Huy Fong's Ex-Supplier Now Makes Its Own Sriracha. How Does It Taste?

How does Underwood Ranches compare? It turns out the peppers don't make the hot sauce after all.

By now, I'm a regular on the sriracha beat. First, I covered Huy Fong's return to shelves after the ongoing drama between the company and its former supplier caused the hot sauce to vanish from grocery stores nationwide. Then, I wrote about how some former Huy Fong fans were ditching the supposedly inferior new formula in favor of other brands. Many customers have shifted their loyalty to Underwood Ranches, Huy Fong's former pepper supplier and now a producer of its very own sriracha. I was curious to try Underwood's attempt, especially since the internet's sriracha buffs routinely rave about it. Are Underwood's peppers the secret to this sauce?

The "new" Huy Fong sriracha—that is, the version that returned to store shelves after a lengthy absence, featuring peppers from a new supplier—tastes pretty much identical to its previous incarnation, but notably, it's a bit more mild. Reddit evangelists swear up and down that Underwood's sauce tastes "indistinguishable" from the original Huy Fong formula, thanks to its use of the original peppers.

From my experience, this was not true in the slightest.

I tried both sauces side by side, and just for kicks, I also threw in Roland sriracha, which I became fond of during the Huy Fong shortage. Each sauce is a totally different color: Huy Fong is an orange-red, while Underwood is a much darker maroon, almost brown. Roland, on the other hand, is a very bright, vibrant red. When I poured all three on a plate, it was very easy to distinguish each one.

For my first test, I whipped up a quick quesadilla—no distracting protein, just tortilla and cheese. Its relative blandness provided the perfect neutral vessel to taste each sauce to its fullest. First I dipped it in Huy Fong and got that classic garlicky taste with a bit of heat. Then, I eagerly dipped my quesadilla in Underwood—only to be sorely disappointed.

The new Huy Fong might be milder than its previous iteration, but Underwood's sauce is even milder. That is to say, it doesn't have any heat whatsoever. It was also far more vinegary, perhaps to compensate for that lack of heat. I kept dipping into it, thinking that maybe I was going crazy, because all the online hype vows that Underwood is the best, hands down. But each bite was just as perplexing as the last. A lot of this comes down to texture: Where Huy Fong has the thickness of a sauce, Underwood is more like a slightly viscous vinegar.

Roland, the third wheel in this relationship, is pure fire. It's easily the spiciest of the bunch, packing an intense heat that lingers long after swallowing. This sauce has the brightest red color for a reason.

As I continued eating my quesadilla, I applied Roland's sriracha until the heat began to desensitize my taste buds. At that point, I switched over to Huy Fong and continued dipping into it until I finished my meal. I didn't go back to Underwood at all.

For this round, the win goes to Huy Fong. Its predominantly garlicky flavor is my favorite of the three, and it has the best balance between nuanced flavor and assertive heat.

For my second test, I brought all three sauces to one of my favorite lunch spots, The Butcher's Daughter, and applied each one to a section of my quinoa bowl. This was a much more complex dish than my quesadilla, boasting a lot of flavors and textures of its own, so the sauces were less pronounced, acting here in supporting roles rather than starring. I tried Underwood first, thinking that maybe I would feel more heat this time since I hadn't eaten one of its spicier competitors first. Unfortunately, it was just as bland as before, and it really didn't add anything to the dish.

Because the bowl was already tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, Underwood's predominantly vinegary profile didn't come through. Next, I tried the Roland portion of the bowl and was greeted with unadulterated spice. While I enjoyed that on my flavorless quesadilla, I was less of a fan here because it overpowered the flavors of the squash, dates, and pistachios, all of which worked pretty well together sans hot sauce. Finally, I tried Huy Fong, which in my opinion was the perfect condiment for this dish: just spicy and flavorful enough.

This has always been my favorite quality in a sriracha, and it's one that the imitators have yet to nail down. Even back when it was a little spicier, Huy Fong managed to add heat and flavor to dishes without overpowering them. Sure, it doesn't seem as spicy as it once was, but that might not actually be a bad thing. The new formula is balanced, and the taste is so similar to the original that you really only notice the difference if you're squinting to find it.

Pretty much every post about Underwood on Reddit raves about how spicy and superior it is. Maybe I got a bad batch? Or maybe my taste buds are wired differently? But at $12 a bottle online (plus shipping!), I'm not prepared to recommend this sauce to anyone. If you're a sriracha-head who feels betrayed by the rooster sauce, there are many other, cheaper directions to head in. The peppers don't necessarily define the sauce.

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