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Chili Oil Notes Part 2

If you haven’t already, check out part 1. These are more musings that I’ve written over time, so there’s some additions that contradict previous stuff as I’ve done more experiments over time.


Here’s a list of resources for chili oil. As a whole, it’s pretty remarkable how much more sophisticated the Chinese videos are for chili oil. They tend to have a lot more thought around infusion and chili processing. Most of the Western videos are quite terrible and similar. Only a few really bother to add spices, put good quality peppers, and do some careful infusion.

  • 1: An interesting take by a Chinese chef. Uses the multiple infusion technique where a hot first infusion “is for spice”, and then subsequent infusions are for flavor. Uses a combination of chili flakes, chili powder, and hand ground chilies. The video does claim that adding spices or aromatics lessens the chili flavor, which I’m not sure about.

  • 2: Probably one of the best Chinese videos on chili oil by Chef Wang Gang. Similar technique to above with an interesting wrinkle of adding baijiu, supposedly to avoid burning the chilies. I wonder if it adds to flavor extraction too. Also lots of interesting spices and herbs added.

  • 3: Another Wang Gang video. I don’t like douchi in chili oil, but this one is interesting for the step where the spices are soaked in baijiu to extract flavor.

  • 4: Still my go-to recipe for a chili crisp. Sohla does a great job of adding a balance of flavors with additions like mushroom powder, MSG, sugar, and a whole bunch of spices. The single hot flash does the trick and the sugar offsets any potential bitterness. Fantastic recipe.

  • 5: This is a really interesting idea of using clarified butter to make an oil with a fairly standard slow infusion process, then blending it with toasted milk powder to make essentially brown butter. Kathy seems to blend all of the aromatics too (I think?) which is interesting. She then whips it up into a compound butter, kinda close to beef fat hot pot base. I’d love to try this although the clarified butter does make a more expensive oil.

  • 6: An okay video, mostly good for the spices.

Updated Thoughts


I’m fairly sold on the multiple hot flashes for infusion. You start with a very hot flash at 375F (190C) with some of the oil, then add the remainder of the oil at 280F (140C). It helps to do the hot flash with only half the chilies and then mix in the rest. I suppose you could also try mixing a hot flash and a slow infusion, but that seems like more work.

A really key insight that I learned was to add the sichuan peppercorns last when the oil is at 212F (100C). Turns out their flavor doesn’t stand up to the heat. I have noticed that the tingly flavor was lacking in my earlier batches, so this is a good tip.

I got around to getting a sous vide machine again, so I’ll do an experiment with that. I bet that could add a really nice layered effect.

Chili Mixture

In the videos I watched, I noticed that they were using a combination of chili powder and chili flakes. This goes against my coffee metaphor, but likely that’s an issue with my metaphor and not with their technique. I made a batch of oil with this combo of gochugaru and chili flakes. It turned out pretty fantastic, so I’ll have to do more experiments here. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the flavor is coming from the powder since it’s so fine. I do think a key here is that they carefully control the temperatures and only add a tiny bit of the really hot oil to prevent the chilies from burning.

I do wonder if you could split infusion temps by chili size. Maybe the powder is at a higher risk of burning?


The Chinese videos explicitly state that a 1 to 4 ratio of chilies to oil is ideal, with a maximum of 1 to 5. I’ll have to test that myself, but that seems about right.

Sous Vide vs Slow Infusion vs Hot Flash

I did another comparison experiment of 40g of gochugaru to 160g of oil. I’m not sure if the ratio stated in the video is of weight or of volume, I’d guess volume though. I made one batch sous vide at 154F for 4 hours. Someone on Hacker News claimed this approximate recipe is in Modernist Cuisine. I don’t have the space or the money to spend 600 bucks on a print copy of Modernist Cuisine so I can confirm this, so I’ll take them at their word. I might see if I can get a copy at the library.

I made another batch as a slow infusion at 200-220F, and a final batch as a hot flash at 375F.

Tasting them, the hot flash batch was horribly bitter and clearly burnt. It smelled amazing, like a really nice tadka or almost like popcorn, but tasted absolutely terrible. This does seem to answer the question of whether particle size can cause burning. The coarse chili flakes tasted semi-burnt with a hot flash at 375F, but the fine gochugaru tasted extremely burnt.

The slow infusion tasted decent. A little bit of that roasted, slightly bitter flavor (interesting, hadn’t noticed that in the coarse chili flakes), but overall quite solid.

As for the sous vide, it was very mild, but perhaps with some subtle aromatics? I wonder if it could have gone a little longer in the bath.

If I’m honest, the main conclusion I’ve found is that I might not love gochugaru as the sole chili in an oil. It’s very fine and therefore too easy to burn.

To follow up, I also tried infusing sichuan peppercorns, since they seem to extract better at lower temperatures. It didn’t seem to accomplish much either.

I’d also be curious to know if you could use the microwave to do chili oil infusion.

One funny note, in a lot of the Chinese videos, they mention that the different temperatures produce different flavors. The 375F flash mostly produces spiciness and not much flavor. The lower temperature flashes produce flavor and color. I hadn’t put much stock into that, but having done more experiments, I suspect they’re not far off! The high temperature infusions just don’t have the same aroma.

Indian Chili Oil

I tried making an Indian style chili oil, basically by infusing a bunch of spices like coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, cardamom, curry leaves, fenugreek, black pepper, chilies, cinnamon, hing, turmeric.

It smelled fantastic but it was slightly disappointing at the end. I was debating whether to keep it like a tadka and not add too much chili, or make it a proper chili oil with spices. I ended up straining it, which left me with an aromatic oil, but not something very impressive. Next time I’ll make it into a proper chili oil with flakes.

Also some spices dominated too much. I might omit the fenugreek and hing or dial it down a lot.

One thing I love about Indian food are the whole spices that give you a little bit of crunch and pop. Next time I’ll keep the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in for that.

Indian snacks are great for their crunch, I wonder if I could add some to the oil to make a chili crisp. Hopefully they’d stay intact.

Chili Crisp Recipe

I’m attempting to combine recipes to make my perfect chili crisp recipe. For that, I’m taking the approximate ratios and techniques of the first video and combining them with the seasonings and crispy additions of Sohla’s chili crisp.

First impressions: the first video makes a lot of oil. If the translation is correct, it’s 1 liter of oil and 250g of chilies. 250 grams is a lot of chilies! That basically exhausted my chili supply. Also, that meant that I had to use more Xiao Mi La chilies than I’d like, which made the oil spicy. I think going forward, I’m gonna use a lot more mild chilies with an aromatic flavor.

I also put a lot of sichuan peppercorns which I also ground finely, which made the tingly flavor really intense. I kind of like that though! I might keep the intensity.

I added crispy shallots, peanuts, salt, pepper, sugar, mushroom powder and MSG, per Sohla’s recipe. I had to double the seasonings because the oil was about twice the chili crisp recipe’s batch size. It ended up being way too much solids versus oil. Perhaps I can reduce the shallots and add some more oil. That will dilute the chili flavor but that’s fine since it’s pretty damn intense right now.

Isolating Chili Flavors

I did another experiment where I made small batches of chili oil using individual types of chilies, specifically xiao mi la, lantern chili (deng long jiao), japones, er ting jiao, and byadagi. I tried to keep it fairly consistent by using a standard ratio of 1 part chili to 5 parts oil, with a hot flash around 280F. I heated up a large batch of oil and poured on the same amount to each batch of chilies. I did this instead of heating up separate batches of oil because smaller volumes of oil are harder to temp properly. I used a neutral oil, not caiziyou, because I wanted a blank canvas to really taste the chilies.

Then I tried them each blind. My takeaways are first, whew, the chilies that are on the spicier end like Xiao Mi La are waaaayy too spicy to eat on their own. I had to cool off my palate with some yogurt and take a break. Second, the chilies themselves don’t tend to have a lot of flavor and if they do, it’s often quite vegetal. The chilies I liked the most had a nice fruity, sweet flavor.

Here are the individual notes:

  • Xiao mi la: As mentioned before, this totally blew out my taste buds. Not much to it beyond pure spice. Visually quite light in color.

  • Lantern chili: These disappointed me. Chinese cooks cite them as adding a lot of fragrance to the oil, but they mostly tasted extremely vegetal. Not spicy at all. Perhaps they need to be roasted or fried? More on that later.

  • Japones: A little on the spicy side, also quite vegetal. Again, these were cited as aromatic, so I’m surprised at the lack of flavor.

  • Er ting jiao: Definitely spicy, second to the xiao mi la. A hint of smokiness to it. Not bad!

  • Byadagi: Raisin-y, almost fruity. Very good!

I didn’t test kashmiri, but I suspect they’d be very similar to byadagi.

Taking the experiment at face value, I’d lean towards using er ting jiao, kashmiri and byadagi, with maybe a touch of xiao mi la for more spice.

However, I do think this experiment is worth reproducing. For one, I was quite lazy and didn’t remove the seeds. That likely contributed to the vegetal notes. Second, I didn’t roast the chilies at all, which I later read enhances the flavor of the lantern chilies. Third, I didn’t add salt, which might be why the flavors were so muted.


The next experiment was based off of something I heard in the first video. The narrator mentions that adding spices just detracts from the chili flavor and isn’t worth it. Let’s try! I added some black pepper, star anise, black cardamom, cumin, ginger, shallot and scallion to oil, infused it for 1 hour 20 minutes at 200-250F. I then used the oil to make the first video’s recipe and compared it with a batch that didn’t use spices. And honestly? The oil didn’t taste that different from the oil without chilies. That kind of makes sense: caiziyou is really strong in flavor. Adding on chilies and sichuan peppercorn, it makes sense that there isn’t much room left for the spices. Of course it could just be my palate.

I then tried soaking the spices in alcohol then frying them in oil, something I saw in a Wang Gang video. That caused a lot of bubbling, but otherwise didn’t seem to add much flavor either.

One thought I had is that a lot of recipes seem to rely on infusing whole spices for a long time, but really, grinding the spices and adding them to the chili flakes should get you more flavor. That’s what Sohla does in her chili crisp. So I tried that. I ground up some cumin, black pepper, and fennel seeds, then mixed it with the chili flakes before doing the hot flash. Lo and behold, that did add some flavor! But again, the chili really dominates. If I were making this oil commercially, I’d consider omitting it.

Of course this could be a matter of scale. I’m only adding about 10-15g of spices to about a liter of oil. I might want to increase the quantity of spices.

It might also be worth reducing the amount of caiziyou, or even omitting it if you want spices. It could be an xor situation.

Ratio Revisited

I decided to try doubling the oil to be 2 liters for 250g of chili flakes instead of 1 liter. The batch turned out decent. Eating a spoonful with chili flakes feels about the same in intensity, but just the oil in isolation is a little weaker. Perhaps I’ll split the difference and do 1.5 liters.


I feel like I’m getting close to a definitive recipe on chili oil. Here’s a few more things I want to test:

  • Add more ground spices.

  • Figure out the right amount of salt, sugar, MSG.

  • Should I use all caiziyou? It’s very intense. A 50/50 caiziyou, neutral oil could work well and be more economical.

  • I got my hands on the modernist cuisine sous vide recipe, so I might try that out. It requires a 24h infusion which ehh we’ll see.

  • Figure out a chili crisp recipe. I’m still hard pressed to beat Sohla’s, but maybe there’s a few fun tricks for an Indian style version.