Whole Foods Market has just recently entered the Sriracha game with its own version of the sauce—Ninja Squirrel Sriracha—that’s available exclusively at Whole Foods locations around the country. Naturally, I wanted to give it a taste, so I got a bottle (or two or six) and also got to interview its creator about its origins!
Ninja Squirrel Sriracha is the brainchild of Derek Sarno, who is both the Senior Global Chef at Whole Foods Market and one-half of the fraternal duo that runs the popular plant-based vegan community Wicked Healthy Food (along with his brother/cookbook author extraordinaire, Chad Sarno). I met Derek a few years back while judging the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival (which I’m doing again this year… 8/24/14!) and we’ve remained buddies since, so I was especially stoked to learn he was working on his own Sriracha recipe!
As for the taste… it’s delicious! There’s a really nice heat that hangs out for a minute or two without being overpowering. The ingredient list calls out a red jalapeño puree, a nondescript “red chili puree”, and a habanero pepper powder, the last of which I suspect may be what leaves the nice lingering spice. Regarding the chile blend they went with, Derek notes, “I was looking for hot, yet palatable, sweet, twangy, and delicious. It took trial and error to discover what worked.” The other winning quality of this Sriracha is the pronounced garlic flavor, which comes right to the forefront of the sauce’s profile once the initial heat burst starts to wane, and it all balances really nicely.
Thankfully, Derek was also happy to shed some light on how Ninja Squirrel Sriracha came to be; check out my e-mail interview with him below!
Derek Sarno—creator of Whole Foods Market’s Ninja Squirrel Sriracha—out in the field
How did Ninja Squirrel Sriracha come about?
"Honestly, Ninja Squirrel Sriracha came about after I approached the Rooster company Huy Fong and they didn’t want to produce a modified version without preservatives for Whole Foods. Being the fanatic that I am, I had to find a way to produce one without preservatives and that is up to par with our quality standards for ingredients.”
How did you finally get it to the final formulation?
"Not too long. After several trials and tastings, we landed on what worked in maybe a few months."
What was the inspiration behind the name “Ninja Squirrel Sriracha”?
"When I was a kid, we had cut a tree down in the yard and we soon discover some baby squirrels in it. The momma squirrel had come and taken all but one of the little guys and after a while, we realized she wasn’t coming back for this one… so I scooped him up and took care of him. Nursing and feeding him with little baby bottles until he grew big and strong. We named him ‘The Gooch’, after the bully in Diff’rent Strokes; he was the original Ninja Squirrel and the inspiration behind the theme.”
How would you compare it to other Sriracha brands on the market?
"We’ll have to let the people decide. I’m pretty partial to our brand for obvious reasons, and being clean and non-GMO is a huge part of that.”
What are your favorite things to do with Sriracha?
"Well, Randy, you know me pretty well from following social media outlets and food postings… and I think it’s more appropriate to ask: ‘What are things you might not actually put Sriracha on?’ That’s a tough one considering my newest thought is to do a Sriracha toothpaste! I bet you’d like it.”
Where and when can people find it?
You should be able to find it in every Whole Foods Market, and if it’s not in your store yet, it will be. It’s rolling out nationally and is exclusive to WFM.
Disclosure: Sample bottles were provided to me at no cost. I received no compensation for this post. Derek is a friend, and I am a former employee of Whole Foods Market, but that did not affect my decision to profile them nor did it bias my opinion/review. (I actually got fired from Whole Foods… funny story I’ll have to share sometime!)