Foodie Friday—Some Like It Hot: Sriracha and Our Capsaicin Fascination

The bottle alone is iconic: The white silhouette of the rooster, the Kelly-green cap, and the vibrant red-orange glow of the mouth-watering sauce within.

Our love of Sriracha and other hot sauces illustrates a sweat-breaking obsession with spicy foods. It’s been growing steadily over the past several years, ever since Bon Appetit named the garlic-and-chili-based sauce Ingredient of the Year in 2010. The rooster sauce has even been enjoyed for years in space



Yet despite all the love for this spicy condiment, Sriracha came under fire from critics bothered by odors wafting from the Huy Fong manufacturing facilities in Irwindale, California, a small town east of Los Angeles. The complaints of garlic and chili in the air (components that make the condiment so delicious) were heated enough to put the production at risk of shut-down.

Fortunately, the controversy hasn’t dampened the fire for hot-food enthusiasts. And as it turns out, there is science to back up just why super spicy foods have a seemingly addictive quality:

“The pleasure-inducing quality of the sauce is due to a group of molecules inside chili peppers known as capsaicinoids. Sriracha actually has two types of capsaicinoids — capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin.

When those little capsaicinoids hit our taste buds, they trigger the TRPV1 protein on our tongue and mouth, which then tells the brain that we’ve just tasted something spicy. The brain in turn tells the body to crank out a bunch of pain-killing endorphins, getting the Sriracha-eater high from the body’s natural opiate.” (Source: “According to researchers, Sriracha lovers are masochists“)

In other words, spicy foods trigger a feel-good response with each taste. No wonder peppers are the top pick these days!

Here are three key food trends that exemplify our craving for spicy flavors:

  • Southeast Asian (e.g. Vietnamese and Thai) food is among the cuisines that have made the
    greatest gains in popularity, enhanced with high-heat peppers and curry blends.

    Spicy Vietnamese Pho

    Spicy Vietnamese Pho

  • Spicy bar snacks allow patrons to enjoy new flavors in small portions, many of which feature ethnic-fusion ingredients.
  • Chicken wings are trending, and not just on Superbowl Sunday. Look for wings beyond bar menus this year, both tossed in traditional Buffalo sauce and given more exotic flavor treatment.


Nashville Hot Chicken

On that note, I feel compelled, as a Nashville-area resident, to put in a plug for a Music City favorite: hot chicken. Traditionally served with a slice of white bread and a few dill pickle slices to cool off the palate, the cayenne-coated specialty ranges from mild to scorching levels of heat and is a mainstay of Nashville food tourism.

If you love food with a burn, you’re not alone. Raise a glass of milk and enjoy the scorching delights of the hot food trend!

Happy Foodie Friday!


And, of course, for something a little weird…

sriracha candy canes

If you can’t get enough spice in your life, look no further than the bevy of items that bring the heat in unexpected ways. Sriracha’s popularity explosion spread to a variety of products, such as potato chips, candy (check out this sriracha-bacon-flavored lollipop), and non-food products like lip balm.


Posted in: Current Events, Food and Drink, Food Experiences, Food Trends, Foodie Friday, Industry Trends, Restaurants

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