Why Chili Crisp Is the Condiment I Put on Literally Everything

May  3, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

Some people go through hairstyle phases or Spotify-playlist phases or favorite-shoe phases. I go through sauce phases.

Which means, depending on the week, you’ll find me putting horseradish yogurt or Sriracha mayo or kale-cashew pesto or caper-raisin vinaigrette (hey hey, Six Seasons) on absolutely everything.

But for the past several months, I’ve been in a committed relationship with one sauce and— gasp—it isn’t even homemade: Lao Gan Ma’s Spicy Chili Crisp (or, as we’ll call it from here on forth, LGM’s SCC).

It's good on avocado toast. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on scrambled eggs. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on cacio e pepe. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on steamed broccoli. Photo by Emma Laperruque

While this started to be produced in China in 1997, it’s only recently become an It condiment in the United States. Last year alone, Taste wrote about how “the cult of spicy chili crisp is real” (it is), NY Mag’s Mia Leimkuhler said “I panic if I don’t have at least five jars of this spicy chili crisp” (same), and Serious Eats published a copycat DIY recipe (imitation is the ultimate compliment).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I once made the mistake of buying Chiu Chow Chili Oil because my Asian grocery store was out of SCC - what a disappointment! An overpowering sweetness and no crisp. Gotta have the real deal.”
— Anna S.

What makes it so special? LGM’s SCC is spicy, savory, and salty. But, most importantly, as the name indicates, it is crispy. While other condiments can easily check off those other boxes, it is in my experience the crunchy-crumbly texture that makes Chili Crisp so singularly addictive.

Oh, and the MSG—aka, monosodium glutamate. If you’re about to raise your eyebrows at this massively misunderstood ingredient, please read this first. The short story is: MSG is a jolt of umami, and umami makes food taste better, which means LGM’s SCC makes food taste better.

It's good on smacked cucumber salad. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on pineapple. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on papaya. Photo by Emma Laperruque
It's good on vanilla ice cream. Photo by Emma Laperruque

Like, all foods. If there’s something this condiment doesn’t play nicely with, I have yet to find it—and I’ve been looking. Here’s a totally incomplete, in-the-works list of all the things LGM’s SCC improves:

  • Saucy noodles
  • Cheesy pasta
  • Buttered rice
  • Pan-seared steak
  • Roast chicken
  • Blanched tofu
  • Vegetables (cooked any which way)
  • Brothy-chunky soup
  • Smacked cucumber salad
  • Lime-spritzed fruit
  • Ice cream (yes, ice cream)

And here are just a few of the many recipes on the site that would be even happier with a dollop of the good stuff on top:

Chili Crisp Brownies À La Mode

Have you tried chili crisp? Tell us what you love to put it on in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


[email protected] November 20, 2021
I’m addicted…I can’t say it any other way. I love it on everything…literally!!!!
BHOBART September 23, 2021
YUCK! Tastes like someone pulled all the hulls out of a bag of popcorn and then poured in some sriracha.... actually, that would be better than this stuff.
I bought a large jar of this at my local Asian mart because 10.00 vs 6.50 for the small 210jar and I do not get what is the hype personally . Also I find it tastes mouldy and really not all that good. I mean if people like it that is fine just feel im the odd one out here lol
Mike A. June 20, 2020
I'm addicted to Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp!! It is soooo good! I can go through 5 jars in 1 month!

I've had other Lao Gan Ma chili sauces but when I tried Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp I was hooked! I put the sauce on virtually everything I eat!
Sara S. April 25, 2020
I got hooked on the Trader Joe's version. Now I have the Fly by Jing and the Chile Crunch. I think the latter is my favorite. I started out adding it to grain bowls, hummus and ramen. Lately I have been enjoying it on egg salad sandwiches or simply as a dipping sauce for chicken. It's definitely an addictive condiment!
Gloria March 9, 2020
If you can't find Lao Gan Ma Chile Crisp anywhere, try Chile Crunch.
I first purchased this at Dean and Deluca, then found it at Whole Foods via Amazon Prime Now. It's a lot pricier (about $12.99 vs. $2.69 for Lao Gan Ma) but it doesn't have MSG if MSG bothers you. The ingredients are Canola Oil, Garlic, Onion, Chiles, Spices, and Salt. It's not as smoky as Lao Gan Ma but it is a delicious alternative.
carswell February 1, 2020
I read this article back when it was first posted and thought “hmmmm, interesting” and filed it away. Last week I was wandering around my local funny food store (ethnic grocery) and saw a jar. So, recalling this article I bought it.

It is better and more interesting than I thought it would be, hot but not unpleasantly so, a nice tooth and pleasant undercurrent of saltiness. I might not be putting it on ice cream any time soon but I will definitely be trotting it out fir variety of things. I am eager to dress up some avocado toast with it.
Daniel B. January 24, 2020
This is good stuff! One little nitpick - IMHO, there's too much MSG, which has a very distinctive flavor. I note that on the ingredients list there is more MSG than salt, which for a condiment is pretty unusual. I'm no MSG hater, but if you eat this staff straight you can definitely taste the MSG. Mixed in as an ingredient, you can't, of course.
Anna S. October 11, 2019
I totally agree on the power of SCC! I discovered it at an all-you-can-eat dumpling place in Paris years ago and have kept a stock of it ever since. I have a similar addiction to the Chinkiang vinegar they served also - mix the two together for the most umami blend ever! I once made the mistake of buying Chiu Chow Chili Oil because my Asian grocery store was out of SCC - what a disappointment! An overpowering sweetness and no crisp. Gotta have the real deal.
Deb G. October 3, 2019
Makes a great "savory" instead of sweet oatmeal.
Emma L. October 3, 2019
Oh yes, I love doing this! With a little soy sauce mixed into the oatmeal and a soft-boiled egg on top.
Tracy M. September 13, 2019
I am OBSESSED with this …. I eat it with a spoon while I am adding it to anything and everything I can. Its addicting and so so so good :) I get it on amazon.

nsilverstein August 26, 2019
Can anyone help me find Chili Crisp in nyc?
Ligu August 31, 2020
Chinatown has it! You can find it at New Kam Man Market and Hong Kong Supermarket in Manhattan (a few blocks away from each other). Korean groceries like H-Mart carry it too.
Brendan H. January 30, 2021
I got my jar at the Wegmans in Brooklyn!
Dot L. August 21, 2019
I just bought a jar of this yesterday. We had it on Heidi Swanson’s Thai Zucchini Soup which is a green curry, lime, and coconut soup served with rice and herbs. It was really good. I think my jar will definitely get some use!
M May 16, 2019
Thanks for this. I've never tasted something that had so much flavour beyond the spice. It's killer on broiled toast. Garlic bread may have been de-throned.
Sonel May 13, 2019
Like Emily, we love the similar chili crunch made in Colorado. Will definitely try this one now.
Our go-to is on a mild cheese or Brie on a cheese platter.
Pat Y. May 12, 2019
I'm glad so many comments show that lots of people love it. But, ohhhhhh! is it HOT! My mouth is still burning! I'm afraid I'm one customer that can't handle it!
Beani January 21, 2021
Then dilute into a cream cheese for a delicious spread. You can also mix with cooling sour cream to tame it it.
Barbra F. May 12, 2019
This stuff is amazing!! I love it. So often after reading a Food52 article, I purchase things, in the end, I am not so fond of (no one's fault, my curiosity get the better me) But this is the best thing I have tasted in ages. Thank you so much for introducing​ me to this, it's the best and I can't wait to try it on everything.
Jay H. May 12, 2019
If you love the chili crisp sauce, you must also try the, " Chili oil with black bean," sauce: It tastes like chili crisp with the added umami punch of fermented black beans. FYI, " Lao Gan Ma," apparently translates to, " Old godmother," but we call it, "Grumpy lady sauce," which better reflects her image on the bottle.
Jennifer May 8, 2019
WoW this is amazing thank you for sharing, also has anyone tried these resusable storage bags before for left overs? They are a life saver! thought i would share!
Stephen A. May 6, 2019
Thanks, I have never heard of it. We have friends who are Chinese, and bring me HOT stuff often. Mamma Guan will not share her Kimchi recipe so they gave me a 1 kilo tub.