The real reason Huy Fong Sriracha doesn't taste the same as it used to

Huy Fong, the original sriracha sauce, has been around for 30 years, although its seeming ubiquity and status as a cultural icon has only blossomed over the past decade. While the foodies and hipsters who first crowned Huy Fong Sriracha as the king of condiments back in 2013 had declared it "dead" just a few years later, it still has legions of dedicated enthusiasts who'll accept no knockoff sriracha sauces, even those produced by the likes of Tabasco or Texas Pete (via Thrillist).

Over the last few years, though, Huy Fong fans have noticed that something is amiss inside their beloved red and green bottle. Is it just their imaginations, or could Huy Fong really have changed its formula? Dear Huy Fong lovers, we're here to set your minds to rest on that score — it really isn't you, it's them. They didn't want to, but they — and their iconic sauce — have changed, and we're all just going to have to get used to it.

Trouble with the pepper supplier caused the change in Huy Fong sriracha sauce

When Huy Fong founder David Tran started his company, he needed to find a source of fresh red jalapeno peppers, which turned out to be surprisingly difficult to do. While jalapenos naturally ripen to the bright red color that gives sriracha its distinctive hue, it is cheaper for farmers to harvest them earlier when they are still green. He was finally able to arrive at an exclusive red pepper production arrangement with Underwood Ranches, and as Huy Fong prospered, so did Underwood. By 2014, Underwood was producing 100 million pounds of peppers per year, and about 75 percent of their income came from Huy Fong.

In 2016, all of this came to an abrupt halt. By arrangement, Huy Fong would prepay Underwood Ranches for each year's harvest so as to cover the production costs, but in the fall of 2016 they demanded that Underwood Ranches repay them over $1 million of what they claimed to have been an over-payment for that year's harvest. When Underwood disputed this charge, this put the two companies on such bad terms that they ceased their long-standing business partnership, thus forcing Huy Fong to find a new source of peppers for its sriracha (via Eater). Wherever they are currently sourcing their jalapenos from, these peppers obviously don't taste exactly the same as the Underwood Ranches ones. This change alone is what has caused Huy Fong sriracha to taste different now than it did just a few years ago.

Underwood Ranches fights back

When Huy Fong took Underwood Ranches to court over what they claimed to have been a $1.46 million overpayment, Underwood promptly counter-sued for the multiple millions worth of business they'd lost. According to Craig Underwood, who manages the family-owned pepper farm, "The aftermath of the breakup has been really hard. All of a sudden, we had 1,700 acres and nothing to grow on it." He also mentioned that they'd had to lay off 45 employees. 

In July 2019, the state of California finally determined that Underwood Ranches was the winner. The Los Angeles Times reported they were awarded a $23.3 million dollar settlement to be paid by Huy Fong Foods, although Huy Fong has vowed to appeal the verdict.

As if this wasn't enough of a blow for Huy Fong, Underwood Ranches had already added insult to injury by developing their own version of sriracha, marketing it with the slogan, "The Pepper Makes the Product." So how does it taste? According to YouTuber Bill Moore's Hot & Spicy Reviews, it "really showcases the flavor of the red jalapenos." Moore says it isn't quite as hot as Huy Fong's sriracha, nor is it as sweet or tangy, but as to which one he prefers? "I'm not going to pick one or the other, I like them both."

Hard times for Huy Fong

And the hits just keep on coming for poor Huy Fong. According to Eleven Myanmar, a recent batch of their sriracha (which was distributed in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe) has been recalled due to the possibility that the bottles may explode upon opening. It seems this bad batch, which has a sell-by date of March 2021, contains an excess amount of lactic acid which could continue to ferment in the bottles, causing an increase in pressure which could lead to a sriracha volcano once the cap is unscrewed. Yikes!

Looks like tough times for the poor old rooster... but we doubt Huy Fong's going to chicken out. Our prediction for the coming decade is that they will rebound and be as popular as ever — new peppers and all.