UNDATED (USA Today) - About the only thing tougher than spelling, or pronouncing, Sriracha, is finding a trendy restaurant that isn't serving the sizzling hot sauce.
This weekend, even Subway is jumping on the Sriracha express.
The wildly popular hot sauce (pronounced SIR-rotch-ah), that's hit like a societal tsunami over the past few years, is showing up this weekend in two new Subway sandwiches. Its Sriracha Chicken Melt and Sriracha Steak Melt both are made with a creamy Sriracha sauce.
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The move is in tune with cultural taste buds that keep turning up the heat. Sriracha showed up as an ingredient on 47 restaurant chain menus last year, alone, reports research firm Mintel. Both P.F. Chang's and Pei Wei recently added new dishes with Sriracha to their menus. Lay's put it on a potato chip. Trader Joe's recently rolled out its own bottled version. And earlier this year, the city of Los Angeles even hosted its annual Sriracha festival and says it'll be an annual affair.
Never mind that Sriracha -- which is made with chili peppers and has its origins in Thailand -- made headlines earlier this week, when a Southern California town tried, but failed, to shut down a Sriracha factory after neighbors complained the odor was making them ill.
"Who would have thought five years ago that this bottle of hot red sauce on the tables at inexpensive Thai restaurants would turn into the latest, hottest ingredient and sauce?" muses Lynn Dornblaser, new products guru at Mintel. "It appears to have done that."
Subway has tracked the trend for more than a year and a West Coast test of the sauce earlier this year was wildly successful. "What we're seeing across all age demos is that everyone is interested in more spicy things than they used to be," says Tony Pace, Subway's chief marketing officer.
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So much so, he says, that even though the Sriracha sauce will initially be a limited time offer, he expects the hot sauce to not only become a menu item, but to ultimately replace the other hot sauces now offered at Subway.
"This is not just about heat -- but about flavor," says Pace. "It's a flavor that stays with you."
Subway internally tested 16 different Sriracha blends before finally deciding on the creamy sauce, says executive chef Chris Martone.
Sriracha has such a cult following, he says, that many Millennials will carry their favorite brand with them when they go out to eat. Restaurants coast to coast are quickly placing it on their counter tops, table tops and server stations. "Sriracha has become the new standard in the industry," says Martone.
In part, he says, the popularity of the sauce is linked to how Millennials like to challenge each other on the food front. "They have an obsession with heat," he says. "They will torture themselves to see how hot they can go."