordered a partial shutdown of the factory until the odor could be addressed.
The lawsuit had the legitimate aim of addressing health and environmental concerns related to factory emissions. But they were caused by hot sauce. And not just any hot sauce. Sriracha has its own cookbooks, a food festival and even a newly released documentary. Add to that the Libertarian hordes that tend to descend on Internet chat boards and let the cultural shit show commence.
Facebook was rife with plans to start hoarding as news hit the wire. A blogger for The Atlantic urged readers to buy up Sriracha like it was gold. Online petitions to save the factory sprung up on numerous websites. The last packet of Sriracha made went for sale on EBay for $10,000.
And — of course — a politician in Texas wrote to the company, inviting them to relocate to Texas, a state that would rather let a factory explode than regulate it in any way.
But in a twist that could only happen in a story about the Srirachalypse, Kevin Roden, a Denton city councilman touted local hipster cred instead of lack of regulations.
“As the indie music capital of Texas and a city of 48,000 college students, Denton is home to myriads of Sriracha’s customer base,” he wrote in an open letter posted to his website.
Texas wasn’t the only state to court Huy Fong either. A city councilman in Philadelphia also lobbied for the plant, and a petition filed on Change.org was directed at Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, asking him to work to bring the factory to Colorado.
“Please sign this petition to let this truly American success story have a home in Colorado and to liberate them from California! The madness must stop. Gov. Hickenlooper please do whatever is in your power to get them here to Colorado. Plus, I’m running out ...” it read.
As of press time, only 12 people had signed on.
Most of the fervor had faded as the story dropped from the scandal sheets. But it kicked back into overdrive this month with a new development: new state health regulations mandating a 30-day waiting period before uncooked, processed foods can be shipped, to provide time for testing, kicked into effect. Since Huy Fong typically ships its product as it’s manufactured, they had no stock on hand, meaning the nation’s supply of Sriracha is frozen until mid-January. That translates to a potential disruption in the supply chain for distributors that could cost buckets and open them up to breach of contract lawsuits with the businesses they supply if they can’t deliver.
What seems like a funny story about hot sauce could translate to huge costs for involved parties, and hinges on a serious question about public health.
Whether or not any of that will actually come to pass or if it is just this season’s Y2K remains to be seen.
But some foodies are taking it seriously.
“We’ve stocked up since a couple of weeks ago, when we got word of a possible impending shortage,” Jennifer Saesue, the general manager of New York eatery OBAO Hell’s Kitchen told DNAInfo.com. “Luckily, at this point, we do not need to alter any of our dishes.”
Calls to several local food distributors to see if there is genuinely any risk to the Sriracha supply were not returned by press time, which could mean anything from a widespread conspiracy to suppress the truth to them just being busy.
But assuming the worst, those genuinely in fear of a Sriracha-less world might want to consider looking into alternative sauces. There are no shortage of imitators, many of them even ripping off the name and iconography of the genuine article. There are rival Srirachas available from other Asian sauce manufacturers like Kikkoman and Thai Kitchen available at most grocery stores, as well as house-brand clones from companies like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Roland makes a remarkably similar sauce.
Then there are other Thai chili garlic sauces with varying textures and levels of heat, including the devilously delicious Sambal from Huy Fong Foods that is a sweeter, thicker sauce complete with seeds and chunks of pepper.
But if you’re the sort of person that thinks of Doomsday Preppers as a how-to guide more than a freakshow, you can take the plunge and just make your own.
Huy Fong never bothered to make its recipe secret, saying that while you could easily make Sriracha at home, you wouldn’t make it as well, which is a kitchen dare if we ever heard one. There are only five ingredients in Sriracha and it takes around a half hour to prepare. A simple Google search will tell you all you need to know to brew up a batch of your own cock sauce.
And if your neighbors try to sue over the smell, tell them, “At least it wasn’t meth I was cooking,” and invite them over for some delicious stir-fry. The spice must flow.
If you feel the urge to drop $10K to own the last packet of Sriracha, you can do so by going to http://tinyurl.com/ljpe4r6.
Or, if you just want to encourage Gov. Hickenlooper to bring the Sriracha plant to Colorado, you can sign the petition at http://tinyurl.com/ mkww8ld.