Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sriracha Smackdown Part II: Who Reigns Supreme?

Round 2 is complete! Folks, these results will knock you out of your chair.

But this time, I didn't run the show. Oz du Soleil, of DataScopic, took the lead on this round and built the most incredible interactive sriracha spreadsheet in history -  he also enlisted the help of Ashley Bower for the final design. (This is what happens when you get some data nerds like Oz and I to design a sriracha review). And we had some very special contributing judges - Griffin Hammond, the producer/director of the Sriracha Documentary, and Brian Meagher of Hot Sauce Daily! Round 1 judge Juli Johnston joined us again to contribute. We compiled the results LIVE through Google Hangout. What an awesome crew! 

We ended up tasting at least everything I had that was new, and we brought out some old favorites to try again. This time, no blindfolds.  Also, we switched the consistency bonus from only receiving a bonus for being "just right" at 3 (where 1 is runny and 5 is gloppy), to "liking the texture" from 1-5, with a bonus at 3 and higher. This allows for some additional flexibility. Believe it or not, this new scoring approach shuffled our results around for Round 1 a bit (and it changed our overall winner!), so I ended up combining the analysis and re-running.

The New Results

To see the original Round 2 results, check out Oz's blog post. The result? Sky Valley edges out rooster by a smidgen, FTW. And in the "all natural ingredients category", Sky Valley wins once again!

Here are the newcomers and re-dos, and the final numbers (using the new scoring criteria for Round 2 only).

Taste: 2.5/5
Heat: 1/5
Consistency: 2.5/5
Bottle Art:2.5/5

Bottle Art Comment: Fun colors and stylish logo, but looks like a bottle of shampoo. Don't bring into the shower, wouldn't want to mix that up...

Taste Comment: Like eating a sriracha-infused orange - very interesting, but doesn't "feel" like a sriracha at all. Would go well on fish. This sriracha is made with yuzu, so that's no surprise. Smooth, somewhat glassy texture. Heat is very mild, but vinegar makes it prickly.

Taste: 3.5/5
Heat: 2/5
Consistency: 4.5/5
Bottle Art:2/5

Bottle Art Comment: Parrots are always fun, but are on all of their products. No creativity. Couldn't the parrot be wearing a hat, or clutching a pepper? Come on, folks.

Taste Comment: Very smoky, and full of bursts garlic (strange, because it isn't made with garlic). Feels like a mild campfire in my mouth. Could bear some more heat to balance out the smoke.

Taste: 3.25/5
Heat: 3.5/5
Consistency: 3.3/5
Bottle Art:2/5

Bottle Art Comment: Still snoring

Taste Comment: See our original comments. Nothing new to report here, except maybe we can appreciate the umami a little bit more. It's pretty much like mixing soy sauce and sriracha.

Taste: 3.5/5
Heat: 4.2/5
Consistency: 3.3/5
Bottle Art:2/5

Bottle Art Comment: Font is cute and stylish, but could use some animal logos. Gotta love the odd spelling of "sarachee"

Taste Comment: Maybe "sarachee" isn't sriracha after all... definitely more like a hot sauce than sriracha. Small amount of heat and a thin texture, with a powerful sweet vinegar bite. But damn tasty, and powerful but well balanced heat - it's got a zingy full flavored punch that begs to be put on pizza crust.

Taste: 3.2/5
Heat: 3.3/5
Consistency: 3.3/5
Bottle Art:4.3/5

Bottle Art Comment: Juli and Rachel love the dragon. But Griffin wasn't impressed - TJ's is just trying too hard to look like Huy Fong.

Taste Comment: Didn't have much new to offer besides what was described in Round 1, but definite confirmation in the metallic taste. Thick and gritty, but definitely better than some of the runnier srirachas.
Taste: 2.8/5
Heat: 4.5/5
Consistency: 2.8/5
Bottle Art:5/5

Bottle Art Comment: Not only does this bottle have an awesome mascot (who doesn't love T-rex?), but clever labeling and a very convenient bottle for air travel (or purses). But Juli and Rachel had a tough time getting sauce onto the spoons and not all over Juil's clothes.

Taste Comment: Very complex, but definitely bordering on a hot sauce versus a sriracha. Starts sweet, heat is delayed, then kicks in with some umami and garlic. Turns into a hot mess.
Taste: 4/5
Heat: 3/5
Consistency: 3/5
Bottle Art:4.23/5

Bottle Art Comment: Very nicely designed font, lovely star, simple yet powerful colors. Stylish.

Taste Comment: Everyone who tasted seemed to love the flavor, but some debate about it's "srirachaness" (more like a hot sauce). Balsalmic vinegar definitely came through, and tasted like a a sweet buffalo wing sauce. Well rounded, dark flavors. Fascinating.
Taste: 4.3/5
Heat: 3.5/5
Consistency: 3.8/5
Bottle Art:4.1/5

Bottle Art Comment: While we agree that the rooster is an icon and a our personal hero, there is something unnerving about having more than 5 fonts. Broke some of the rules of sound graphic design.

Taste Comment: What is not to love about the rooster? It's the same sweet garlicky heat and well balanced texture that inspired us to make movies (ehem, Griffin...). Except Oz, who is just a tough critic.
Taste: 4.2/5
Heat: 3.2/5
Consistency: 4.4/5
Bottle Art:4.4/5

Bottle Art Comment: We still love the colorful phoenix and cutesy font.

Taste Comment: Similar to Round 1 comments, (except it seemed to taste better this time now that we can see it). Starts sweet (but could be sweet), and then the heat sneaks up on you. Sharp and metallic Garlic and even a ginger-like flavor sneak in there toward the back of the throat. Fun.

The Re-Analysis

Check out my excel-embedding skills! Here is the master spreadsheet of the whole ball of spicy wax (Round 1 results folded into Round 2).  Note that some scores might have changed from Oz's results in Round 2 because of srirachas that we tasted in both rounds. Not that I think you're going to call me out on anything, right? And just in case your eyes are going cross, the new ultimate winner is HT Traders, with Rooster and Sky Valley in hot pursuit.

Go ahead, play with the slicers and take a closer look!

The Post-Re-Re-Analysis

What does this all mean? Well, frankly, this means that I now have a fridge full of sriracha that I am trying to find uses for. There are no winners and losers (well, ok, there are some losers), but I think you can find it in your heart to let each and every one of these brands in to your kitchen, for different uses. I've probably used about 50% in some dish or another (how else am I going to make room in my fridge for actual food?).

Yuzu Pao would go great on fish. Thai and True is a great sriracha/hot sauce crossover, and increases your Portland Hipster Cred. Dark Star would make an epic buffalo wing sauce. Sky Valley will please your organic purist friends, and goes great in dishes that ask for garlic. Saigon Sisters has so many layers of taste going that it would amp up any asian-style noodle dish. Shark sauce and Three Mountains are mild and can please your wimpy friends. ABC sauce goes great on fish tacos and avocado. Sriraja Panich has good taste but a thick texture, and goes well in any blended cooked dish. Rooster goes well raw on everything, for those that don't fear the heat.

Here are some additional slices and dices for the purists.

Best brands without artificial preservatives:

Best bottle art, still accounting for some taste and heat:

For those who like it strictly hot, with a little flavor:

Best accessible brands (you don't have to "know someone" to get it):

Want to see another slice, but afraid to play with the spreadsheet? Let me know and I'll try it!


  1. As much as I was disappointed with Lee Kum Kee coming in last during Round I, I can finally accept it. I was in on Round II and Sky Valley came in as my #1.

    Dark Star was a pleasant surprise. The balsamic vinegar eliminates my ongoing complaint against too much vinegar.

    I like you you broke down the scoring on the bottom.

    1. Thanks Oz! I think you've finally broke into the realm of hot sauce. My husband noted that with the vinegar and texture, the Dark Star would make a most excellent buffalo wing sauce!

      I had fun with excel, and learned a lot of new tricks - thanks to you! Thanks so much for putting this all together!!!

  2. I was disheartened by your "Best accessible brands" breakdown... we don't have Trader Joe's in Memphis, and in fact there is only one in the whole state- over three hours away in Nashville. They won't build any more here because we don't allow wine sales in grocery stores, so I'm told, and are underwhelmed by the performance of their Nashville store... probably for that reason. I have never seen Sky Valley or Dark Star anywhere, and have to search through small asian markets(which we do have a ton of) to find Sriraja Panich... sigh. Thank God for the Rooster! By the way, I have tried the Kroger brand sriracha- and found it mediocre but serviceable. Not even in the same league as Huy Fong. It would be interesting to see where it fell on your rankings, though. Ah, the trials and tribulations of living in middle America. At least we have the best BBQ and fried chicken! Nothing like some good old healthy food for ya...

  3. However, we DO have! Yay!

  4. Wow, the infamous triple poster- sorry!
    I just failed before to thank you for all your fantastic effort. So, Thank you! I am extremely jealous of your fridge.

    1. Thanks Clay! You make a great point about accessibility. I tried my best to call something accessible if a good number of folks could get to it.

      I used to live in Oklahoma City...nary a TJs to be found! I totally understand your frustration. Hell, it took 4 years of petitions and oil money bribery to convince a Whole Foods to come to OKC (and unfortunately that is the only place to get Sky Valley), and only after I left for Sacramento! If you ever do get a TJs, treasure it, and don't let them leave! Best store ever. Oh, and I know about the BBQ and fried chicken. I miss it so. You've got a valuable commodity. Amen.

      On the flip side, we don't have Krogers. If you want to do a full review of their sriracha, let me know and I'll try to fit it into the scoring matrix!

    2. I agree. I haven't quite reproduced your taste test but I have now tried Trader Joe's (local), Panich and Shark Brand (Import Products by mail), Crying Tiger (Amazon) and Dark Star (shipped by manufacturer). I have not yet tried Roland's although Fairway and some groceries carry it. I have yet to check the asian megamarts in Flushing (Queens, NY) to see if they carry Panich or Shark Brand.

      What have I learned? If Huy Fong is available thats what I'll get although the Trader Joe's was a pleasant discovery. I liked Panich and Shark Brand but they're pretty similar to Huy Fong and not worth mail order unless Huy Fong isn't available. Dark Star is very yummy but really a different flavor combination. I didn't care much for Crying Tiger.

      Thanks again for corrupting me.

  5. Thanks for doing this, although I haven't seen a run on Huy Fong yet. Props for discovering all of the products I've never heard of but I have one that was not included: Natural Earth Products' Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. It could be regional to the New York area since the bottle indicates Thai manufacture and a Brooklyn importer.

    1. Hi Tardigrade, sorry I missed your replies earlier! Ever since posting these results, I've heard of about at least 10 new srirachas. Now that there was a supposed "shortage" (now just ended), I am also seeing a bunch of new locally produced srirachas. Guess its the DIY entrepreneur spirit of America! Glad I could expose you to the new brands! Until I empty my fridge of the existing srirachas, hubby isn't too keen on me buying new ones. But I think another taste test could be in order later in the year... I could add this one to the list (and no, I haven't seen it here in California).

    2. My default sriracha is Natural Earth Products. As someone who keeps kosher, I'm quite limited with my ability to try new brands and these guys are one of the few who are certified kosher. I'm disappointed you gave Huy Fong Foods such high marks. Although they are pioneers and I was an early adopter, I've come to see from cross comparisons that it really doesn't taste that good.

  6. this is awesome thank you so much!!!!! one thing bothering me tho, what about the unicorn sriracha?? I want to know how it holds up against the others

  7. this is awesome thank you so much!!!!! one thing bothering me tho, what about the unicorn sriracha?? I want to know how it holds up against the others