Taste Test: The Best Chili Garlic Oils

From Lee Kum Kee to Lao Gan Ma, you should have all of these chili garlic oils in your pantry.

If condiments wake up our taste buds, chili garlic oil punches them in the face with fire and flavor. This feisty, oftentimes spicy condiment adds fireworks to everything from siomai to stir-fried noodles to fried chicken. It’s a fun alternative to the typical hot sauce, bringing not just heat, but new dimensions of flavor and texture, too.

We decided to take our taste buds on a little adventure with this test, expecting nothing but endless, scorching heat on our minds. Do all chili garlic oils taste the same? Which ones are spicier than the rest? Which brands taste more than just fire and garlic? What we unearthed surprised us!

What is chili garlic oil?

Chili garlic oil is a variant of chili oil, which originated in China during the Ming Dynasty. Whole chilis brought over from Latin America were originally preserved by being soaked in rapeseed oil. This mixture eventually developed into the chili oil we know today, which utilizes other neutral oils (like vegetable oil) and finer chili flakes.

In the Philippines, chili garlic oil is often served as a condiment in Chinese restaurants and siomai kiosks. You’re encouraged to mix it with soy sauce and a squeeze of calamansi, forming an all-purpose dimsum sawsawan.

How we tested

We purchased eight brands of locally available chili garlic oils, prioritizing the ones with wide distribution and brand familiarity. Each chili garlic oil was sampled on its own, over rice, and with dumplings and vegetables.

Testers evaluated each brand based on the following criteria:

  • Spice Rush: When tasted, how soon does the spiciness hit the tongue?
  • Spice to Garlic Ratio: The ratio of garlic to chili in the oil. How does this affect the overall texture, aroma, and flavor of the oil?
  • Potency: How long does the heat linger on the tongue after eating?

We sorted our picks based on what we found was their best use. If we find other chili garlic oils that we love in the future, we'll add it to this list!

Best in Texture

We got our jar of S&B from Mitsukoshi's grocery.

Our Pick: S&B Crunchy Garlic with Chili Oil

S&B’s Crunchy Garlic with Chili Oil combines two great things in one: crunchy garlic texture and a bright, welcoming flavor that makes a great introduction to the flavor-filled world of chili garlic oil. It’s an example of taberu rayu, a Japanese condiment meaning “chili oil for eating”. This low-heat, high-texture condiment features chunks of savory, crunchy stuff like fried onions, crushed almonds, sesame seeds, and (of course) fried garlic.

S&B doesn’t push beginners straight into fire; in fact, we detected no heat whatsoever. Instead, a delicious umami serves as its prominent flavor profile. Try it with your rice meals and pasta. S&B recommends it over everything, even sushi!

S&B Crunchy Garlic with Chili Oil
Spice RushNone
Spice-Garlic RatioGarlic-heavy
Made inJapan
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