Back to blog

Chili Oil: What It Is & How To Use It

Chili Oil: What It Is & How To Use It


As far as the condiment section is concerned, chili oil does it all. If you want some heat, chili oil has it. Looking for spice with a sweet side? Chili oil offers the perfect blend of sweet heat. 


Today is all about this special ingredient. We are breaking down all the types of chilis that you can use, how you can make your own chili oil and some of our favorite brands out there. 

 

Origin of Chili Oil

Let’s start at the very beginning: the origins of peppers. These spicy pods date back 7,000 years ago, with roots in Mexico. The peppers’ popularity has never waned. It was popular then, and it’s still popular now. 


Much of the traditional use for pepper was medicinal, as the health benefits are vast. Capsaicin, the active alkaloid in peppers that makes them hot, is known to increase metabolism and help lower your appetite. In addition, peppers are high in potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. 


In Asian cuisine, chili oil has its origins in China, specifically in the city of Chiu Chow, which is now known as Chaozhou. One of the most common Chinese chili oils is douchi. You can also find other chili ties all over Asia. 


Japanese chili oil is called layu, and is commonly served with ramen, gyoza, or dumplings. There’s also a variation called rayu, which combines the smoky heat of chilis with sesame oil. Korean chili oils utilize gochugaru, which are chili flakes that bring extra heat. 

 

Ingredients in Chili Oil

To make your own chili oil, here’s what you’re going to need:


  • 6 chili peppers
  • 1 cup of neutral oil (grapeseed oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, or canola oil are all commonly used)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 peeled piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns (Sichuan pepper is fine as well)
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon of bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon MSG (to ramp up the umami flavors)

There aren’t any ingredients that go into a chili oil recipe, but you’ll want to take care when using them. They’re peppers, and the flavor profiles aren’t all the same besides having spicy qualities. 


So experiment, test, taste, and decide which pepper profiles are the most appealing to you. Then sub peppers and oils in and out for what you personally want to taste and bring to the table. The numbing effects of boon chili oil wouldn’t exist without someone experimenting with the flavors of anchovy and shallots with chili! 

 

Best Uses for Chili Oil

Can we add chili oil to every dish? Why not! Commonly and classically, chili oil is always used in stir-fries, dipping sauces, and the extra finish to your dish. 


Spice is great for cutting through and balancing out umami flavors. Shoyu (soy) ramen, for example, generally employs chili oils to cut through the saltiness of the soy sauce in the broth. The salt will also work to amplify the spices, so it’s a perfect marriage of flavors. 


You might not think it’s necessary, but a little spice will help keep those rich flavors of umami from being too heavy or falling flat the more you eat. Eventually, your taste buds won’t be as excited if everything is one-note. 


When this happens, your food tends to overwhelm you. Adding a little heat from chili oil will bring a whole new experience to the same food you’re already enjoying. 


Don’t believe us? Put the chili oil on the table, and don’t use it until you’re at least a quarter into your dish. See what happens to your whole palette once you’ve thrown some chili oil into whatever you’re eating. You’re welcome.  

 

How To Make Chili Oil

So you’ve got the ingredients from above. Now we need to add them together to make your homemade chili oil. 


Follow these steps on how to make chili oil:


  • Cut all peppers into strips and saute them over medium heat. Stir them constantly to add color and crispy bits without overcooking.
  • Transfer them to a mortar and pestle to grind them down to a pepper flake consistency. Not completely pulverized, though — you want to see the flakes. Then pour into a heat-proof bowl. 
  • Combine your oil with the other spices and herbs and add to a pan over low heat, simmer until bubbling. 
  • Cook for ten minutes, keeping the bubbling down to a minimum. You want to create an infused oil, but the smoke point for oils will come along fast if you’re not careful. If you burn the oil, you’ll have to start over. 
  • Once the ten minutes is up, pour the hot oil through a mesh sieve directly on top of the chili flakes. Stir in the remaining ingredients (sugar, salt, sesame seeds, MSG if using). 
  • Allow to cool, transfer to an airtight container, and cool overnight at room temperature. It will keep in the pantry for a few weeks, but it will last longer if you refrigerate it. In the end, you should have a vibrant red color to your oil. 

How Much Chili Flake Should I Use?

The general rule of thumb is at least six whole peppers that get toasted and ground down to produce enough chili flakes. You want to find a good ratio of the amount of peppers to cups of oil. So if you plan to make a small batch, reduce the amount of peppers you need.


If you are having difficulty sourcing whole peppers, you can utilize some ingredients, like red pepper flakes, from the store. They won’t impart the same smokey and robust flavors of fresh peppers, but they’re still a great alternative.


Simultaneously, if you use chili powder in place for some of the peppers, you won’t have as much spice for the desired texture. However, either of these ingredients also imparts a different flavor profile, so you may find that you like these in addition to fresh peppers. 

 

What Kind of Chili Flakes Should I Use?

Arbol and ancho chilies are the most commonly used peppers for chili oil. They have smokey and spicy flavor layers to be versatile for adding to various dishes of ranging cuisines. However, if you want more heat, add in items like Thai bird’s eye peppers. These are hot, so you will feel the burn. 


The types of chilies can vary based on preferences, but the Sichuan pepper is a pretty essential component. It provides a numbing sensation on the palate. Dishes like tingling mapo tofu would be lost without this key ingredient. Even if you choose to sub in and out other red peppers, make sure you don’t leave out the Sichuan pepper. 

 

What Flavors Does Chili Oil Pair Well With?

Like with most flavor pairings, you want to put two profiles together that will balance and complement each other. Think of it as the dating game for spice: what will make chili oil the happiest and cause the best flavors for your food? 


Think of what they will do for each other. The sweet heat is a classic pairing so that a sweet bbq can benefit from the spicy notes of chili oil. As we’ve said above, salty components to a dish need something to keep it from killing your taste buds. 


The spice from chili oil will amplify the salt, but the salt will do the same for chili. Have you ever tried eating fresh vegetable spring rolls, and there wasn’t enough flavor? Try a spicy dip of chili oil. The vegetables will brighten up your taste buds and get a kick of heat that will wake you up. 

 

What Temperature Should the Oil Be When I Pour It Over the Chili Flakes?

Oil is a delicate ingredient. You’ll need to heat it high enough to infuse, but go too far, and you’ll destroy the oil. You can control the heating process by using a cooking thermometer, so we highly recommend investing in one. 


A good measure is to keep the oil bubbling at about 145 degrees. It will be hot enough to soak up all the heat and flavors from the peppers but not smoke and burn. 

 

Takeaway

We hope you love the chili oil you make and start using it wherever and whenever you need a little spicy boost. As we’ve said before, trying out these recipes and finding your own system for flavors is key. 


Everyone should be allowed to experience food in the way that appeals to them the best, so don’t be afraid to try out numerous chilies and oil bases before choosing the right ones for your oil. There is no doubt you’ll find the right ones to turn the heat up in your own kitchen. 


Head to Umamicart for all your favorite Asian groceries, delivered straight to your door.



Sources:

Capsaicin: Current Understanding of Its Mechanisms and Therapy of Pain and Other Pre-Clinical and Clinical Uses | NIH 

How to balance the five flavour elements | Cordon Bleu 

Oils: What's Cooking? | PSU 

More Recipes!