Chili crisp is everywhere in the US right now, and for good reason. The condiment is the perfect combination of spicy, crunchy, salty, and sweet. When it comes to umami, chili crisp undoubtedly offers a big punch of the hard-to-describe, highly sought-after fifth basic taste (similar to sriracha, much loved by the masses). But while it’s new to the West, it’s far from new to China, where the condiment has been enjoyed for, quite literally, centuries. Here’s more about chili crisp’s journey from the pages of China’s old culinary books to the shelves of thousands of grocery stores in the US.


Why is chili crisp so popular right now?

The market for chili crisp (or chili crunch, as some are calling it) is becoming competitive in the US; brands all over the country are attempting to stake their claim in the West’s condiment of the moment. But Laoganma, the brand arguably responsible for the huge surge of demand for chili crisp, is hard to beat.

Laoganma originates from Guizhou in China and produces 1.3 million bottles of chili crisp every day. For context, that’s pretty close to Heinz’s Ketchup figures. The sauce giant produces 1.8 million of the red stuff a day, but it’s been in US grocery stores for considerably longer. The brand’s success in the US was largely helped by pandemic lockdowns, as more people had extra time on their hands, and used it to get creative in the kitchen.

While some were baking banana bread, others were trying to spice up their dinners with chili crisp. In 2021, the year after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Lao Gan Ma sales surged by 1,900 percent.

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Laoganma Chili CrispLaoganma

Where did chili crisp come from?

Laoganma didn’t invent chili crisp—the condiment has been popular across the country for centuries. In fact, according to National Geographic, there is a recipe for a very similar condiment in The Harmonious Cauldron, a Chinese culinary book from the 1700s (it’s thought that chilis made their way to China from Central and South America around the 1500s, but it took a few years for them to catch on).

Since then, across China, recipes have evolved depending on the region, and now, chili crisp is made in many different ways. “You can add peanuts and sesame seeds and garlic and seasonings into it to make different renditions and variations,” Delish’s senior food producer recently told the publication. “And even across China, because it’s such a huge country with so many different pockets of regional traditions, chili crisp can vary, so there’s not like one Chinese chili crisp that is the chili crisp.”

Can you make chili crisp from home?

Today, if you want to stock up on chili crisp, it’s as easy as heading to Amazon, where you can find Laoganma’s iconic mix, as well as blends from Flybyjing, Mr Bing, Everiday, and many more brands. But if you’ve got some time on your hands, you can also make it from scratch.

This recipe from Another Vegan Food Blog, for example, takes just under an hour and 30 minutes and pulls together ingredients like avocado oil, Sichuan chili flakes, and coconut sugar to make a deliciously spicy and addictive homemade blend. Alternatively, this recipe from Zena’s Kitchen comes together with peanuts and gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder).

Once you’ve made your chili crisp, or bought it from the store, there are many, many different ways to use it. You can add it to noodles, stir-fry vegetables, tofu, pasta, and soups—heck, you can even enjoy it for dessert if the mood takes you.

How to cook with chili crisp: 5 vegan recipes to try

Below, we’ve compiled just a handful of our favorite chili crisp recipes, but remember, when it comes to this umami-packed condiment, the options are truly endless.

Chili Crisp FettuccineRabbit and Wolves

1 Chili Crisp Fettucine Alfredo

If you like your pasta with a little bit of a kick, you’ll love this chili crisp fettuccine alfredo from Rabbit & Wolves. With just a handful of ingredients, it’s easy to make, but you are guaranteed to be blown away by the results. “The combination of chili crisp with the cream sauce, vegan Parmesan and baby spinach is truly one of a kind,” notes recipe developer Lauren Boehme Hartmann. “Totally amazing and mind-blowingly delicious.”
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Chili Crisp PotatoesThe Yummy Vegan

2 Crispy Chili Crisp Potatoes

Pair these spicy, chili crisp potatoes with a main of your choice (we vote a big hearty salad, but you do you), or load up a big bowl with some spring onions for topping and just dig in. After you’ve made this once, you’re going to want to eat them for dinner every night—you have been warned.
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Chili Crunch TofuPinch of Yum

3 Chili Crunch Tofu

Tofu is the ideal plant protein for soaking up strong flavors, so it makes sense that it goes beautifully with chili crisp. According to recipe developer Lindsay Ostrom from Pinch of Yum, this recipe for chili crunch tofu is “chompy, sticky-sweet, and delicious.” What more could you want?
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Chili Crisp CauliflowerThe Cozy Apron

4 Chili Crisp Cauliflower

Cauliflower is another food that is well-loved for its versatility. It can be sauce, it can be wings, and it can be a delicious spicy appetizer when it’s tossed in a delicious chili crisp-infused marinade. If you’re hosting a dinner party, this recipe from The Cozy Apron is guaranteed to impress.
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Chili Crisp NoodlesThe Vegan Harvest

5 Chili Crisp Noodles

Cooking for one can be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to avoid food waste. But this recipe for chili crisp noodles from The Vegan Harvest is perfect for a night in by yourself, and it’s loaded with flavor, too. Honestly, even if you did have company, you wouldn’t want to share it anyway, it’s that good.
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For more on condiments and spices, read:

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