Heard of Huy Fong? No? You’ve probably seen the green-capped bottles of Sriracha that they’re so famous for. Or maybe you’re a local resident and have heard about the whole hoopla of the past complaints about fumes from their factory. Whatever the case may be, I got a chance to tour this facility (and you can too!) and see how their famous sauce is bottled firsthand.
Huy Fong Foods is located in an industrialized area of Irwindale, CA (east of LA). The outside of the facility looks relatively new, and there were few cars in the parking lot on the weekday morning of my tour. The public is always welcome to tour the facility (and it’s free!), but you do need to book ahead. Their website, linked here, provides information on how to book your tour. After signing in and watching the Bizarre Foods episode featuring the factory on repeat, our guide loaded us (all 6 of us) into a golf cart and took us into the factory.
As always, I don’t remember the name of our guide, but she was very informative and I appreciated that she spoke loudly as I consistently drifted behind the main group. She reviewed the history of the company, including the story of how the founder named his company and designed the logo, and described the process of harvesting and roasting the peppers for the sauce. We walked along the factory floor, surrounded by large blue tubs full of chili and various machines involved in the manufacturing process. Oh, and they’re fine with you taking pictures of everything. Just try and stay with your group because it’s easy to get lost and get left behind. All those machines look alike after a while.
Some fun facts I learned on the tour:
- The company gets their pepper supplies exclusively from one local family farm.
- The flavor, spiciness, and color of the sauce can change with each season. I know nothing about farming, but I guess some seasons you could have a spicier pepper and some seasons you could have a darker pepper and it’s all up to nature. Have you ever noticed that the sauce is spicier one year versus another year? Me neither.
- The clear parts of the bottles actually start off as small blanks that go through two or three machines to be expanded, printed on, and filled. It’s really interesting to see the bottles change from the small blanks to the traditional bottles.
Huy Fong Foods also has a yearly pepper grinding and/or roasting festival on their campus, and I think you should go if you like Sriracha sauce. I haven’t had a chance to go yet. Apparently, it’s a big shindig, and you get to tour the factory when they’re actually preparing the peppers to be stored in the big blue containers. Our guide also said they serve various Sriracha-flavored treats during the festival, including Sriracha ice cream. As much as I love the sauce, this does not sound appealing to me at all, but I guess some people like it.
After the factory floor tour, we were driven back to the main building. We were fortunate to pass by the founder of the company, David Tran himself, as he chatted with a few employees, and she smiled and waved at us in the cart as we passed by. Seems like a nice guy. Upon exiting through the factory gate, you are greeted by a big green banner that proudly declares that no tear gas is made on the premises (which I believe is a reference from the past when local residents complained of the fumes coming from the factory or something along those lines). Definitely no problems with my eyes tearing up or trouble breathing at any time I was on the campus.
The last stop on the tour was the company gift shop, which is basically a small room on the side of the main building. I never knew how many things were marketed with the Sriracha brand. I mentioned this to the guide, and she explained that there are no need for licensing rights to use the Huy Fong name or logo on merchandise. She said that it’s not about making money off of the licensing, it’s more about making Huy Fong products for the love of the sauce. Or something along those lines. But the great thing is that there’s a bunch of creative ways to market Sriracha that you’ll see in the shop. Of course, there are the traditional sauce sets and various souvenir T-shirts, but also Sriracha-flavored jerky and chips, among other foods. If you like your Sriracha on the go, pick up a refillable keychain.
I’d recommend this tour if you like Sriracha and want to learn about it or see how it’s made. I feel that it’s appropriate for children, although probably not kids who like to run around. This was my first factory tour, and I really enjoyed it. I hope to find more along my travels. Any recommendations? Preferably a place that makes food and has samples at the end.