Sichuan cuisine is renowned for its bold and spicy flavors, and dried chilies (干辣椒, gānlàjiāo) play a crucial role in achieving that characteristic heat, depth and flavor in a variety of dishes. Different chilies are specialized for different purposes and are used both whole and ground. Each chili has a unique level of spiciness, flavor and aroma. At a wholesale market in Chengdu, you’ll see a dozen or more types of chilies for sale, but the four most popular—zidantou, erjingtiao, denglongjiao and xiaomila—cover the spectrum of flavor and heat. You can simply mix and match them according to your own preferences and heat tolerance.

While these are the most popular chilies used in Sichuan cooking, most of them are grown in Guizhou province, which produces China’s best chilies due to both its climate and its abundance of farmland far from industrialized cities. Always look for dried chilies that are vibrant, fragrant and soft—a sign of freshness and full flavor. (Brittle, fading and discolored chilies may be several years old.)

Erjingtiao Chilies

Erjingtiao is Sichuan’s most-loved chili. It is used both fresh and dried, in both its green and red forms, in everything from stir-fries to braises to chili oil. These sun-dried erjingtiao are 4 to 5 inches long, and soft and pliable—a sign of freshness and full flavor. Erjingtiao is prized for its deep-red color and robust fragrance and is frequently used as one of the chilis in chili oil for that reason. It has a fruity, mild-to-moderate heat.

In its fresh form, erjingtiao is used to make fermented chili bean paste (doubanjiang) and pickled chilies for cooking.

er jing tiao chili

Zidantou Chaotianjiao Chilies

Chaotianjiao, or facing heaven chilies, are so called because they grow upward toward the sky. There are many types of facing heaven chilies, but these zidantou, or bullet head, chilies are the most popular in Chengdu nowadays. They are 1.5 inch to 2.5 inches in length. Facing heaven zidantou chilies are vivid-red, medium-hot, and used for spicing up many Sichuan dishes, since they can be used in abundance.

zidantou facing heaven chili

Denglongjiao Chilies

Denglongjiao, or lantern chilies, are fat and round and mildly spicy. These are deep-red, fresh and fragrant. They are used to bring a visual wow to dishes such as dry pot and Chongqing chicken (laziji). Some Sichuan chefs, such as video star Chef Wang, use them in their mix of chilies for chili oils. Its strong pigmentation goes a long way in coloring red oil. Denglongjiao are particularly well-suited for high-heat wok searing and the “scorched” aroma it brings out.

denglongjiao lantern chilies

Xiaomila Chilies

Xiaomila chilies are the smallest and hottest of our dried peppers. Very popular in Sichuan, xiaomila brings the heat for those who want their Sichuan classics extra spicy and is often the chili used in mala hot pot. It is also the chili of choice in Yunnan and other southern provinces. About 1 inch long, xiaomila is similar in heat to other peppers that size—though not as hot as tiny Thai peppers. (Chinese cookbooks may call for “Thai” chilies, but what is used in southern China is actually xiaomila, a similar variety grown there.)

xiaomila chilies

Recipes Using Chaotianjiao “Facing Heaven” Chilies

Making Sichuan Pickled Peppers (Paojiao, 泡椒)

Our Pick for Pickled Peppers Many of you have asked us to source paojiao (泡椒, pàojiāo), the pickled hot peppers or pepper paste used in numerous Sichuan dishes. Some of you just want a lighter touch than doubanjiang, the funky Sichuan base sauce that is made from a combination of fermented chiles and broad beans and is the go-to for…

What Are the Best Sichuan Ground Chilies? 

In Sichuan, chili oil is made from one or more kinds of whole dried chilies that are first fried or roasted until crisp and then pounded in a large mortar and pestle before they are combined with hot oil. All four types of chilies discussed above are used to make chili oil and mixed according to their specific characteristics and the maker’s own recipe.

Erjingtiao (二荆条, èrjīngtiáo): Low spiciness, strong fragrance, very strong coloring ability

Denglongjiao (灯笼椒, dēnglóngjiāo): Low spiciness, strong fragrance, strong coloring ability

Zidantou (子弹头, zǐdàntóu): Moderate spiciness, moderate fragrance, strong coloring ability

Xiaomila (小米辣, xiǎomǐlà): High spiciness, weak fragrance, weak coloring ability

Don’t be tempted to substitute chili flakes from other countries. Most are crushed instead of ground and do not include powder; they are not toasted before being ground; and they are often either too mild (Italian and Korean) or too hot (Thai) for Sichuan chili oil and cuisine.

Fragrant Hot Ground Chilies

You can make your own ground chilies using a combination of the whole chilies we carry, or enjoy our shortcut. These chilies have already been toasted in rapeseed oil and then ground into a perfect mix of flakes, powder and seeds for use in chili oil or for addition to dishes such as hotpot and drypot. 

Our xiangla ground chilies are a mix of erjingtiao, zidantou and xiaomila. This combo is called xiangla, or fragrant hot, because it puts as much emphasis on flavor and fragrance as it does on heat. It produces a deep-red, moderately hot chili oil (làjiāoyóu/hóngyóu), a basic pantry essential used in abundance to dress “liángbàn” cold salads, noodles, dumplings, wontons and more.

Use xiangla ground chilies in any Chinese recipe that calls for chili flakes.

Sichuan ground chilies

Aromatic Sichuan Chili Oil (Xiangla Hongyou, 香辣红油)

Lajiaoyou the Mainland Sichuan Way, ft. Caiziyou (Pt. 2) Picture this: You’re making your own aromatic Sichuan chili oil at home. The first whiffs of five-spice and scallion-infused caiziyou in this aromatic 辣椒油 (làjiāoyóu)/chili oil bring you right back to your happy place, every time—the one where you’re shoveling down yesterday’s leftovers with an onslaught of 红油 (hóngyóu), literally “red oil,”…

Why DIY Chili Oil Is Best

Manufactured chili crisp cannot compare with homemade.

So The Mala Market has bundled the hard-to-source ingredients that are must-haves for mala chili crisp into a kit that includes caiziyou, Sichuan’s favorite, toasty oil; the perfect, moderately hot blend of three Guizhou chilies; our super fragrant and numbing Sichuan pepper; whole five spice; and Sichuan-style fermented black beans. All in large, full-size products. You’ll just add easily sourced aromatics and nuts to create your own unique crisp.

The kit also includes our well-researched and -tested chili oil/chili crisp recipe and our favorite jar for storing it.

DIY chili crisp kit

Cooking and Storage Tips

Dried whole or ground chilies should be stored in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Pantry pests are particularly fond of chilies, and our chilies contain no additives, preservatives or pesticides, so freezing is also a good option for longterm storage.

Remember to handle dried chilies with caution, as they can be quite spicy and may irritate the skin or eyes. Avoid touching your face or eyes after handling chilies, and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

  • Adjusting heat: The spiciness of dried chilies can vary, so you’re able to adjust the amount and variety used according to your tolerance and desired heat level of the dish. Start with fewer and add more as needed. You can always increase the heat, but reducing it once added is more challenging.
  • Removing seeds and membranes: If you prefer milder heat, either keep chilies whole or scrape out the seeds and membranes from the dried chilies before using. These parts contain much of the chili’s spiciness. For more heat, snip chilies in sections to expose seeds.
  • Soaking dried chilies: Some recipes may call for soaking dried chilies before use. To do this, soak the chilies in lukewarm water for about 15-20 minutes. Drain the water and use the soaked chilies as directed in the recipe. Soaking can help prevent scorching during stir-frying.
  • Dry roasting: Dry roasting dried chilies can enhance their flavor before using them in recipes. Heat a dry skillet over low to medium heat and add the whole chilies. Toast them gently, turning occasionally, until they become fragrant and slightly blistered. Be cautious not to burn them. This process adds depth and smokiness to the chilies.
  • Infusing oil: Dried chilies are often used to infuse oil with their spicy flavor while stir-frying. Heat oil in a pan or wok over medium heat, add whole or ground dried chilies, and stir-fry them until they become aromatic and the oil takes on the chili’s heat. Continue with the recipe as directed.

Love Chilies? Get the Sichuan Dried Chili Collection

Chinese chili collection

Chilies are the là to Sichuan pepper’s má in Sichuan cooking, and Chinese cooks know the best Chinese chilies are grown in Guizhou province, which has the ideal temperatures and climate and wide swaths of land far from big-city pollution. We import the Guizhou chili varieties that are most popular in Sichuan and represent a range of shapes and heat levels. 

In Sichuan, chilies are chosen according to their properties and functions, with valued characteristics beyond heat. This collection includes one full-size bag of each variety (erjingtiao, zidantou, xiaomila, denglongjiao).

Use any of the chilies in stir-fries and braises, or mix and match to make your ideal ground chili blend for chili oil and chili crisp!

All How to Cook With Dried Chilies