Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best

Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best

The increasingly popular condiment leaves a red stain in our pantries and on our hearts.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

Chili crisp is the condiment of 2022. The combination of fried garlic and chili peppers steeped in oil has existed across many cultures for centuries, but thanks to the wave of content creators repping it on TikTok and the American food media gatekeepers writing about it ceaselessly (yes, I get the irony), this condiment has burst into the American mainstream in recent years. Thank goodness for that. It’s hard to imagine a better enhancement to fried rice, cheesy pasta, yolky eggs, or even vanilla ice cream than this crispy, spicy, oily complement.

Thanks to its increased popularity in North America, many brands are now selling their own version of chili crisp. I bet some of your local restaurants sell their own, and I recommend you try those—but I tasted and ranked as many of the nationally available brands as I could get my hands on. With fellow taste testers, I judged each chili crisp on a bed of plain white rice, looking for the following:

  • Flavor: Is it tasty?
  • Crunch: How substantial is the crunch? How crispy are the bits?
  • Value as an additive: How much pleasure does this add to my eating experience?

I also ranked the heat level of each on a scale of 1-5 chili peppers, with one being “where’s the heat?” and five being “hot damn.” Here we go!

Advertisement

2 / 8

6. Mr. Bing Chili Crisp (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️)

6. Mr. Bing Chili Crisp (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

I really wanted to like this. It has a fun little happy man on the front. Jet Tila, one of my favorite celebrity chefs, is its brand ambassador. It was born from a popular Hong Kong jianbing shop. And it was bad. Well, not even bad, just flavorless. The oil—separated from the crunch, which tends to sink to the bottom in any jar of chili crisp—tasted like burnt garlic and nothing else. The crunch was nice, and the ingredient list indicates the product includes rice bran, which surely contributes to the good texture, but when you’re trying to pack a lot of flavor into a product, a bland ingredient like rice bran might just take up too much space.

Advertisement

3 / 8

5. Trader Joe’s Crunchy Chili Onion (HEAT: 🌶️)

5. Trader Joe’s Crunchy Chili Onion (HEAT: 🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

The packaging here is kinda fun; nice color scheme. And this jar is about a third of the cost of the others on this list. But it only contains about a third of their flavor, too. This product edges out Mr. Bing because there is at least some saltiness and onion tang to it, and little more than that. The texture is what makes this especially atrocious. The fine-grain crunch tastes like someone poured sand into olive oil—it’s gritty and highly unpleasant.

Advertisement

4 / 8

4. Chile Crunch (HEAT: 🌶️)

4. Chile Crunch (HEAT: 🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

Unlike the others on this list, this product doesn’t come from East Asian traditions but instead has roots in Mexico, in the style of a salsa macha. This has a low and subtle heat with much more garlic and onion flavor. The crunch factor was tied for the highest rating of all, but the flavor left a little zing to be desired. I would reach for this jar again if it were just garlic and a bit of texture I was looking to add, but not if I were looking for a salty, spicy, complex addition to my meal.

Advertisement

5 / 8

3. Fly By Jing (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️)

3. Fly By Jing (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

Fly By Jing has taken the internet by storm. Its chili crisp, inspired by the founder’s hometown of Chengdu in the Sichuan province, brings some of that tingly, back-of-the-throat heat you may have come to expect from Sichuan-style flavors. This has a nice, balanced heat and variety of crispy bits (lots of different little fried pieces, not just alliums and chili flakes), but it placed just outside of the top two because it wasn’t super crunchy. The oil seems to have so thoroughly permeated the solid ingredients that it’s missing the satisfying crunch that some of the other varieties have.

Advertisement

6 / 8

2. Momofuku Chili Crunch (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️)

2. Momofuku Chili Crunch (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

This chili crisp from Momofuku is but a twig extending from the tree of David Chang’s culinary empire. The celebrity chef has restaurants across the country, a media company, and has now brought his brand to bear on instant noodles and chili crisps. And Momofuku does a damn good job. This classic chili crisp (you can also buy ghost pepper, hot honey, and black truffle varieties) is eye-wateringly spicy but nicely balanced with a lot of sweetness and a strong umami flavor coming from mushrooms and sesame. The crunch itself is on the finer side (not as fine as Trader Joe’s jar of sand), but this allows the solids to blend well with the oil rather than separate. It is different enough to hold its own in an increasingly crowded market, and should make your home a two-chili crisp household to include it.

Advertisement

7 / 8

1. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️)

1. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp (HEAT: 🌶️🌶️🌶️)

Image for article titled Chili Crisps, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Shaan Merchant

The icon who started it all. The face on these red jars is as synonymous with delicious chili crisp as our thick-haired Quaker Oats brother is with breakfast food. From what I can tell there’s nothing but positivity associated with the ‘Old Godmother’ of Lao Gan Ma.

This is the product that has always had a red-stained spot in my pantry. It takes the spicy, oily flavors and turns the dial way up, likely thanks to the shit ton of MSG that’s in it. It is more salty and more sweet than other products in the category; you can taste the chilis, but it isn’t too spicy. The only drawback of Lao Gan Ma is that it’s not one for subtlety—its flavor will take center stage no matter how you’re applying it to a particular dish. But that’s just fine with me. I’m happy with Old Godmother being the rowdiest dancer on my dance floor.

Advertisement

8 / 8