Posted: November 24, 2021
Author: Ryan Kukuruzovic, Corporate Chef

Ryan has 20-plus years of R&D and foodservice experience. His focus is on the design and implementation of diverse and innovative culinary visions with the highest standards of excellence.

During exploration of Japanese cuisine in our latest Wixon Innovates research, we were anxious to find out more about their version of chili crisp. This spicy, crunchy, savory flavoring is used liberally in many Asian food cultures as a finishing oil. Imagine it drizzled over ramen, congee, roasted meat, or poached fish. 

As common as chili crisp oil is in Asia, here in the U.S., it’s only more recently started becoming popular. Food watchers in the know ascribe its popularity to the American love affair with heat – sweet heat, savory heat, well actually, almost any kind of heat. And because of the crispy bits in this condiment, it not only delivers heat, which can be both sweet and savory, but it also adds a textural component. This can make it an irresistible flavor booster for just about anything…in our research we found some people even like it as an ice cream topping.

Chinese detour

For the record, chili crisp oil is different than straight up chili oil. The former oil is laced with crispy inclusions, while the latter is not. Although chili crisp oil, has its roots in China, its taste profile can vary widely even in China. The base oil is generally rapeseed or canola – a mild flavored oil. And then there are chili flakes, but that’s where the commonality ends, and the flavor journey begins. 

The oil is infused with any number of ingredients, often fried, so they’re crunchy. Peppers, garlic, shallots, sesame seeds, anchovies, scallions, ginger, seaweed, aromatic spices, peanuts, mushrooms…as I mentioned earlier, the ingredient combinations are numerous. It’s all about the sensory experience of heat and texture. Many traditional Chinese chili crisp oils contain as one of their ingredients, ground Szechuan peppercorns, which offer notable heat with a numbing sensation referred to as, “mala” in Chinese.

Back to Japan

The primary difference from the Chinese-style chili crisp oil to the Japanese variation is fish or fish sauce. Ultimately, this point of difference is polarizing to Western consumers. The polarizing effect given the intensity of “fishy” flavor within the Chinese-style chili crisp narrows the consumer appeal and application range. In my experience, most avid cooks and professional culinarians alike recognize the flavor enhancing properties of fish sauce or anchovies (aka umami) when implemented into a dish at a low usage. Yet, the focus and objective as a product developer or chef boils down to creating products with universal appeal. 

Japanese chili crisp oils don’t usually contain fishy notes. The base flavor profile is more universally complementary to a variety of savory cooking applications. The Japanese varieties we evaluated during our innovation exploration contained a combination of chili pepper, fried garlic, fried onion, shoyu sauce, ground almonds, and MSG.  

Japanese chili crisp oil is rich and robust as a prominent flavor or alternatively, the ultimate accentuating dynamic amongst various other savory components within a dish.  And, with that as a flavor profile, we found it has a tremendous amount of application potential across many categories. From snacks, sauces, and dressings to breadings and batters, Japanese chili crisp is truly a unique yet versatile flavor to consider when developing across the expansive savory category. Please, feel free to reach out to us directly if interested in sampling Wixon’s very own, Japanese Crunchy Garlic Chili Crisp seasoning blend.