Chilli oil is the ultimate condiment – it can make any meal more delicious, and even elevate a mediocre one into something outstanding.
It’s also nuanced. Chilli is of course an essential ingredient, so spiciness is a happy outcome – but it isn’t just about heat. A successful chilli oil, we reckon, should also be packed with flavour.
So here are six of our favourite Australian-made, small-batch chilli oils, plus an OG version that’s found in fridge doors all around the world for a reason. Happy eating.
Auntie Kit’s Premium Chilli Oil – $7.99 for a 250-millilitre jar
Auntie Kit’s chilli oil is Gordon Tan’s ode to his mum, Kit. “My mum took time off her career to raise me, and a big part of that job was cooking,” he says. “Doing this chilli oil with her is my way of saying thank you.”
Tan thought his mum’s chilli oil was good enough to sell, so the pair spent Melbourne lockdown tweaking the recipe for a commercial audience.
Auntie Kit (as she’s called) is strict about what goes into her base recipe. Only fresh ingredients such as coriander, spring onions, garlic, ginger, bird’s-eye chillies and premium Sichuan peppercorns are used. “She’s very structured with her ingredients, but when it comes to flavour tuning, salt and final touches, she’s more open to suggestions,” he says.
The result is a flavourful oil with a delicate sweetness that Tan says goes with everything: hot pot, noodles, rice, grilled meats – even bread.
Kowloon Chilli Co Sichuan Chilli Oil – $12 for a 230-gram jar
The chilli oil that eventually became Kowloon Chilli Co’s flagship product started in lockdown, when Sydney chef Patrick Friesen was on parental leave with his infant son. “I was cooking a lot of dumplings at the beginning of lockdown and I wanted chilli oil to go with them,” he says.
The recipe is based on Friesen’s days at Queen Chow, where a chef from Chengdu in Sichuan taught him to make the tingly, more-ish oil.
Take a squiz in the jar and it looks like a simple concoction – roughly chopped chillies floating in a blush-hued, golden oil – but a lot goes into perfecting the flavour. Friesen uses ginger, garlic, green shallots and plenty of spices: fennel seeds, star anise, cassia bark, Chinese cardamom. Added to those ingredients are dried chillies, sesame seeds, black beans and Sichuan peppercorns for a mouth-numbing tingle.
Friesen says his oil helps enhance any dish. “Even if someone makes average dumplings, with a bit of chilli oil, all of a sudden they’re very delicious.”
Chotto Motto Crispy Chilli Oil – $18.50 for a 212-millilitre jar
Chotto Motto has been selling chilli oil at its Melbourne gyoza shop since July last year, but sales really took off during the pandemic. “Chilli oil helped the business get through lockdown. We sold over 3000 jars,” says co-owner Dylan Jones.
Jones recently added Super Crunch Chilli Oil to the line-up (it’s made with fresh, deep-fried garlic and onion), and Chotto Motto is working on a spice-free black garlic oil that adds plenty of umami.
Chotto Motto’s oil owes its unique flavour to tochi – salty, chewy fermented black beans. Unlike those chilli oils based on Chinese recipes, Chotto Motto’s has no Sichuan peppercorns, and the spice level is mild. “We wanted to make it approachable for everyone,” Jones says. “I’m not a crazy spice person, and I think it’s just right.”
Bomb Ass Chilli Oil – $12.99 for a 270-millilitre jar
Huong Doan only makes one thing: Bomb Ass Chilli Oil or “BACO”, which is so tasty you’ll be looking for any excuse to eat more of it. “It takes a couple of days to infuse the oil and get the aromatics and the full flavour of all the ingredients,” says Doan.
Doan calls BACO an all-rounder. “When I ate an Asian chilli oil on pasta or pizza, it didn’t go well. I wanted to make something that was versatile that could go with any kind of food.”
She also wanted to make sure that people could comfortably eat all the ingredients in the oil, especially the chillies. “The best part of chilli oil is eating the bits. But if I put in something like habanero chillies, they would be too spicy and people might be afraid to eat them. If you’re not eating the bits, you’re not getting the full experience.”
Saucy Wench Chilli Oil – $10 for a 250-millilitre jar
Three years ago, Lisa Liu and her neighbours found themselves facing a flood in their creekside Brisbane suburb. “Our power got cut off, so my neighbours came around with all their food. I cooked up some things for dinner on my gas stove and jarred up the rest for them to take home.”
Liu’s neighbours were impressed at the variety of sauces she created, and nicknamed her the Saucy Wench. She began a side hustle and eventually quit her job as an architect to sell sauces, dumplings and a chilli oil based on her grandma’s Malay-Chinese recipe.
“With Chinese chilli oil, they traditionally fry the aromatics then add sesame seeds. My grandma had 11 kids and had to stretch things further. She’d add the onion and garlic that’s prevalent in Malaysian cooking, and instead of sesame, she threw in peanuts.”
The result is a chunky chill oil with notes of sweetness from onion and garlic, and a lingering burn from Sichuan peppercorns. Liu says it’s important for a chilli oil not to overwhelm a dish. “The flavours should hit you first, and the burn of the chilli should come after and linger.”
And the label? A cute play on the Lao Gan Ma one.
Ronin Chilli – $20 for a 270-millilitre jar, or $15 a month for subscribers
The only chilli oil on this list available for subscription, this one hits you with as much crunch as it does spice.
It’s by Danny Ronin, a former online video producer, who starts with onion and garlic, fried until crisp in oil infused with spring onion. Then he adds chilli, gluten-free soy sauce, sesame seeds, smashed up peanuts and mushroom powder. Slow-burn heat comes thanks to Sichuan peppercorns and white pepper, and a little star anise adds sweetness.
Add it to fried rice or soups, fry some eggs in it, or smear it on the inside of a cheese toastie before grilling for a delightfully red-tinged cheesy ooze.
Lao Gan Ma – $4 for a 280-gram jar
If small-batch chilli oils are at one end of the spectrum, then Lao Gan Ma is at the other. “Lao Gan Ma is one of the best chilli oils,” says Danny Fu of Season’s Fruit Market in Sydney’s Chinatown. “It’s definitely the most popular one in the world. Every single one of my friends, aunties and uncles has a jar in their fridge,” says Fu.
Lao Gan Ma, which translates to “old godmother”, was started by a widowed Chinese woman looking for a way to support her family.
“She opened a noodle shop and served her noodles with this homemade chilli oil. Over time she realised people liked the chilli oil more than the noodles. Even neighbouring shops in the area were using her oil. Eventually she closed the noodle shop and turned it into a little sauce factory. From there it grew and she’s been on the Forbes rich list as one of the wealthiest women in China,” he says.
The Lao Gan Ma range is extensive. Varieties include original, chilli crisp oil, black bean, diced chicken, and pork chilli oil. “My favourite is chilli crisp. It has a bit more texture with the fried bits. I add it to everything: rice, noodles, egg. It just makes everything tastier, gives it umami. It can even save a bland dish.”