To be honest there are a few things in my life I’d be upset if they disappeared, and I haven’t thought about too much because they’ve always been there. One such item, is an iconic clear bottle revealing red spicy sauce, a rooster printed on the outside, complete with its green cap. The bottle I’m describing is the Huy Fong Foods hot sauce Sriracha and I think I’ve had this sauce included on pretty much everything including, but not limited to sushi, pho, and hot dogs.
My brand of choice has always been that of Huy Fong Foods located in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley (SGV). For the passing visitor to Los Angeles getting to the factory’s home in Irwindale you’ll need to drive yourself, but once you’re there parking is free.
There are two types of tours. The basic tour is about the three sauces produced: Sambal Oelek, Chili Garlic, and Sriracha. You get to see the factory, equipment, storage, and learn about the history and challenges of the factory and their move into the current facility. The second is a Chili Grinding Festival which only happens in September, part of the three-month chili grinding season. If you can go to both, I highly recommend it.
About the tour
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Though we were a full forty minutes early, security opened the waiting room for us and let us stay in there. I thought we were plenty early, but there was so much information about the founder, the company, and its history in that little room. They had a loop playing video media related to the company and tasty sauce producing process and company history. Artwork and newspaper articles inspired by Sriracha completely covered the walls with so much information forty minutes was not enough time to read and see everything. Adding further to the ambiance were many random things branded with the logo, including the fire extinguishers. Speaking of random, this room was fully equipped with a dance floor with disco lights. We asked our tour guide, Sabrina, what that was about and she answered that the owner loved to dance so he decided there should be a dance floor.
We were presented with hairnets and boarded our vehicle into the factory.
It’s amazing to believe, but I was surprised at how much we saw before we even entered the factory with our guide. She was very knowledgeable about the company and helpfully pointed out various items of interest from the subtler, such as the drums of vinegar to the more obvious, the chili’s arriving at the factory for processing. Below you can see fresh peppers arriving at Huy Fong Foods. Once ground, salt and vinegar are added to the chilies to create the chili base. The chili base is stored in the blue barrels until the time it will be transformed into one of three products: Sambal Oelek, Chili Garlic, and Sriracha hot sauces.
We got to see and handle sample performs, or bottles before they’re blown up with compressed air. The caps are the same size as the finished bottle, but the hot compressed air blows up the rest.
These performs are about to be blown with hot air to expand them, then printed, and finally filled with tasty sauce.
Once the sauce is in the bottle it is capped and sealed by heat.
I thought it was neat to see the bottles transform from preforms, then go through the printer, get filled with tasty sauce, capped, and loaded into boxes for shipping right before my eyes. Like most tours, we finished up in the gift shop. We were told the factory didn’t take any royalties for the merchandise in the shops, and everything was sold at their cost. I believe it since the T-shirt I wanted wasn’t available in my size, so I purchased one online at 2x the cost. We were presented with favors, a bottle each of one of the sauces of our choice to take home. It was a fantastic tour, and I’m glad we took it before the Chili Grinding Festival.
The Chili Grinding Festival
Each Saturday in September Huy Fong Foods opens their doors for a celebration of Chili Grinding Season. The festivities are free to attend, but do require an RSVP, and it fills up early! The tour is a little different from the Ultimate Sriracha Tour in a couple of ways. The first difference I noticed were the number of people there. The Chili Grinding Festival allows for hundreds of people to pass through the factory in a single day. There are decorative dragons dancing and drummers marching. The festival was self-guided, and there was no one explaining what was happening or telling you about the company’s history but you got to see different parts of the factory, and a bit of overlap.
One of the major differences of the Chili Grinding Festival is you get to go on the inside of the factory where the chilies are arriving and being processed.
Walking through this portion of the factory is a truly incredible experience that will bring tears to your eyes. Another benefit is we got a good look at the bottling and packing stations again. This time we could watch if we wanted without a staff member politely waiting to return to her normal job.
The joyful atmosphere of the festival continued outside as you were given samples of a local bakery who uses Sriracha in some of their products, samples of food that includes Sriracha such as roasted nuts, potato chips (crisps), and popcorn, and most uniquely: Sriracha ice cream. The ice cream was a 50/50 mix of Sriracha flavor and chocolate soft-serve. We left with a swag bag with treasure including another bottle each of hot sauce and festival t-shirts.
Overall, both the Ultimate Sriracha Tour and the Chili Grinding Festival are fantastic experiences that I recommend for your next visit to Los Angeles.