Foodstuff: Sriracha Sauce
For years, I used Huy Fong™ Brand Sambal Oelek, as my ‘go to’ ingredient whenever I wanted to add a touch of chili heat to a dish without the inconvenience of the fresh article. Of late, however, I have been using the ‘Sriracha Sauce’, also made by Huy Fong Foods Inc., in place of the rather chunky paste.
Anybody who has spent much time eating in Asian restaurants of the more casual, less up-market, variety, will no doubt recognize the bottle appearing on the right of the above picture. Indeed, the Rooster logo is so ubiquitous nowadays, being widely available in supermarkets as well as restaurants of all sorts, that it is often called ‘Rooster Brand Sauce’, ‘Rooster Sauce’, or, somewhat less salubriously, ‘Cock Sauce’.
Sriracha, it turns out, is named after ‘Si Racha’, a town in Thailand that is known for its own particular style of chili sauce. In the mid 1970’s, a Vietnamese gentleman by the name of David Tran founded the Huy Fong company and began marketing a ‘Sriracha Sauce’ along with a few other condiments. Unfortunately, perhaps, Mr. Tran never did trademark the name ‘Sriracha’, and thus allowed several other big companies, notably Golden Mountain, Frank’s, and now Lee Kum Kee to get in on the action. Accordingly, this means that my blog-post introduction to the condiment can include a taste comparison of two of the main brands available…
As Wikipedia notes, a Sriracha sauce is composed of a paste of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. What Wikipedia does not mention is that the traditional method of production includes a brief period of fermentation. This obviously contributes to the overall taste of the finished sauce, of course, but, of all the types I have tried, none has had the strong fermentation flavor you get with, say, Tabasco Sauce, or some of the other Louisiana hot sauces available.
The appearance of the Huy Fong and Lee Kum Kee (LKK) varieties of the sauce is very much the same except that the LKK type has a slightly more ‘granular’ look (which may, or may not be apparent to you in the above photograph). This quality also comes through in the ‘mouthfeel’ of the condiment but it is really so indistinct as to only be noticeable when tasting the two sorts one after the other.
The aroma of each brand is also very similar. Both carry the same background hint of fermentation but they each allow you to smell the fragrance of the original fresh chilies. The only real difference is that the LKK version has a sweetish aroma a bit reminiscent of caramel.
Both the Huy Fong and LKK Sriracha sauces contain the basic five ingredients mentioned above but the LKK type also includes ‘Anchovy Extract’ and Ascorbic Acid (also known as Vitamin C). Again, the tastes of each are very similar but the LKK sauce is a little sweeter and also has a definite citrusy tang that probably comes from the Ascorbic Acid. I can’t say that the anchovy component is particularly noticeable in the LKK variety; normally, this ingredient would be used to contribute an ‘Umami’ flavor, but I can’t detect that myself.
As to the relative ‘heat’ of the sauces, I do not know what the ‘Scoville’ ratings are for either product but they seem to roughly equivalent. Both have a spicy hotness that will jazz up almost any dish, but neither is likely to be too ‘hot’ for most palates. Basically, both sauces pack the same chili heat as does the average glaze on ‘spicy’ chicken wings at most restaurants.
In my final verdict, I think both sauces are both very good of equally high quality. For use alone as a dipping sauce, I might choose the LKK variety over the Huy Fong, but as a cooking ingredient, I really can’t see any reason to prefer one over the other.