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The Farm That Grew Chiles For Everyone’s Favorite Sriracha Brand Now Makes Their Own. But Is It Any Good?

Eight years after Underwood Ranch had a legal falling out with Huy Fong Foods, the jalapeño farm is now making their own sriracha sauce. We broke down the taste, ingredients, and look of the bottle compared to the San Gabriel Valley classic.

2:28 PM PST on January 18, 2024

First, there was one.

Before many of us came to the understanding that sriracha is a chile-and-garlic-based hot sauce originally from Thailand and that sriracha is a sorta general term used among many brands making it, we had Huy Fong Food's famous "rooster sauce."

Shapely plastic bottles in polyglot script and Yuletide color schemes shortly crammed in among the refrigerator side doors and sticky tables of this nation, our tastebuds set aflame, as were our hearts over the immigrant success story of David Tran, raised in Vietnam with a Chinese bloodline before escaping communist persecution of the Hoa in 1978.

The sriracha Tran had been making from chiles grown on his brother's farm near Saigon inspired the birth of Huy Fong in Los Angeles in 1980, paving the way for an empire that would bring in an estimated $150 million annually.

Drama threatened to dash the entire dream starting in 2016, when Huy Fong pressed Camarillo's Underwood Family Farms, at one time the primary supplier of chiles to the brand, for $1 million it claimed it had overpaid. A 30-year relationship was subsequently destroyed through lawsuits, financial losses, attempted "stealing" of employees, and alleged contract breaches, which eventually saw Huy Fong hit with a hefty $23.3 million in legal awards to Underwood.

Then, in 2022, Huy Fong briefly stopped production due to a shortage of chiles, which it was now mostly getting from Mexico. That wasn't a problem Underwood had, however, as it had grown vastly over the years to devote about 2,000 acres to growing jalapenos for its former partner at the height of their arrangement.

Now, Underwood Farms has a sriracha of its very own under its Underwood Ranches label, a veritable red-hot and spicy "fuck you" to Huy Fong. But is it any good?

L.A. TACO's main condiment curator, Seth Copenhaver, picked us up a few bottles at Costco. All so we can break it down by its appearance, ingredients, and taste in a quest to see if it has any chance of knocking Huy Fong's so-called "cock sauce" out of your rice bowls.

Sriracha bottle by Underwoods Ranch. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

The Look

Underwood's own sriracha sauce is a beautiful brick red in the bottle, a slightly deeper shade than Huy Fong's, encased in a broad-shouldered body under a thin neck and black cap. The sauce oozes out in a bright electric red.

The label is black, too, with a banner that shouts "Sriracha" in a font you might expect from a Shaw Brothers movie poster or Palm Springs tiki bar sign, followed by the explainer that this is a "Premium Chili Hot Sauce."

Huy Fong's bottle is a brawny-ass bantam rooster and comes scrawled in legit languages, including Vietnamese, English, and Chinese. Underwood's has a big ol' golden dragon on the front and goes by the street name "Dragon Sauce."

As fierce as the scaled mythical beast is looking, Underwood's generic stab at being "Asian-y" kinda comes across like some meathead on spring break getting Chinese characters tatted on his shoulder because they needed a personality.

Eggs with sriracha. Photo by Hadley Tomicki for L.A. TACO.

What Goes Inside

L.A. TACO cock-sauce connoisseur Javier Cabral quickly honed in on what he perceived as a small surfeit of preservatives packing Underwood's product. It certainly does appear to have a few things Huy Fong's does not, as well as a slightly different proportion of similar ingredients.

In order on the label, Underwood's counts jalapeno, sugar, water, salt, acetic acid, garlic, natural flavor, xantham gum, sodium metabisulfite, and/or sodium bisulfate, and potassium sorbate in its 17-ounce bottle of sriracha.

Huy Fong's ingredient list goes: chile, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfate, and xanthan gum. But then it lists them in French and Spanish, making it vastly more sophisticated.

Xanthan gum is a powdered stabilizer, emulsifier, and thickener used in foods. It doesn't sound like it'll kill you, especially in small quantities, but it's an insoluble fiber and can play funny games with your belly. Plus, it sounds like something an E.T. would chew.

"Natural flavor" is skeevy. What's with the obfuscation? If it's a natural product like an apple, acorn, or duck brain, tell us what it is. Are you trying to convince us these flavors are natural or from nature? Or maybe counter the effects of xanthan gum?

Acetic acid is essentially vinegar. Let them have that one. Both sauces disclaim that they contain sulfites and preservatives that can occur naturally and can also be bad for you.

But in any case, it appears Underwood embraces just a few more multi-syllabic ingredients we don't stock in our kitchens.

The Taste

It could be that the big bottle of rooster sauce in our lives is geriatric, but we really liked the freshness and flavor flooding out of Underwood's sriracha. It's an earthy, methoxypyrazine-forward flavor that evokes the ring of a bell pepper, a pronounced, sweet, and pure chile flavor striking with a slightly sour smack at the end, on top of a heat that initially spikes before mellowing through a lingering finish. There's a note of intermingling garlic and chile reminiscent of a Georgian adjika, with a higher, more sustained heat.

Gotta say, it's good shit so far and could easily have a place at our table, covering our eggs, slicking our rice, and furtively licked from spoons when no one is looking. Having a sriracha stemming straight from the experienced jalapeno farmers who grew the actual chiles has no shortage of allure to the food dork in us, too.

Whether it can unseat the Samson of sriracha and dethrone Huy Fong, through potential chile shortages no less, is a bigger question yet-to-be-answered. You can find bottles on Underwood's site right here, if you aren't a member of the elite private society known as Costco.

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