The Spicy Secret Ingredient to Homemade Sriracha
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to heat, I have the tolerance of a toddler. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were never my chip of choice, I shy away from overly saucy chicken wings, and at restaurants I’m always verbally double-underlining my requests for mild.
But someday when I'm a mega-famous celebrity chef, Hot Ones is probably going to want to interview me, and I need to be ready. So I’ve been trying to increase my heat tolerance in food. Mostly this has meant drizzling the tiniest possible amount of Sriracha–the most approachable and iconic of hot sauces–onto whatever stir-fry I've made for myself and crying through the first few bites before getting used to the heat.
So you can imagine my frustration when several emails landed in my inbox this summer letting me know that there was a world-wide Sriracha hot sauce shortage headed our way. What was I supposed to do with that? Try other brands of sauce that might be WAY hotter and burn my tastebuds clean off? No thanks.
Fortunately, I’m a foodie problem solver, and a little research led me to a solution: just make my own dang sauce.
Is Sriracha Mexican or Chinese?
Neither! Sriracha is a beloved Thai hot sauce made from red chile peppers, garlic, and vinegar. The world-renowned condiment was popularized in the states by David Tran and his company Huy Fong Foods, based out of LA. The cult-favorite Huy Fong Foods Sriracha sauce is always made with red jalapenos sourced from Mexico and southern California.
And what’s with the shortage? Red jalapenos are having a rough growing season (thanks, climate change), and Huy Fong Foods is struggling to gather enough crop to secure the sauce. Huy Fong Foods makes batches of their sauce once a year: when red jalapenos are picked ripe, the company processes those peppers down with vinegar and leaves them to sit and ferment in steel barrels until more sauce is needed. The fermented chile paste is then combined with sugar and spices and squeezed into the green-topped plastic bottle found in nearly every kitchen in America.
What is Sriracha hot sauce made of?
My DIY Sriracha journey started with Serious Eat’s Homemade Sriracha article and recipe. The author calls for red jalapenos and insists that no other peppers will do, but given the circumstances, I had to take some creative liberties. I decided to give this fermentation method a shot with 4 types of peppers: Fresnos for the color, green jalapeños for an attempt at similar flavor, and serranos and red bell peppers for accessibility and heat level variety.
I blitzed up my peppers, portioned them into little mason jars, and set them on the test kitchen counter to ferment, checking for bubbles and burping the pressure daily. After about a week and a half (my little jars did, in fact, come home with me for the weekend), I had eight funky jars of fermented peppers.
After further pureeing and simmering down my peppers, I had a resounding half cup of each hot sauce (disappointing output for the time put in? You bet!). Since my delicate palate can’t handle the heat, I called an array of taste testers into the kitchen for a gourmet hot sauce flight. The results:
- Serrano hot sauce was delicious but far too hot for a Sriracha dupe.
- Red bell pepper hot sauce swung in the opposite direction–delicate and sweet, not enough Sriracha kick.
- Green jalapenos hit a similar tangy note as Sriracha, but the green color of the sauce was a deterrent. We eat with our eyes, after all.
- Fresnos produced a sauce that was just a touch hotter than Sriracha, but the color and texture were spot-on, and the added heat was actually preferred by our testers.
So, Fresnos it was! But if I, a food science geek who gets paid to experiment with food, found the fermentation process too long and not quite worth the output, what would the standard home cook think of this process? I determined I needed to find a way to bring the fermentation funk on a much shorter timeline. So I called in a spice I’ve admired from afar but have absolutely not cooked with enough: Asafetida.
An Easy Substitute for Sriracha
Asafetida is a commonly used flavor bomb in Indian food (just ask Priya Krishna, author of the cookbook Indian-ish). The smell out of the jar can admittedly take some getting used to, but mellows when cooked. It adds a complex, unique, funky flavor that mimics the savory, sulfuric qualities of garlic and onion. It’s not a spice we see referenced much in American recipes, but it deserves to be known.
My final Sriracha-ish method was simple: puree peppers with vinegar and seasonings, strain, and simmer to a hot sauce consistency (what else could I possibly compare it to?). I relied on my salt, acid, sugar, and Asafetida to create depth of flavor without fermentation, and threw in some Smoked Spanish Sweet Paprika for a hint of smokiness to bring it all home. The result was a hot sauce that testers kept coming back to the kitchen for: bright, funky, and just the right amount of heat.
Did I perfectly replicate the iconic taste of Huy Fong Food’s Sriracha sauce? No, definitely not. But I did create a sauce that hits all the right notes and then some. It's also quick from blender to table so you don’t have to wait very long for a fiery fix.
And I developed a stepping stone on my own heat tolerance journey: swapping in red bell peppers with a little bit of a Savory Spice chile powder thrown in (I’m partial to Guajillo). It's the right heat level for me, and will be taking center stage as my new go-to stir-fry garnish (until I’m ready for something hotter!).
What is asafoetida good for?
So I made Homemade Sriracha and now I have a mostly full jar of Asafetida (or asafoetida) in my pantry. How else can I use it?
First of all, congratulations on expanding your culinary toolkit! You don't actually need a recipe (trust me, I'm an expert!), here are some other easy ways to play with asafetida:
- Throw a bit in with garlic and onions any time a recipe calls for them: Much like garlic and onions, asafetida’s flavor is best highlighted when it’s cooked off in some butter or oil first thing in the cooking process. To start testing the flavor of asafetida, add a teaspoon into the “sweat your garlic and onions” (aka sauté) stage of your favorite recipes and see how the flavor expands!
- Better yet, replace your onions with asafetida: I’ll admit that there are many times I don’t want to bite into a piece of diced onion in a dish I’m eating (looking at you, any kind of soup or chili). Try replacing diced, sweated onions in a recipe with a teaspoon of asafetida–just make sure you’re still cooking it out in that fat before continuing to build the recipe! Similar to onions and garlic, you’ll know by smell when you’re ready to add your next ingredients.
- Incorporate tadka into your grains, beans, and soups: Next time you make rice, soup, or chili, try a quick tadka* with 2 Tbsp. of butter or oil and some whole or ground versions of spices you’d already use in the dish, like Coriander Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Turmeric, dried chiles, red chile powder, and, of course, Asafetida.
I have a few other asafetida concepts cooking up in my brain, so watch our Asafetida product page for future recipes featuring this funky spice.
Share your homemade Sriracha and asafetida experiments with us on Instagram @SavorySpiceShop!