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Sirachi Sauce Shortage?

Sriracha shortage? California holds the hot sauce, and foodies are fuming.

Sriracha shipments have been put on hold by California health regulators in order to inspect a new manufacturing process of the popular hot chili sauce. Foodies, chefs, and businesses are all fired up.

By Patrik JonssonDec 13, 2013 4:38 PM

Public health officials in California have taken the drastic step of ordering the maker of Sriracha chili sauce to cease selling the popular condiment in the green-topped squeeze bottle for a month even though no one has ever complained about any problems with the sauce.

The shipping hold, which could mean some store shelves will be empty until mid-January, turned a spotlight on one of America’s most unusual corporate success stories: the tale of an ethnic Chinese culinary entrepreneur whose success and company growth has suddenly – and, to some, oddly – run into regulatory roadblocks.

More immediately, the California Department of Public Healthalarmed chefs, hot sauce fans, and foodies around the US when it ordered David Tran’s Rosemead, Calif.-based company, Huy Fong, to stop shipping its ubiquitous chili-sugar-vinegar concoction so the state can test whether sauce made at a new production facility is safe to splash on food.

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“I always appreciate concern for people’s safety, but at what point does it become overbearing?” says a concerned Randy Clemens, author of “The Sriracha Cookbook.” “The timing is rather strange, and it does seem crippling, the way this thriving business that’s been going for 33 years can be more or less shut down and have its brand damaged.”

According to Food Production Daily, a trade publication, regulators agree that no one has ever complained of getting sick from eating the sauce and that there’s no need for a recall. Instead, they blamed a new manufacturing process at a new plant as the reason to inspect whether the uncooked sauce could be a medium for harmful microbial growth.

“We have reached resolution with the company and the owners have agreed to adopt this hold period before shipping, in order to meet federal regulations,” Anita Gore, deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs for the California Department of Public Health, told Food Production Daily. Ms. Gore told the Associated Press that the order followed a review of a new manufacturing line at the company’s plant, and that similar companies have faced the same requirements.

California has a long tradition of exceeding national standards when it comes to regulation of public health. But in the case of Sriracha, at least some policy experts wonder whether regulators went too far, especially since the move will create financial losses for suppliers, and could even taint the Sriracha brand without any evidence or testimony that it’s a problematic recipe.

Sriracha sauce “is a great American story, it’s the American dream: he uses these fresh peppers, quality ingredients, nobody is complaining, there’s no problem with the safety of the product and then boom, all of a sudden the state decides he’s got to stop selling it,” says Daren Bakst, an agriculture regulation expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in Washington.

“Bottom line is that other businesses and consumers need to understand the rationale for this: did the state overreach, was it using sound science, were there other options, was it just arbitrary? Regardless of whether you care about this sauce, you do care about what the business environment is going to be like in your state.”

The state has kept mum about the details of the shipping hold – at least in part, they say, to protect Tran’s “trade secrets.” But he decision’s impact on the company was compounded by a court-ordered shutdown of Tran’s Irwindale factory, where he grinds chilis.

Neighbors to the plant testified that they were experiencing breathing difficulties from capsaicin mist. Capsaicin is an active compound in chili peppers that is irritating to humans and other mammals. Last month, a California judge ordered Tran to stop grinding chilis at the plant until the issues could be ironed out, though ultimately the ruling didn’t impact production because Tran had already ground all the chilis he needs for the coming year’s production.

Tran felt baffled by the city’s suit against him, telling the Pasadena Star-News that “we don’t make tear gas here.” He added an in open letter that he’s just a humble entrepreneur interested in creating jobs and supporting American-made products.

Tran wrote that he had an “odd feeling” after signing an economic development deal with the city to build a plant there, especially when the odor complaints came up shortly after he opened the doors.

“After the odor complaints from last year, I believed the City of Irwindale acted severely toward us without a real investigation into the matter,” he wrote.

The newly imposed shipping block has already created financial pain up and down the Sriracha supply chain, meanwhile, with one distributor telling the Los Angeles Times that he’ll lose at least $300,000 in sales. A shortage could also hurt the company itself, since copycat sauces are beginning to proliferate and give hot sauce consumers choices.

Consumers are taking note of the looming sauce shortage, at least judging by the popular #srirachapocalypse Twitter tag.

“Forgot to mention yesterday’s lunchtime excitement: i saw a server chase down a customer not b/c he didn’t pay … but b/c he tried stealing a bottle of sriracha. what’s next? seeing used bottles of sriracha popping up on craigslist?” Timo Chen wrote on Facebook.

Tran, who made sauces in his hometown in Vietnam before fleeing as a refugee, began making Sriracha within a month of landing in the US, in 1980. At the time, he came to California for the ready supply of fresh peppers. He has never spent a dime on advertising.

Tran personally only puts it on pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup, but Sriracha is now being incorporated by high-end chefs and home cooks alike into dishes like a pork belly bun – pork belly patty on a mini crunch bun, sriracha leather, sriracha pickle, crunchy toasted garlic, fish sauce spread, and fresh cilantro – served at the 1st Annual Sriracha Festival in October.

The transformation of Sriracha from cult foodie icon to mainstream condiment – the bottle with the green cap and the rooster is now unmistakable – comes in part from what Southern food writer John T. Edge in 2009 called “the lure of Asian authenticity.” But, Mr. Edge adds in a New York Times piece, that “it may be best understood as an American sauce, a polyglot puree with roots in different places and peoples.”

Part of Sriracha’s charm, but also apparent vulnerability, is that the company grinds the chili-garlic mixture into the recognizable red color without cooking it. A hearty dose of vinegar, however, puts the pH at a level that should be untenable for microscopic agents.

The goal of Huy Fong, Tran has said, is straightforward: “Make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”



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The 12 Hottest Chili Peppers EVER!

The 12 Hottest Chili Peppers EVER!

In case you haven’t noticed, “hot” is IN right now, and by that I mean hot and spicy food. If you don’t believe me, just turn on The Food Network and you’ll quickly notice the growing number of programs dedicated to the subject. As Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain both trek across the globe sampling the culinary offerings of specific cities and countries, the viewers are more frequently exposed to watching them ingest some of the spiciest offerings the specific locales can dish up. Turn on Man vs. Food and you’ll likely see Adam Richmond attempting to get his picture on the “Wall of Fame” by devouring an insanely hot food challenge in the allotted period of time. I personally couldn’t be happier with the rising popularity of fiery-foods because I’ve been a fan myself for the better part of three decades. However, before you attempt to add some sizzle to your next meal you’d be well advised to familiarize yourself with the heat and flavor characteristics of hot chili peppers – otherwise, it could spell for disaster in the kitchen.

First it’s important to understand what causes chilies to pack a punch. Capsaicin is a chemical compound found in chili peppers. While the fruit of the pepper itself can be extremely hot, capsaicin is typically most concentrated in the membranes and seeds of the pepper. In the early 1900′s, chemist Wilbur Scoville created the Scoville Heat Unit scale which measures the amount of capsaicin present in a hot pepper. A pepper with a S.H.U level of 30,000 would require a dilution rate of 30,000 parts water to 1 part capsaicin in order for there to be no detectable presence of heat. The hottest pepper currently on record has a heat index of 1,041,427 S.H.U. That being said, it becomes readily apparent that it’s easy to go overboard on the amount, or type, of peppers used in a meal.

New hybrids and cultivars of peppers are continually being introduced which makes it nearly impossible to quantify just how many different varieties of hot peppers exist. To simplify things, I’ve created a list of the top twelve most common peppers which I humorously like to refer to as “The Dirty Dozen”. At the top of the list the Naga Bhut Jolokia reigns supreme with over one million Scoville Units. The Naga Jolokia is often referred to by several different names of which Ghost Pepper is one. Needless to say, if you’re not careful with this pepper you’ll either end up seeing ghosts – or becoming one yourself.

Next on the list is the Red Savina which interestingly held the World Record for heat until it was dethroned by the Naga Bhut Jolokia in 2007. The highest heat score for the Red Savina was recorded at 580,000 S.H.U. Even with the increased amount of attention spicy food is now enjoying, neither the Jolokia or Red Savina are household names, but the the next chili on the list certainly has become one.

In my opinion, the Habanero has single-handedly lead the way for the worlds newfound fascination with fiery-food. The habanero is a deliciously hot pepper that even corporate giants like Doritos, Nally’s and many others have embraced with open arms. During the mid to late 1990′s, the habanero slowly but surely became the posterchild for hot and spicy, whereas prior to that the jalapeano held the title. My how times have changed! The jalapeano isn’t even on my list of the top 12 peppers, although if I were to make it a “Baker’s Dozen” it would make the grade.

Another interesting attribute of hot chilies is that some of them have actually come to define the culinary taste of specific regions around the world. There is no better example of this than with the Scotch Bonnet and it’s association with Caribbean cuisine. The Scotch Bonnet is my favorite due primarily to the fact that it has an absolutely delicious, unmistakeable flavor and it’s neither too hot or too mild (at least not for my taste). The Scotch Bonnet is the primary pepper featured in Jerk cooking most often associated to the island of Jamaica but prevelent elsewhere in the Caribbean too. On your travels to the islands you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of hot sauce that doesn’t capture the tasty nectar of this pepper.

While the Scotch Bonnet hails from the West Indies, the next chili in the Dirty Dozen is the Fatalii, originating from Africa. The Fatalli is just slightly less potent than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet, with a S.H.U. range of 125,000 to 325,000. Frankly, the Fatalii chili is the least common on my list of the top twelve, in fact I’ve yet to find it available in any marketplace. This, however, may simply be the result of the area of the country in which I live.

To save time and to round out the list of the hottest peppers, I am listing them here in descending order: Chiltepin, Thai (Bird’s Eye), Aji’, Cayenne, Tabasco, Chile de Arbol, and Serrano.

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Spice Up Your Cooking With Hot Sauce For Your Health

Spice Up Your Cooking With Hot Sauce For Your Health

Cooking with hot sauce or hot peppers can add an excellent flavor to nearly any meal and be a healthy alternative to cooking with other condiments such as creamy salad dressings or salt. Along with the numerous health benefits of spicy food it is a great way to add variety to your cooking and set it apart from the rest.

A couple things to know about cooking spicy food

You have some options. You can start with hot sauce or hot peppers. Hot sauce comes in a variety of heat intensities and flavors. It can be a great marinade, salad dressing, or accompaniment for many dishes. You can add it at any point during the cooking process and adjust during cooking for the level of spice desired. It is also nice to have the ability to add the complexity of flavor offered by many different hot sauces.

Cooking with hot chilies can be a little more complicated but it still isn’t rocket science. First you must decide between fresh or dried. Dried chilies can be rehydrated or used dry. Keep in mind that dry chilies are hotter than their fresh counterparts and smaller, do not let the size be deceiving. The smaller the chili the hotter and the drier the smaller. To rehydrated, soak for 24 hours in a cup of water.

Like hot sauce you can add at any point during cooking but the earlier you add the chilies the hotter the meal. You can remove the peppers after cooking to reduce the heat a little and not have the concentrated heat of the chili pepper.

To add the chili flavor but not the heat boil the peppers before cooking for a few minutes. The longer you boil the cooler the dish. Discard the water after boiling and add the chilies to your meal.

Take precautions when cooking to avoid contamination of other surfaces and do not touch eyes or other sensitive areas with your hands if you have capsaicin on them. It is also important to realize that if you burn hot peppers or hot sauce you can create capsaicin smoke which burns your eyes, and lungs. Think onion cutting on steroids and you will have a good idea of what it is like.

Heat can be added to just about any food and the great part about adding spice is that it usually means you are not only getting the benefits of capsaicin but you are also most likely avoiding the negatives of a less healthy alternative. Build your tolerance to hot sauce and add some spice to your cooking. Spice can add variety to your life.

More on Extreme Hot Sauce.

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