The familiar red plastic squeeze bottle with a rooster on the label may disappear from tablets for a while.
Sriracha is the latest casualty in the supply chain shortage that operators have been experiencing over the past year.
The culprit this time is the failure of Mexico’s red jalapeno crop. This is the signature chili pepper that goes into every bottle of spice. Peppers are grown and harvested in the first four months of the year, but severe and prolonged drought in the growing areas has greatly reduced production.
“We first heard about it in April,” said Polly Knutson, assistant director of food and hospitality services at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. It is part of an online networking group for college and university operators, where I got the scoop. College students are huge fans of Sriracha and she and the others have been scrambling to come up with ways to make up for the shortfall.
Knutson bought as much as she could get her hands on before trouble and didn’t think she would run out until about December. “We do a lot of other hot sauces, but the students will be disappointed,” she said.
“The Asian hot sauces are very specific and nothing beats the taste or viscosity of Sriracha,” said Marie Nguyen Arrigoni, a chef who owns three locations at Saigon Sisters in Chicago. “And now customers’ tastes are trained to taste.”
In its full-service restaurant, there is a bottle of Sriracha on every table and packages are available for go-to orders; It is a signature garnish for pho, the noodle soup often called the ‘national dish of Vietnam’. But sriracha-loving guests add the sauce to other menu items, too.
“When I first heard about the shortage in May, I stocked four or five cans plus the individual packages from my Asian vendor,” Arrigoni said. “Now my seller told me it’s not available.”
The Arrigoni wide line still contains Sriracha, but it is more expensive. She said she was a frequent visitor to Chicago’s Argyle Street, a neighborhood with a large density of Asian groceries, but they also raised the price. “It used to be $1.99, but it has now jumped in price four times. We can’t give away the spice for free if prices keep going up.”
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Arrigoni makes her own Sriracha using red Thai bell peppers, but sowing and rooting the young peppers takes a long time, she says.
Brian Knutson, Polly’s husband and director of food and nutrition for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, has looked into making this happen, but “the key is red jalapeños, and it’s really hard to get,” he said. “Plus you have to let it ferment for seven days.” The recipe calls for brewing hot peppers with vinegar, garlic, salt, and sugar.
It serves a “wall of hot sauces” at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, most of which are low in sugar since athletes use so much in their food.
“They tend to have lean protein and vegetables at every meal, such as chicken, broccoli and rice,” he said. “Different sauces add variety.”
Cholula sauce might be the closest alternative, he said, or mashed sambal with brown sugar.
Sriracha is a key ingredient in cooking, said Polly Knutson, at the University of Colorado. “We make Srircha Fries and Salmon Glazed Sriracha, brushed with a blend of Sriracha and garlic,” she said. “Students will be able to tell the difference if we use a different sauce.”
Sriracha is also on hand in the kitchen at the Saigon Sisters, used to make two great items on the menu – Caramel Sriracha Wings and Meatball Banh Mi. Arrigoni said the sauce is added to the meatball mixture and the coating of the wings. You think sambal mixed with garlic might work as a substitute in recipes. She doesn’t rule out sambal as a seasoning for pho either.
In the past six months, Arrigoni has experienced a shortage or disappearance of rice paper – essential to making spring rolls – and fish sauce, another essential Vietnamese condiment.
“It’s not a doom or die case yet [with Sriracha]She said. “I can still raid Asian stores and then I will improvise. This is what I do every day.”
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