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The best chili crisp brands and how to use them

I was shocked when I got emails and comments like “What is crispy chili?” after my corn soup recipe with the ingredient was published. I was introduced to it about four years ago, trying it for the first time while traveling abroad and being amazed by the crunchy, umami and slightly spicy spice. That same year, food writer Cathy Erway wrote “The Cult of Spicy Chile Crisp Is Real” for Taste, and my experience shows it to be true, as it has since permeated my social media and food culture in general.

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“When a cult forms around a food, it can seem like it hit the world all of a sudden,” Erway wrote. “But this oily, motley concoction of roasted spices with a not-so-subtle dash of MSG has been around in China’s Guizhou province since Lao Gan Ma started making and selling crispy chile in 1997.” Additionally, the spice itself was a staple ingredient in Chinese kitchens long before you could buy it off the shelf. “Don’t call it a trend. It’s the biggest chile sauce in China, the country with the largest population.”

What is chili crisp and how do I use it?

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Chili Crisp is a condiment consisting of oil infused with peppers and other aromatic, often crunchy, crunchy ingredients. It’s also sometimes called “chili crunch,” “chili oil,” and “chili sauce,” with crunches and chips tending to have a higher ratio of crunchy bits to oil (though not always). Flavors and textures vary greatly between the recipes you’ll find online and the jars available for purchase, and while spice is often the primary taste, umami tends to come in a close second.

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Perhaps most important to heat level are the amount and types of peppers used. Some chips are relatively bland with only the slightest hint of spice. Others may pack a fraction of a teaspoon, often thanks to Sichuan peppercorns, which bring not only heat but also a tingling and numbing sensation. Other ingredients you may find include various alliums (onions, garlic, and shallots), peanuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, black beans, mushroom powder, seaweed, MSG, anchovies, crystallized ginger, and sugar—in addition to “ the mysterious “spices” that are not written. on some ingredient labels, which may include cumin, red cardamom, and star anise.

When it comes to usage, the sky’s the limit, whether it’s a spice added to finished dishes or an ingredient used during the cooking process. Drizzle it over scrambled eggs, pizza, or fried chicken. “I’ve added the mildly spicy sauce to stir-fries and dumpling dips, tossed it into rice, tossed it with sautéed eggplant, zucchini, and broccoli, and rubbed it into shrimp before grilling,” the editor wrote of Ann Maloney recipes. You can use it as a marinade for meat, fish or tofu or as an extra flavor in mayonnaise, dips and dressings. “I often combine softened butter with crunchy chile and slather it all over the chicken for fantastic results. I add a spoonful of chile oil to the water to make a quick broth for the soup. And I mix and match different chile chips to add a complex finishing touch to my noodles,” wrote James Park in Eater. (Park is working on a cookbook dedicated to the ingredient.) It even works with desserts! (Try it spooned over vanilla ice cream and thank me later.)

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The only thing to keep in mind is that the solids settle to the bottom of the jar quickly, so it’s a good idea to stir the crispy chili to make sure it’s evenly combined each time you take another scoop. And while some brands say it’s okay to store crispy chili at room temperature, it’s best stored in the refrigerator once opened for maximum freshness and flavor.

Our favorite chili chips

It seems like there are new chili chips on the market all the time, with grocery chains, celebrity chefs, small restaurants, and chili crisp lovers all launching their own products. To help narrow it down, I and a few brave colleagues tested 10 jars available in international grocery stores, well-stocked supermarkets and online. Some of them provoked very disparate thoughts and opinions, but these are the four that we unanimously liked.

Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp. Before even tasting it, what stood out was that it had “the tiniest amount of oil,” one taster commented. “I love how many bits and pieces there are.” For anyone who eats crispy chili, it’s instantly recognizable. “The flakes give a nice texture but aren’t too crunchy, per se,” with another commenting: “I want it to be a little more crunchy.” It has a fairly medium level of spice. “Overall, it’s fruity and good, and I’m glad it’s so readily available.”

Momofuku Chili Crunch. “This has warmth that is layered and lingers. There are different levels of heat that hit separately, like ticking time bombs that will go off one after the other.” It also has more crunch, living up to its name, with one person commenting that they “love the crunch and the heavy presence of sesame seeds.” It also has a noticeable sweetness; tasters were divided on whether they liked this look.

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Milu Chili Crisp. A “decent option if you don’t want to be steamed by the heat,” declared one reviewer, with another saying it had “a nice heat, but not too spicy.” It’s also great texturally, with one taster remarking, “Audibly crunchy, yes!” The only downside is that this jar was at the top of the spectrum in terms of oil to solids ratio. “If the jar wasn’t 70% oil and 30% crisp – it would be a total winner.”

Topping S&B Umami crispy garlic with chili oil. This jar had perhaps the least amount of spice of any we tasted, but everyone loved the overall flavor, calling it “super complex” and enjoying the “heavy current of sesame oil.” This was also perhaps the most “crunch-tastic” of the bunch, with everyone commenting on its texture.

Others I sampled included Mr. Bing Chili Crisp, ZinDrew Crunchy Garlic Chili Oil, Oomame Chinese Chile Crisp, Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp, Su Chili Crisp, and Trader Joe’s Crunchy Chili Onion. Many of these resulted in mixed feelings from our panel of tasters, and you’re likely to find your favorite among the bunch.

However, there was one that we generally agreed was at the bottom of the list – Trader Joe’s. (Sorry TJ fans.) Comments included: “definitely not the best,” “don’t want,” and last but not least, “no.”