Billi Barker uses her own condiments -- including homemade Sriracha sauce -- in her culinary creations. Credit: Emily Burnham / BDN

Billi Barker wasn’t sure why there had been a bit of an uptick of interest in her specialty hot sauces.

Then she heard about the nationwide Sriracha shortage.

Barker had a bumper crop last year of the organic hot peppers she grows on her Fire Fly Farm in St. Albans. She has four cases of her Sriracha sauce on hand and enough peppers to make four more.

“I was recently approached by someone wondering how much I can make to supply one of his customers,” Barker said. “I guess I better start bringing it to the farmers markets.”

Bangor area supermarkets are reporting empty shelves where the California-produced Sriracha with the rooster stamp and green cap is normally found. As summer wears on, it could get harder to find the hot sauce on the shelves. Instead, those looking for an extra kick may have to turn to local purveyors or experiment with homemade recipes.

The reason behind the shrinking supply are severe weather conditions affecting the quality of the chili peppers used to make the sauce at the Irwindale, California, plant, where Huy Fong Foods, Inc. uses roughly 50,000 pounds of the peppers annually.

Ongoing drought conditions in the parts of Mexico where Huy Fong Foods sources its chiles have drastically reduced the quality and quantity of the hybrid red jalapeno peppers. In an April email to its customers, Huy Fong Foods said that, without the essential ingredient, it would be unable to produce any of its products including Sriracha hot chili sauce, chili garlic sauce and Sambal Oelek sauce.

The company also said it’s not accepting any new orders and orders placed after April would not be filled until September.

A pile of red peppers that are used for Sriracha sauce.
Billi Barker uses a variety of her own organically grown red peppers in her homemade Sriracha sauces. Credit: Courtesy of Billi Barker.

That’s bad news for lovers of the thick, spicy sauce that is used for everything from wings to dips.

Barker, who is known as the “condiment queen” to her friends, understands why people may be a bit anxious about a Sriracha-less summer in Maine.

“It’s so versatile, and a little bit goes a long way in adding heat and flavor,” she said. “If something is missing from your dish, just add a drop or two of Sriracha.”

Barker sells her sauce at farmers markets in Belfast, Orono and Bangor. In addition to the peppers, she grows the garlic and raises the bees for the honey used in her sauce

Anne L’Heureux is a dietician with Hannaford Supermarkets in Maine and said if there is no Sriracha to be found, consider what you are making when trying to figure out a substitution.

“Would it make sense to use a dry rub or spice to give you that heat?” she said. “Or if it’s more of a sauce you want, you can go with a standard hot sauce or buffalo sauce.”

If there is no Sriracha to be found in supermarkets, specialty food stores or farmers markets, Barker said you can also make your own using simple recipes found online.

One popular recipe from online cooking site Allrecipes simply involves blending together a pound of red jalapeno peppers with the stems removed, a half-pound of red serrano peppers with the stems removed, a third of a cup of water, four cloves of garlic, three tablespoons of light brown sugar and a tablespoon of kosher salt until smooth.

Transfer the puree into a large glass jar, cover with plastic wrap and place it in a cool, dark place for three to five days, stirring and scraping down the sides once a day. The mixture is going to start to bubble and ferment. When it’s bubbly, pour it back into the blender and add a half cup of distilled white vinegar and blend until smooth. Strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer tino a sauce pan and discard what’s left in the strainer. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat, stirring often until it thickens. That should take between five and 10 minutes. The sauce will thicken a little as it cools. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, pour it into a jar and refrigerate.

“It’s really easy to make,” Barker said. “It’s just peppers, water, vinegar, salt, garlic and a bit of sweetener, [and] the only tricky part is fermenting the peppers.”

If DIY is not your style, L’Heureux said people often overlook ingredients they usually have on hand — such as freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes — that can add heat to a dish.

“You can get things like hot tzatziki sauce or hot hummus or pepper jack cheese you can use as a ‘topper’ to add some heat,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.