DIY Mala Hotpot Scented Candle | Zoe Yang


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For the Hotpot Lovers in Your Life

I have never been a candle person. I truly don’t know who all these people are who happily pay $35, $80, $200 for something that goes up in flames (I write, happily paying $25, $80, $200 and more for oh-so ephemeral edible pleasures. Go figure). But that was before I came across the most perfect—PERFECT—item: the hotpot-scented candle.

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Behold! How it looks just like 火锅底 (huǒguō dǐ)/hotpot base, with the chili oil layer on the bottom and the beef tallow layer on top and spices peeking through. Consider! How the process of making a hotpot-scented candle is actually incredibly similar to making a hotpot base. Imagine! Your rooms magically filling up with the cozy savory smell of hotpot, at! any! time! I would have paid a LOT of money for this candle but alas, I couldn’t.

This impeccable objet d’art comes to us from 小龙坎 Xiaolongkan (anglicized as Shoo Loong Kan in the U.S.), one of the most well-known hotpot restaurant brands in China. Back in 2019, Xiaolongkan entered into a partnership with Alipay, and the candles were part of a brief giveaway promotion in mainland China. The candles were never sold—which seems like a HUGE missed opportunity—and I could find neither secondhands nor knock-offs for sale either. It may be the only time Taobao and Aliexpress have ever let me down.

The DIY hotpot scented candle approach

The only solution was to make it myself.

I’m happy to report—again, as a complete candle n00b—that it’s all very straightforward. If you already make your own hotpot base with beef tallow, you know that the idea is just to get as much flavor infused into the fat as possible, and then let it solidify at room temperature. Wax, obviously, is also solid at room temperature, and the only difference is that because you don’t actually want to burn bits of herbs and spices, you have to strain your infused oil before using it to “flavor” the wax.

I use vegetable oil in this recipe (in fact, the whole recipe is vegan), and the end result still smells uncannily meaty, but you could even use beef tallow to make the fragrance oil.

filled hotpot scented candles
Smooth over any cracks from setting the spices with spoonfuls of reserved wax and let cure for three days before lighting

The recipe fills 12 6-ounce hotpot-scented candle jars with wicks, and you can scale either the batch size or the candle size using some rules of thumb:

  1. 1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
  2. Dry soy wax is double the volume of melted soy wax by weight, so 2 cups of dry soy wax will melt down into 1 cup of liquid wax
  3. Aim for 1 tablespoon of fragrance oil per cup of melted wax
  4. Different dyes have different saturations, but in general, soy wax will look more pastel as it dries. My first couple of batches turned out sherbert-hued. To achieve the vivid colors of hotpot, make sure that the dyed melted wax is completely saturated by inspecting a spoonful of wax—the color should look bright right up to the rim. Avoid neon dyes.
  5. Use as little oil as possible when making fragrance oil! Most candle oils are made industrially in order to pack in the scent, so our natural process also needs to mimic that. Pack the aromatics in, barely cover them in oil, and squeeze out every last drop when straining.

I’m still not a candle person, but I LOVE my homemade hotpot candles. They land in that gifting sweet spot, right in the middle of the Venn Diagram of sweet, unique and utterly deranged. Apologies in advance to all my friends, who will be receiving these candles as hostess gifts, housewarming gifts, prank gifts, stocking stuffers and oversize 红包 (hóngbāo) for years to come.

hotpot scented candle

hotpot scented candle being lit
I use vegetable oil in this recipe (in fact, the whole recipe is vegan), and the end result still smells uncannily meaty, but you could even use beef tallow to make the fragrance oil.

If you’re looking for an edible hotpot base recipe, try Taylor’s DIY Mala Hotpot broth for our favorite spicy tallow option and Michelle Zhao’s Yunnan Mushroom Hotpot recipe for a great non-spicy chicken-based broth!

DIY Mala Hotpot Scented Candle | Zoe Yang

By: Zoe Yang | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking
Yield: 12 candles


  • 5 pounds soy wax, divided
  • 12 6-ounce candle jars, lidded
  • 12 candle wicks
  • wick stickers optional
  • sticker labels
  • red, yellow and orange wax dyes


For the fragrance oil

  • 4-5 thick slices ginger
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole scallions, roughly chopped
  • 2 shallots OR ¼ red onion, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon whole red huajiao (Sichuan pepper)
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 whole star anise
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick
  • 5 pieces dried tangerine peel
  • 2 whole black cardamom pods
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3-5 whole dried shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ cup dried red chilies (erjingtiao or chaotianjiao/zidantou preferred)
  • vegetable oil just enough to cover
  • ¼ cup Pixian doubanjiang (fermented broad bean paste)

For the candles


  • Pack a small saucepan with all aromatics and spices (suggested quantities above) EXCEPT the Pixian douban, and add just enough vegetable oil to barely cover (approx. 1½ cups). Turn heat to medium and bring the oil to a soft bubbling, then turn heat to low to let everything infuse slowly, until all the moisture has been cooked out of the fresh ingredients and the alliums are golden brown, 30-40 minutes. Add the ¼ cup of Pixian douban and cook for 5 more minutes, then turn off the heat.
    Let the oil cool. Pour everything into a non-reactive container, tamp and cover. Refrigerate to continue cold infusion for up to a week.
  • When you’re ready to make candles, set a bowl in a pot of water to create a double boiler. Measure out 10 cups of soy wax (just short of 2 1/4 pounds) into the bowl and turn heat to high. While the wax is melting, set out candle jars and center the wicks using wick centering tools or strips of tape. Sieve the infused fragrance oil into a bowl.
  • When wax has completely melted, blend in 1½ teaspoons of red dye, 1 teaspoon orange dye and ½ teaspoon yellow dye. Adjust dyes as needed—the shade you are going for in the base layer is the red-orange of fresh chili oil. The color should look very saturated, since the color will become more pastel as the wax dries.
  • If you don’t have wick stickers, use a spoon to pour 1 spoonful of melted wax into the bottom of each candle over the wick, in order to affix the wick in place. Turn off the heat, then add 10 tablespoons of the fragrance oil to the wax—one for each cup of wax—and mix gently. Next, using a funnel and ladle, fill each candle jar about ⅔ full, dividing the wax evenly between all the jars. Try to minimize drips on the sides of the jar. Let the base layer harden, about 1 hour.
  • As the base layer hardens, melt another 5 cups of wax in the double boiler. When wax is fully melted, add 1 teaspoon yellow dye and ⅛ teaspoon orange dye and mix. This time, the shade you are aiming for is the deep marigold of congealed fat tinted by chili oil. When you are happy with the color, turn off the heat and stir in 5 tablespoons of fragrance oil.
  • Use the funnel and ladle to pour the yellow wax over the hardened red wax in the jars, leaving at least 1 cm of space at the top for decoration. Reserve a small amount of melted wax to correct any blemishes at the end.
  • Let the wax harden for 30-50 minutes, checking every 10 minutes. When wax is solid but still a little soft, trim the wicks so that they are flush with the top of the candle jar. Select nice-looking whole spices like chilies, star anise, coriander and Sichuan peppercorns and embed them in the surface of the candle. Leave space around the wick, as you don’t actually want the spices to burn.
    The surface may crack or buckle as you push the spices in. This can be fixed by spooning a little more of the reserved melted wax on top (though not directly on top of large spices) to re-smooth the surface.
  • When the wax is hard, buff off any candle drips with a paper towel dipped in vinegar. Add candle labels, cover candles with their lids, and let them sit for 3 days to cure before lighting.


Dried erjingtiao and zidantou chilies are used for their fragrance and coloring in Sichuan and suit this base oil recipe exceptionally well, but you can use any dried chilies (including ground chilies) you may have on hand.

Tried this recipe?

About Zoe Yang and Iris Zhao

Zoe Yang is a Brooklyn-based writer and recipe developer. She was born, raised and culinarily trained in Nanjing, China. Iris Zhao, her mother, is a retired schoolteacher living in Boston who immigrated from Nanjing in the ’90s. Iris taught herself how to make a lot of Jiangnan classics—even the difficult ones—from scratch when she landed Stateside, and she passed that love of culinary discovery on to Zoe. Together they are sharing mother-daughter recipes from southeast China for The Mala Market. Zoe’s recipes and writing can also be found on Bon Appetit, and her personal site:

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  1. I was all geared up to buy one for me and one for my mom before I realized it was DIY only. (I’ll DIY the hotpot itself, but probably not the candle.) Still fun to read about!

  2. Kudos to the author for sharing their expertise on creating a Mala Hotpot Scented Candle, making it accessible and engaging for readers with a passion for DIY projects.