Sriracha vs. spicy newcomer Yellowbird
Everyone knows that Sriracha is the cock of the walk when it comes to hot sauces, but even the fieriest of roosters eventually have to defend their place in the pecking order. Today's challenger for title of greatest hot sauce on Earth is Yellowbird: a new habanero condiment out of Austin, TX that's named after a plump pepper whose spiciness doesn't affect birds, thus making it easy for them to decimate a pepper garden. To see if it's capable of laying waste to Huy Fong's fields, we tested the two side by side.
Sriracha: Adorned with a rooster representing Huy Fong founder David Tran's astrological symbol (13 other sriracha facts here!), enough Asian characters to get you through Vietnamese 101, and that classic green twist-close cap. Plus, a gripping reminder that you can put it on anything to add a delicious, spicy taste!
Yellowbird: The newcomer's mascot is a little yellow chick with a furrowed brow that's clawing its way through the label. The back label text does well to explain the origins of the name, but neglects to give tips on what to put it on. Whereas Sriracha's got an impossible-to-lose twist cap, Yellowbird has a fully detachable yellow dunce cap of a top that even the smartest kid in the class is likely to lose.
Despite Yellowbird's directive to "Be the Bird", nobody's wearing a Yellowbird costume for Halloween anytime soon.
Sriracha: David Tran is a boss. He began the business bottling his sauce in Gerber baby food jars discarded by foreign servicemen in Vietnam. After leaving his home country, he built an empire named off the ship that sailed him to America. And he owns a shirt that reads "I put Sriracha on my Sriracha".
Yellowbird: George Milton is also a boss. A Texas musician who bootstrapped his dream sauce, Milton produces the condiment entirely on his own for ultimate quality control, down to pureeing the vegetables. But no one's made any genius T-shirt tributes to his brand, yet.
This sauce wasn't born yesterday.
Sriracha: Chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite as preservatives, Xanthan gum
Yellowbird: Carrots, onions, habanero peppers, distilled vinegar, tangerines, limes, garlic, kosher salt, organic evaporated cane juice
Whereas Sriracha boasts a natural color, Yellowbird can legitimately claim all natural ingredients. Although no one looks forward to eating evaporated cane juice, I'd much rather chew on that than Xanthan gum.
Sriracha: It's the king of hot sauces for a reason. When it hits your mouth, it's like a tide of flavors. First there's a crashing wave of garlic and then an undertow of red jalapeños. Ultimately you're left with a hot, sandy mouth.
Yellowbird: If Sriracha is a wave, Yellowbird is a sunset. Bursts of flavor streak across the palate in the form of broad brushes of carrot cut by vinegar, onion, and sweet but barely perceptible fruit notes. It's all very romantic until it starts to get dark and the habanero envelops everything, leaving a long-tailed burn like the scorn of a bitter lover.
These are powered by different peppers, so it isn't exactly apples to apples (it's like red jalapeños to habaneros!), but despite the stoicism of Sriracha's pure chili sauce flavors, the new bird in town is way more complex.
Sriracha: It's really hot, but it's a bit of a dull heat. Like Shane Battier. Jalapeños clock in at anywhere from 2500-5000 Scoville units, but nearly half of that spiciness is lost in the roasting process.
Yellowbird: This is really, really hot. Habaneros can hit up to 350000 Scoville units, and the magnitude comes across in this sauce. You will need several somethings to drink after eating this.
Not so cocky now, are you Sriracha?
HOW'S IT TASTE ON PIZZA?
Sriracha: Mimics crushed red pepper minus the stale crunch. Seems right at home next to tomato sauce, and it adds a depth of spice without taking away from the other flavors.
Yellowbird: Pizza doesn't pair well with sunsets. The collage of flavors in Yellowbird fight against the pepperoni instead of enhancing it, and carrots don't belong anywhere near a pizza.
When it comes to pizza, a one dimensional hot sauce is all you need. Save the multiple dimensions for the movie theater.
HOW'S IT TASTE ON BANH MI?
Sriracha: Vietnamese food is Sriracha's home turf, and when gracing the pillowy French bread of a banh mi, Sriracha screams, "Get out of my house!" The red jalapeños fit right in with their green cousin, fueling the fire of spice without overpowering the sandwich.
Yellowbird: The new bird on the block has a problem with peacocking. It's such a loud and expressive set of flavors that it's drowning out the symphony of a sandwich it should be supporting.
Built by Vietnamese people for Vietnamese food.
HOW'S IT TASTE ON FRENCH FRIES?
Sriracha: The golden potato stick is devoured by the beastly rooster, and pretty much all you're tasting is cock.
Yellowbird: Although carrots are bizarro-world French fries, opposites attract with this sauce. The habanero hits hard, but the hints of tangerine and lime give a sourness that cuts through the fatty oils much like ketchup.
There are few purer vessels for a condiment than a French fry, and it's the type of blank canvas that lends itself to Yellowbird's complexities.
HOW'S IT TASTE ON SCRAMBLED EGGS?
Sriracha: The pungent sulfurous aromas of egg are just begging for a big, garlicky beating. Sriracha comes through with a smack-down of savory.
Yellowbird: The one note egg flavor needs a single, old-fashioned dancing partner, not a team of fanciful acrobats. Yellowbird is Cirque du Soleil.
The rooster's just a more natural way to wake up in the morning.
Both Sriracha and Yellowbird won four categories each, making this the worst of all outcomes: a tie. Yet we must declare a winner.
Yellowbird excelled when eaten straight with no food chaser, but nobody except nutritionally deficient children and masochistic competitive eaters consume condiments that way, so the tie-break has to go to the sauce that performed best when paired with food.
That sauce is Sriracha.
We tip our hats and repeatedly raise our glasses of water to our mouths in honor of Yellowbird. It's a complex bed of tastes that still manages to be really, really hot, but it hasn't quite cracked the code of complementing food. If it learns to play better with others, it could someday truly be king of the coop.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food/drink team who doesn't have central heating in his house and often resorts to hot sauce to stay warm. Follow him to warmth at @Dannosphere.