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How does Huy Fong sriracha compare to its new rival? We tried both.

By Emily Heil Washington Post

The condiment world is feeling extra-spicy these days, and the added heat has nothing to do with Scoville units.

A rift between the maker of Huy Fong sriracha – that classic sauce emblazoned with a rooster – and its longtime pepper supplier is adding some high drama to the squeeze-bottle aisle. Huy Fong and Underwood Ranches, a California-based company that grew Huy Fong’s peppers for decades, had a bitter falling out in 2016 after 28 years in business together.

The dispute reportedly began over the price the sauce company would pay for the next year’s crop, and it soon spiraled into lawsuits and countersuits, according to a recent riveting Fortune story about the breakup. In the end, Huy Fong was ordered to pay $23.3 million for breach of contract and fraud, according to news reports, but with the longtime relationship with Underwood permanently severed, the company was left without the raw ingredients to make its signature product.

The company in 2020 started having problems filling orders, and talk of a sriracha shortage began spreading in earnest in 2022. At the time, Huy Fong publicly blamed weather affecting the production of chile peppers, not the behind-the-scenes battle.

Now, it seems that Huy Fong has managed to get enough supplies from alternate growers that it is returning to grocery shelves around the country. But longtime fans have greeted the new bottles with suspicion. One Redditor wondered if he had actually purchased a counterfeit version, but others said they had noticed a difference from the original. “The real thing isn’t what it used to be,” one lamented. “The new formula is not the same at all and the other brands are way different and not as good sad sad day for me,” was another complaint on X.

Meanwhile, Craig Underwood, the owner of Underwood Ranches – who, with his main buyer gone, was sitting on a massive amount of peppers – did something that sounds like it came straight from a Hollywood script writer’s idea pile: He started a rival brand, producing his own line of hot sauces, including a signature sriracha that bears the logo of a dragon in place of his former partner’s rooster and a black cap in place of that other sauce’s iconic green one.

Some fans are saying that Underwood’s sriracha blend tastes like the “old” Huy Fong – that is, the stuff that was made for most of its existence with peppers that came from Underwood. They praised the “spicy and nostalgic OG taste,” according to one Redditor.

So which of the two nemesis brands is superior? We would have liked to do a three-way test that pitted the old Huy Fong against both the “new” one as well as the upstart Underwood. But it isn’t clear when the Underwood peppers were dropped from the Huy Fong blend completely, and would it really be a great idea to taste a five-plus-year-old sauce anyway?

So we (a few colleagues and I, that is) procured a fresh Huy Fong sriracha as well as the Underwood sauce and pitted them in a mano a mano contest. Our conclusion? Well, like both blends, the answer is a little complex.

The two immediately offered a visual contrast. The rooster version had an orange tint, while the Underwood showed a brick-red hue. The Huy Fong was noticeably thicker, perhaps courtesy of a bit more xanthan gum, a stabilizing ingredient listed on both bottles?

The Underwood sriracha immediately jumped out at us as the more acidic of the pair, while the Huy Fong had a sweeter note. The latter seemed more redolent of garlic, too. The new brand, perhaps because of its pedigree – it is owned by a pepper farmer, after all – seemed to more prominently showcase its star ingredient, and we agreed it packed slightly more heat and displayed a deeper flavor than the original.

Huy Fong’s sauce offered a one-two punch, with the garlic flavor registering on our palates first, and the heat following on its heels. Such a subtlety might get lost in some of the applications where we reach for a squeeze of sriracha (think brothy ramens or already fiery noodles), but it might add something to more of a blank slate, such as eggs or baked potatoes.

Still, it was difficult for us to declare a clear winner. One colleague said the rooster sauce won him over, if only because the Underwood was closer to other, non-sriracha, hot sauces, and Huy Fong’s garlicky-sweet profile made it more distinctive. Perhaps it might just come down to the texture, another colleague suggested. “I’d use the rooster for dipping, since it’s thicker,” he said. “But the Underwood would be great on wings.”

The new guy might be pricier, too. On Underwood’s own online store, it was $27.75 for a three-pack of 17-ounce bottles. But you can snag some for far less if your local Costco is stocking it. There, a two-bottle pack is retailing for $7.99. Huy Fong was about $5 for a 17-ounce bottle at my local Safeway in Washington, D.C.