Lifestyle & Belief

Your favorite Sriracha sauce faces a crucial decision in California

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Credit: Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Supporters of Sriracha hot sauce attend a rally at Irwindale City Hall, in Irwindale, California April 23, 2014.

The market for Huy Fong's Sriracha may be getting a little too hot. Sriracha — everyone's favorite spicy condiment — has become embroiled in a legal battle for the past few months.

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But today, the Irwindale, California, City Council is scheduled to consider a measure naming the factory a public nuisance — and moving it one step closer to shutdown. 

Sriracha maker Huy Fong Foods, Inc. has been in Irwindale since the beginning. Huy Fong Foods started in the 1980s by a Chinese-Vietnamese immigrant named David Tran, the company's CEO and the man who has been fighting it out with the Irwindale government. Residents say the strong scent of chiles burn their eyes and send them into coughing fits. 

The product is so popular the factory pumps out 3,000 bottles of hot sauce each hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week — that's roughly 200 tons per week. Huy Fong Foods sells about 20 million bottles per year, and since every bottle of Sriracha comes from this factory, the city council's decision could change the dinner tables of countless Americans. 

Dan Pashman, host of the Sporkful podcast and author of the forthcoming book "Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious," shares some tips on how to survive without Sriracha.

"The sauce that all of us think of as Sriracha sauce is really just one brand's version of sriracha sauce," says Pashman. "Sriracha is not a brand name — it is a type of sauce like catsup or mustard. If they shutdown the Heinz Ketchup factory, you may miss Heinz Ketchup, but you'd be able to get other kinds of catsup made by other brands."

Though Tran's sriracha recipe is buzzing in the food community, Pashman says there are other options out there for spice lovers.

"I know Texas Pete's makes one, and Trader Joe's has one," he adds. "But in the case of Trader Joe's, it's always tough to tell because many of their foods are just other people's packaged foods that they put their own label on. They're very secretive about what brand it actually is that they're putting their label on, so if the factory gets shut down and Trader Joe's suddenly runs out of sriracha, we'll know where they've been getting their sriracha from."

Even though there are alternatives, Pashman says Huy Fong Foods Sriracha is his number one go-to hot sauce. He's not alone — it's the number one selling hot sauce in America.

"There is a high that comes from eating spicy foods," he says. "Anything that leads to some level of a high will inspire some level of devotion." 

If the factory is shut down, Tran will have several options for keeping his product on store shelves. Politicians from several states have been courting him and his business, but so far Tran has said he wants to keep his operation in Irwindale.

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