Do you know where your Sriracha’s peppers come from? Someone is secretly buying jalapenos

Originally published by USA Today Network on January 29th, 2024

Written by Tom Kisken

Once nearly impossible to find, Huy Fong Foods Sriracha sauce again lines the shelf of grocery stores like this WinCo foods in Ventura. Tom Kisken/The Star


Huy Fong Food’s rooster-stamped, green-tipped Sriracha sauce once again lines shelves in grocery stores. It’s possible Alex Jack is part of the reason why.

The Imperial Valley pepper farmer was asked by a middle man if he could grow 500 acres of red jalapenos for an unknown producer. He did it, was paid handsomely via a bank wire and now plans to plant 200 acres more in February.

He has not been told who is buying the jalapenos, though he suspects it is Huy Fong Foods, the hot sauce company that once used 100 million pounds of peppers a year in producing its hugely successful sauces.

“I was told to keep blinders on my eyes and look forward and don’t ask questions,” he said.

Huy Fong Foods officials aren’t saying anything, but speculation is rampant in California’s pepper-growing community the Irwindale company is using intermediaries to reach out anonymously to farmers in search of ramping up production.

At least one grower who was approached about jalapenos, Edgar Terry of Ventura, said he was told the buyer is Huy Fong. He turned the offer down.

“I demanded to find out,” he said. “I have to know who I’m growing for.”

Huy Fong Foods’ hot pepper pipeline was fed for 28 years by one provider, Underwood Ranches in Camarillo. But the once family-like partnership ended in a bitter dispute that spawned civil lawsuits and a $23.3 million verdict for Underwood from jurors. They said Huy Fong, founded by Vietnamese refugee David Tran, broke its contract and committed fraud by withholding information.

Afterward, Huy Fong reportedly relied on other producers, including growers in Mexico, ultimately struggling with a jalapeno shortage that caused them to temporarily halt production.

Steady supply for Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha sauce

It got so bad Sriracha lovers offered astronomic prices for the rooster bottles on Craigslist. At the Asahi Market in Oxnard, people waited in long lines for Sriracha, sometimes buying every bottle in the sparse inventory. Store owner Mark Aboueid journeyed regularly to Los Angeles on foraging missions aimed at finding a case or two to sell.