Sriracha: To Capitalize or Not?

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[Photograph: Josh Bousel]

Early today we had a mini-argument in the office when Niki posed the question: should sriracha be capitalized? Is it Sriracha, or sriracha?

Jamie's immediate reaction was "capitalize it," while mine was "why would it be capitalized?"

There are good arguments for both cases. Jamie's argument was that it should be capitalized because at least in the eyes of the English-speaking world and of most of our audience, Sriracha is essentially a brand name, synonymous with Huy Fong Sriracha, the familiar bottle with the green cap and the rooster on the label.

My rebuttal is that "sriracha" is simply a type of Thai sauce made from chilies, garlic, salt, sugar, and vinegar, no more a brand name than ketchup or mustard. We don't capitalize those, why would we capitalize sriracha? Even here in the Northeast, where Hellman's is as ubiquitous to mayonnaise as Huy Fong is to sriracha, we wouldn't capitalize mayonnaise, now would we?

But hang on. Isn't Sriracha the sauce named after Si Racha, the coastal Thai city where it hails from? And don't we always capitalize other named-after-city-sauces such as Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce?

Then again, it's not Sriracha sauce, is it? It's simply sriracha. The sauce may have been named after the city, but unlike Worcestershire sauce which can be interpreted as "sauce from Worcestershire," with sriracha, the word simply refers to the sauce, not as "sauce from X."

Looking for precedents doesn't help too much either. The ever-erudite John T. Edge in the New York Times says sriracha, while Frank Shyong goes with Sriracha in the L.A. Times. Bloomberg's Businessweek is on Edge's side, leading me to believe there may be some sort of conspiracy between non-East Coasters to add uppercase letters where they don't belong. Jamie is from Chicago, so the theory checks out so far.

What about books? In his Sriracha Cookbook, Randy Clemens opts for capitalizing. I didn't know where he's from, but I guessed it's gotta be somewhere significantly west of New York. His Facebook page confirms it: Randy lives in L.A.

Throwing my theory completely on its head is Bon Appétit, a New York magazine that capitalizes all the way through. If we head across the pond to the home of the World's Most Official Dictionary, we find that the Oxford English uses the small s.

So where do you fall on this earth-shaking debate? Do you squirt your noodles with Sriracha, or slather your pizza with sriracha?*

*or do you, like me, think the Huy Fong stuff tastes like jarred garlic-spiked spicy ketchup that obliterates all subtlety and balance from anything you deign to add it to and should thus be avoided like the plague?

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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