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Is Sriracha overrated? Andrew Zimmern, others talk hot sauce alternatives

Dec. 6, 2013 at 1:35 PM ET

Andrew Zimmern says there are many better hot sauces than Sriracha.
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While food personality Andrew Zimmern enjoys Sriracha, he points to several other hot sauces that he says are better.

From Sriracha cookies to Sriracha vodka to Sriracha sandwiches at Subway, the wildly popular hot sauce has got a following of gourmands and fast food lovers like.

David Chang, the chef and restaurateur behind Momofuku, uses Sriracha at every location. In Brooklyn, “Food Network Star” Justin Warner, uses it almost exclusively at his restaurant, Do or Dine.

"Almost anything could do with a squirt if I'm feeling into it," he said. "Nothing comes close, that's like asking a parent if there is a child they deem comparable to their own, I didn't give birth to Sriracha but I have adopted it and have no plans on conceiving my own."

So when a judge ruled earlier this month that the makers of Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods in Irwindale, Calif., halt production due to the noxious odors coming from the factory, fans were up in arms.

But fear not, Sriracha lovers. While the city says the hot sauce can still be made if there's no stench, there are alternatives no matter where things end up. And for “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern, many of those alternatives are (gasp!) better than Sriracha.

“There are about 200 other hot sauces I’ll reach for before I reach for Sriracha," Zimmern told TODAY.com. "I don’t understand why the rest of the food world thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread."

Zimmern, a hot sauce connoisseur, admits to loving Sriracha and has used it for years, but he says that there are better options out there. Sriracha has been overused and the flavors have been "beaten to death," he said, and he is not alone in these thoughts.

"I know Sriracha is polarizing; I like it, but for me, no one makes better hot sauces then High River Sauces," said Chris Santos, the chef and owner of Stanton Social and Beauty & Essex in New York City. One of his favorites is the Rogue, a super-hot, Moruga blood orange and Scorpion chili sauce, that, Santos explained, "is scorching but with a hint of sweetness from brown sugar, pears and apple, and with an amazing complexity thanks to subtle notes of garlic and ginger. It's simply spectacular."

Though he uses and appreciates Sriracha, chef Michael Armstrong of the Dream Downtown in New York City has also started to lean toward other hot sauces, he told TODAY.com. "As Sriracha’s popularity has grown, I have definitely moved to other hot sauces. My two favorites are Tobanjan and Kochujang, Japanese and Korean hot sauces that are sesame-based and have a really nice roasted flavor to them that is great in sauces, dressings and soups."

As for Zimmern, some of his coveted hot sauces include the Marie Sharp line from Belize, and Crystal, the popular vinegar-based hot sauce from Louisiana, which he said "has a very beautiful hot pepper flavor." He’s also a fan of other Asian condiments, recommending the Do Ban sauces from China and La-Yu Chili Oil from Japan, which Zimmern finds irresistible. Caribbean hot sauces too are on top of his list.

For die-hard Sriracha fans, there are the other brands of sriracha hot sauces out there. Over at sandwich shop Num Pang in New York, co-owner and chef Ratha Chaopoly prefers the Thailand-made Shark Brand. "I grew up eating this as a kid, most memorably with shredded green mango, sprouts, basil mint, onions and open fire roasted dried cuttlefish," Chaopoly told TODAY.com. "I love the tart and sweetness of it, and the kick that comes at the end."

The team at Huy Fong Foods has no plans to let the judge's decree end the production of this beloved brand, saying in a statement that, "We are still open for operations, but if we are forced to stop production, there will be less 200,000 bottles a day of our product." Despite this, Do or Dine chef Warner isn't worried.

"We'll figure it out, us Sriracha people," he said. "If we have to grow chilies on the moon to get a squirt from that perfectly green cap, I'll volunteer to be Buzz Aldrin."

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