Feel the Fire: Decoding Chili Sauces
What are the differences between sriracha, sambal oelek, and chili-garlic sauce?
Sriracha is technically a category of hot chili sauce (rather than a single brand name) that hails from Southeast Asia and is named after a town in Thailand. But over the last few decades in the United States, the word “sriracha” has become synonymous with the version from California producer Huy Fong Foods. That sriracha—the ubiquitous one in the clear plastic squeeze bottle with the green cap and distinctive rooster on the label—has been made here since 1980.
There are two other styles of Asian chili sauces that you might see near the sriracha: chili-garlic sauce and sambal oelek. So what are the differences? All three sauces are made with ripe red jalapeños. Sriracha is completely smooth, and it contains both sugar and garlic in addition to the base of chiles, salt, and acid. Since sriracha's heat is balanced by sugar, it tastes a bit milder and mellower than the other sauces. Chili-garlic sauce has no sugar and is chunkier (containing visible seeds). It tastes a bit more sharp, pungent, and tart than sriracha and has a similar garlicky flavor. Sambal oelek, an Indonesian sauce that contains neither sugar nor garlic, is also chunky but has the simplest flavor profile, tasting mainly of fresh chiles, salt, and a touch of vinegar.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Sriracha is a totally smooth counterpart to the chunkier chili-garlic sauce, with all the same ingredients but with added sweetness from sugar. Chili-garlic sauce is nearly identical to sambal oelek, except that it contains garlic and sambal oelek does not.