How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油)

Making chili oil at home might seem like a daunting task at first, but once you understand the key steps, it only takes five minutes to make the best-tasting chili oil with extra fragrance, nuttiness and smokiness! {Gluten-Free, Vegan}

How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油) | Chinese Chili Oil | Gluten-Free | Vegan | Vegetarian | Condiment | Chinese Food | Chinese Recipes | Asian Food

Chili oil is such an important staple for Chinese families, equal to soy sauce and vinegar. For many Chinese people chili oil is as important as ketchup is to American people. It always shows up on tables of small diners, no matter whether it’s a dumplings or noodle place. Once you’re hooked, you’ll want to pour it on everything.

Whenever I’m talking about chili oil, I always refer to homemade chili oil. It tastes ten times better than the store bought product, lasts just as long if you store it in the fridge, and does not contain additives or MSG. There is this fresh aromatic nuttiness that bottled chili oil never delivers.

Plus, when you use chili oil like a Chinese person, you gotta mix in the chili flakes as well. The chili flakes are well toasted when you cook the chili oil, so they taste less spicy but quite smoky with a crispy texture. When mixing with noodles, these tiny umami bits coat the ingredients evenly and each bite releases waves of piquant zing to your taste buds. It’s as exciting as throwing a handful of Pop Rocks in your mouth!

When I cook Vegetable Chow Mein, Lanzhou Beef Noodle soup, and hearty Sesame Noodle Salad, I’ll always spoon a few dollops of chili oil mixed with thick chili flakes onto my finished dish. This one small action will elevate your cooking from mundane to heavenly.

How do I make chili oil from scratch?

The process might look intimidating at first, but you won’t believe how easy it is once you try it. There are three steps involved.

(1) Combine chili flakes with aromatics of your choice in a heatproof bowl.

A ceramic bowl is my go-to choice. If you plan to use a glass jar, make sure it is heatproof. We will be dealing with hot oil in the next step. Using glassware might cause the glass to shatter and can be very dangerous.

How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油) | Chinese Chili Oil | Gluten-Free | Vegan | Vegetarian | Condiment | Chinese Food | Chinese Recipes | Asian Foo(2) Heat the oil until it reaches 370 degrees F (190 C).

The key to making delicious chili oil is to heat the oil hot enough without overheating it. The hot oil will cook the spices thoroughly and be infused with various flavors. However, if the oil is too hot, it will burn the pepper flakes and sesame seeds, and the resulting chili oil will be bitter in taste.

The best way is to use an instant thermometer to monitor the oil. If you do not have a thermometer, I also introduce a “ginger method” in the recipe below, which is a good indicator of the oil temperature.

Select a small saucepan that has long handle and is good for pouring. Alternatively, you can also use a ladle to transfer the oil.

(3) Pour oil into the bowl with chili flakes.

The oil will bubble fiercely at first and quickly cook the chili flakes. Simply mix everything together with a spoon and let the oil sit until cooled down.

That’s it! Now you have a jar of delicious chili oil to use to create an authentic Chinese flavor.

Homemade Chili Oil Cooking Process

More cooking notes

(1) What types of chili flakes should you use?

The best option is to use fresh chili flakes imported from Sichuan. This type of chili flake is made with premium chili peppers of a vibrant red color. The blend also contains fewer seeds, so your chili oil won’t end up overly spicy.

The next best option is using Korean chili flakes. With these, I found my chili oil doesn’t have the brightest red color, but it doesn’t affect the taste.

Homemade Chili Oil Cooking Process

Click the image to purchase premium Sichuan chili flakes at The Mala Market

(2) How do you make chili flakes?

You can use whole dried chili peppers to make chili flakes too. Lightly toast the peppers in a pan until the pepper turns a bit darker, and grind the peppers into chili flakes. To make sure the oil won’t turn out too spicy, cut open half of the hot peppers with kitchen shears and discard the seeds.

(3) What types of aromatics should you use in the chili oil?

The answer is, you can use many types of aromatics or none at all. The flavor is totally up to personal preference. In China, each region down to each family has their own formula to make their favorite chili oil.

To make the most basic chili oil, you can simply use chili flakes. Some versions use ginger, cinnamon bark, bay leaves, star anise etc.

The recipe below is our family’s formula. We always enjoy adding a few Sichuan peppercorns to add a hint of numbing nuttiness. We also use a pinch of five spice powder to add umami.

How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油) | Chinese Chili Oil | Gluten-Free | Vegan | Vegetarian | Condiment | Chinese Food | Chinese Recipes | Asian Foo(4) To filter or not to filter?

Once you’ve made the chili oil, you can either filter the oil and discard the chili flakes, or you can leave them in. This habit varies a lot in China depending on the region, so I’d say both methods are authentic and correct.

As a northerner, I grew up having chili oil with tons of chili flakes sitting at the bottom. In fact, in many restaurants you will find the chili oil jar is filled mostly chili flakes and very little oil.

Again, if you choose proper chili flakes (see point #1 above), your chili oil will not be very spicy and it should taste nutty with a balanced umami flavor. The chili flakes should add texture and smokiness to your dish, not spiciness.

How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油) | Chinese Chili Oil | Gluten-Free | Vegan | Vegetarian | Condiment | Chinese Food | Chinese Recipes | Asian Food

How to make chili oil video

I’ve created this short video for you, so you can easily get an idea of the workflow and see how easy it is to make chili oil in your own kitchen!

More recipes made with chili oil

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

5.0 from 7 reviews
How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Making chili oil at home might seem like a daunting task at first, but once you understand the key steps, it only takes five minutes to make the best-tasting chili oil with extra fragrance, nuttiness and smokiness!
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 1 cup chili oil
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combine chili flakes, five spice powder, sesame seeds, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, and bay leaves in a heatproof ceramic bowl that can hold at least 2 cups liquid. Place the bowl on a heat resistant coaster.
  2. Heat oil in a wok (or a skillet) over medium-high heat. Add ginger. When the ginger starts to wither and turns golden brown, immediately turn off the heat. The oil should reach 370 degrees F (190 C) and no higher than 400 F (200 C) if read with an instant thermometer.
  3. Carefully pour oil or use a ladle to transfer oil into the bowl of mixed spices. The oil will bubble for a few seconds and cook the spices. While the the oil is bubbling, use a metal spoon to stir gently to mix the spices, so they’ll cook thoroughly.
  4. When the oil cools down a bit, scoop out and discard the star anise and bay leaf.
  5. The oil is now ready to use! Its flavor will mature if you let it rest for a day, allowing the spices to infuse into the oil.
  6. The oil can be stored covered at room temperature for two weeks, or up to six months in the fridge in an airtight container.
Notes
(1) To create chili oil with a beautiful red color without being too spicy, use Sichuan chili flakes. The chili flakes are made with premium peppers that have a vibrant color with fewer chili seeds. Alternatively, if you cannot find the type, use Korean chili flakes. It is possible to use chili powder as well, but this tends to make the chili oil very spicy with a yellowish color.

 

The recipe was originally published on August 7, 2014, and updated on April 23, 2017.

Disclosure

Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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35 thoughts on “How to Make Chili Oil (辣椒油)

    1. Maggie Post author

      Thanks Crystal! I’m totally agree with you, those homemade condiments have much better flavor. It takes no time after you get used to the cooking process. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m so happy to hear there are people who prefer to cook those things at home. Happy cooking and let me know how it goes! 🙂

      Reply
  1. Sophie

    I like how each family seems to make their own version of chile oil 🙂 I add scallions to mine (but fish them out before sealing the jar in the fridge). I love it! I just ran out actually because whenever I’m frying day-old rice or noodles I use lots….. it’s my favorite! Thank you for sharing your version (and good tip about not eating any whole peppercorns :):)

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Adding scallion to the chili oil sounds so tasty! I never tried to add chili oil into fried rice, but it sounds great! Thanks for sharing the ideas and I cannot wait to try them out! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Thomas

    This has become a staple condiment of mine and I make it about once a month. Nothing compares to the nutty spiciness, and I just can’t get enough.

    To get the hot oil just right, I use either vegetable or peanut oil, heat it to 430-440F, and pull it off the burner right as I start to smell a hint of smoke. I suppose other oils will work, but any oil used needs a smoke point above 430F, in order to toast the spices and extract flavor properly without burning.

    I found that the ginger test isn’t quite accurate. My ginger slices turned into crispy (and delicious) ginger chips around 400F (I removed them and ate them once they were totally toasted). This may have to do with the fact that an electric stove (which I was using) heats more slowly. The best way to judge the temperature of the oil is to monitor it very closely – with a thermometer or by paying close attention to the faintest hint of smoking oil, or both.

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Deborah, many many thanks for letting me know about this problem. I just realized my newsletter system released an upgrade and I didn’t install it properly. Now the newsletter signup form works properly and you should able to sign up. Could you please try it again? Thank you for your time, and I really appreciate your help 🙂

      Reply
  3. Nataline

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I tried it side by side with the recipe from Woks of Life and prefer this one, largely because of the sesame seeds which add a nice crunch. The Woks of Life version was very similar, but because it has more Sichuan peppercorn, ended up a bit warmer. I am so addicted to the nutty smoky taste of this chili oil.

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Nataline, I’m glad to hear you like the recipe! Adding sesame seeds into the chili oil does boost its flavor a lot, so I personally prefer this way too. Thanks for taking time and leaving a comment to let me know 🙂 Have a great day!

      Reply
  4. dylan

    My seasame seeds don’t see to float like yours! And my chili flakes don’t sink! Haha, did I do something wrong?

    I can’t believe how awesome the spicy/nuttiness is! Amazing!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I think the chili flakes will sink if you set them aside for a bit longer? The sesame seeds? I have no idea! In fact I’d like them to sink, because they sometimes get in the way lol I think it’s fine as long as it doesn’t affect the taste.
      Glad to hear you enjoyed the chili oil 🙂 Use it on noodle salad and it will make the dish awesome.

      Reply
  5. Paula LaBine

    Hi Maggie! I’m currently visiting Xian and loved Biang Biang noodles so much, I wanted to see a recipe for them and that’s how I found you. Great site and I can’t wait to try your recipes when I get back to the US. We were previously in Chengdu and when we ate dumplings, they always had this red chili condiment on the table to eat with them. It had some floating oil on top, but was more of a chili paste. Is this recipe similar that that, with more oil added?

    Reply
  6. Christine Morgan

    I just want to take a moment to thank you so much for the recipe of chili oil. This is my new a chapter of my life using your recipes, the best part of all is that you use pictures of the ingredients I want to go to the store I can at least open the phone and show them a picture of what I need and that’s the most important sometimes translation is very hard for me but I just want to thank you!!!! Looking forward to many recipes of yours!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Christine, thanks so much for the kind words and I’m glad to hear my ingredient pictures are helpful! I’ll make sure to take more ingredients photos and add them in my future posts as well 🙂 Yes navigating an Asian market can be frustrating sometimes, even when you understand the language. Last time it took me 15 minutes to locate a small pack of powder for tofu making!
      Anyhow, happy cooking and hope you have a great week ahead 🙂

      Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing Milena! Yes you should definitely make it once at home. It is so easy and the result tastes way better than the bottled chili oil!

      Reply
  7. Jeff Stern

    Love your site and your recipes. This is a great primer on making chile oil. I know how to make herb infused oils but this is a new take for me. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Martin, you should wait until the oil reaches 190C. Although sometimes I don’t really measure the temperature, because the air above the pan can get really hot.
      What you can do is to pour a small amount into the oil and see if it sizzle. That can be an easier judgement.

      Reply
      1. Martin

        Hi Maggie again i’m sorry to ask once again about the same topic here. I forgot to ask aswell if i have to toast the chilies before doing this to make it bring more flavour to the oil or should i skip this? this is my final question i would be very thankful if you could reply once more. Thanks again!

      2. Maggie Post author

        Hi Martin, no worries and please feel free to ask a question anytime!
        No you don’t need to toast the chillies flakes because the hot oil will toast it and bring out a lot of flavor.
        On the other hand, if you’re making the oil from whole chili pepper, toast the whole peppers can be helpful before you grind them.
        Happy cooking and let me know how the chili oil turns out! 🙂

  8. Marija

    This is completely addictive! The recipe is so simple and straightforward, and the result is just… poetry for the palate. I’ve poured this on everything, from Chinese noodle soups, to roasted potatoes, to salads, cold meats… It really does bring every dish up a notch. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Chit

    I just watched your you tube on chili oil! Wow that simple? Am excited to do it now! By the way Maggie I cooked the chicken fried rice last night! So yummy! My husband enjoyed it too! You are amazing! Recipes are simple tasty and very authentic Chinese flavor! And your pretty Maggie! May you continue to be inspired in the kitchen!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      There are a few ways to cook chili oil and this is my favorite method, because it is simple and generates great result 🙂
      Thanks for leaving a comment and let me know about the fried rice. Glad to hear you guys enjoyed the dish!

      Reply
  10. Janie

    Under the photograph, you write “(2) Heat the oil until it reaches 275 degrees F (135 C).”

    In the recipe you write, “(2) Heat the oil until it reaches 275 degrees F (135 C).”

    Which is it?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Janie

      WHOOPS!!!!

      I didn’t notice that my second copy didn’t take before I clicked Post Comment. Sorry about that.

      It should read : “In the recipe you write, “The oil should reach 370 degrees F (190 C) and no higher than 400 F (200 C) if read with an instant thermometer.”

      Reply
      1. Maggie Post author

        Hi Janie, sorry about the confusion! It should be 370 degrees F (190 C). I just updated the blog post so now it’s consistent.
        Happy cooking and I hope your chili oil turns out delicious 🙂

  11. Salle Huber

    I thought I was getting the right kind of chile, but now I see not.

    I got two different items…dried prickly ash, and ot mieng. Can I use these for my chili oil? (I made some with regular organic chili peppers from whole foods…like you would put on a pizza…and it was very good and smoky, but not spicy at all.)

    Thanks for advice. Love everything you post.

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Salle, thanks so much for your kind words!
      I didn’t see the packages you get, but judging by the names, I think you can use dried pickly ash (aka Sichuan peppers) and ot mieng to make the chili oil. In fact you can use various types of chili peppers to make the oil, which results in different flavors. IF you use the regular chili peppers (smoky but not spicy) again, you can blend in a small portion of cayenne powder or crushed Thai chili peppers (1 to 2 teaspoon per cup of oil) to add spiciness.
      I hope your next batch of oil comes out beautifully 🙂

      Reply
  12. Rekha

    Hi Maggie,
    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful recipe. I don’t know how often you make it at home, but I’ve made it 2x in the last two weeks because it is a hit with my family, and the results are amazing and consistent. Thank you!!!

    Reply