Trader Joe's now has its own house brand of Sriracha sauce. Which, if you walked into the store with hummus on your mind and thus were not prepared to see rows and rows of the sauce innocuously lined up next to packages of dried kimchi (also apparently a new item, though maybe not one that we're particularly eager to try), you may or may not have nearly dropped your free sample-sized cup of coffee in surprise.
That Trader Joe's has a house brand Sriracha sauce, though, makes sense. A sizable part of the population is completely obsessed with the Thai hot sauce, especially Huy Fong's version (see: a cookbook, lollipops, attire). Thus we couldn't resist comparing Trader Joe's Sriracha to the ever popular Rooster sauce. Some Food Fights just write themselves.
Trader Joe's sells its 18.25-oz. bottle for $2.99. If you regularly shop at an Asian grocery store like 99 Ranch, no doubt you've picked up a bottle of Huy Fong's Sriracha sauce for at least a quarter less (or, if you were lucky, you picked up the larger 28-oz. bottle when it was on sale for less than three bucks). If, however, you consider a trip to 99 Ranch less a matter of routine and more a thrilling side trip on your way back from a rare dim sum outing, then look for Huy Fong's bottle at your local supermarket: It was available at our neighborhood Albertsons for $3.29 (in the same aisle as the refried beans and masa, in case you not unreasonably tried to find it with the other bottled condiments).
Aesthetically, Trader Joe's has borrowed liberally from Huy Fong's design. It is, for example, also in a clear, plastic bottle, and it, too, has a bright grass-green lid. Look at the label, though, and you'll make out the differences: Huy Fong features its famed rooster. Trader Joe's opts for a somewhat less subtle symbol of Asian culture, the dragon.
If you squeeze both sauces onto a plate, you'll note that Huy Fong's sauce is noticeably thicker than Trader Joe's (and, happily, that your plate now looks like a Miró). Tasting the sauces on their own, Trader Joe's version is tasty, though it smacks of garlic first and chilies second. Indeed, the heat level here is fairly tame; it was quite a bit easier to down a few spoonfuls of this than to take in a similar amount of Huy Fong's sauce. Higher up on the Scoville scale, the Rooster sauce has a dry heat and a sharp, appealing tang that lingers.
Based on heat and flavor, we preferred Huy Fong's sauce over Trader Joe's. That said, it's hard to argue with sheer convenience if Trader Joe's is the only place you shop for groceries, or if you're concerned about the preservatives in Huy Fong's version and would be more comfortable with a sauce that carries a warning to refrigerate it after opening. Sure, this is an absolutely sanitized rendition of your typical Sriracha sauce; even without the heat, though, it still adds a good bit of flavor to your fried eggs or rice. And it's nice to have on hand for those times when you want something less overpowering than the Huy Fong standby.
All that said, the real winner might be Huy Fong's chili-garlic sauce, which we prefer over either of these Sriracha sauces. That sauce strikes a solid balance between garlic, chilies and spice without being too overwhelming, making it a perfect condiment for your bowl of phở. Just wait until Trader Joe's comes out with its own version of that.