Making Sichuan Pickled Peppers (Paojiao, 泡椒)

Sichuan pickled peppers (pao la jiao)

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 most dishes. And some of you are looking for a gluten-free alternative to doubanjiang, whose fermentation is kickstarted with wheat (as are almost all fermented Chinese sauces).

Paojiao is used most famously in Sichuan’s yuxiang-flavored dishes—starting with yuxiang pork and yuxiang eggplant—as well as in cold dishes/salads, but can be used in place of chili bean paste in other dishes as well. You’ll lose some of the umami funk of the fermented beans, but you’ll retain the one-of-a-kind-fermented chili taste, since doubanjiang and paojiao are both made from Sichuan’s beloved erjingtiao chili. In the case of chili bean paste, erjingtiao are fermented along with broad (fava) beans in a dry salt brine, and for paojiao they are lightly pickled in a wet brine.

You don’t see these pickled peppers often in Asian markets outside Sichuan, and when you do they usually look pretty old and sad. You don’t often see them packaged for supermarkets in Chengdu either, but instead get them from the prepared-food section of the grocery store or, better yet, from the pickle woman at the wet market, since they are better when freshly pickled and are easily made if you have easy access to fresh erjingtiao.

Pickled erjingtiao

Pickled erjingtiao for sale at a supermarket in Chengdu

Minced pickled erjingtiao

Pickled erjingtiao is also sold already minced. (I wish I knew what that added ingredient is in this version. Any guesses?)

But we in the West do not have easy access to fresh erjingtiao or any similar chili. Erjingtiao are fruity, fragrant, thin-skinned, not too fleshy, and perfectly, moderately hot. They have a very appealing shape and texture as well as taste and are used in their green form in stir-fries year-round. When ripe red in the summer they are also pickled. But by pickled, I mean naturally preserved in the Sichuan style vs. quick-pickled with vinegar.

One of the things I’ve learned as a food importer is that low-acid (and “acidified” or acid-added) foods such as brined paojiao pickles are much more difficult to import than naturally high-acid foods. They require filing a lot more paperwork with the FDA, detailing the production process and chemical analysis, and Chinese manufacturers (other than a few canneries) are not interested in a lot more American paperwork. And, in my experience, these pickled peppers don’t have a super-long shelf-life anyway, so by the time they get off the boat here in America they are already pretty ragged. For those two reasons, The Mala Market is not planning to import them anytime soon.

So, what are we to do if we want to cook with Sichuan pickled peppers or paste, considering the poor quality of imports and the lack of an appropriate pepper to pickle ourselves? Well, we think we’ve found the best solution there is. We pickle our recently imported, freshly dried erjingtiao chilies. They come back to life wonderfully in the pickle jar and are very much like their cousins that have been pickled fresh. Plus, they retain the elusive erjingtiao taste and texture—which a fresh red cayenne, jalapeno or fresno chili cannot do.

Here we should mention that you can buy a Hunan-style minced pickled pepper in jars in the U.S., but it is made with a different chili and is way too hot for Sichuan cooking, not to mention normally has added MSG and preservatives.

So let’s make our own! Our brine recipe for Sichuan pickles (paocai) works like a charm with these, and since they are not meant to ferment until fully soured but only until mildly preserved and tinged with age, they are ready in three or so days. They will be mildly salty, though not as salty as doubanjiang, so if substituting in a recipe that calls for douban you might want to increase the amount of pickled chili.

Mince them with or without their seeds for use in sauces and you’ll get that super-red hue and wonderfully fruity, medium heat that erjingtiao are renowned for.

Dried erjingtiao chilies

Our current stock of erjingtiao is the wrinkled variety, but all erjingtiao are super red and moderately hot, with a thin skin that makes them ideal for pickling

Sichuan pickled peppers (paojiao)

Preserved in a salt brine, dried erjingtiao plump up nicely to resemble their fresh state

Sichuan pickled peppers (paojiao)

To make a pickled pepper paste, mince with a knife. To reduce the heat level, run your knife along the side of the chilies to scooch the seeds out first

Sichuan pickled peppers and green beans

I took the caps off the pickled erjingtiao and cut them into lengths for storage in this little pickle jar. I’ve found they store better and remain redder without their brine. The green beans were made separately with the same brine recipe. Both are always there and ready to go for stir-fries or noodles.

If you prefer to make a pickled chili sauce from fresh chilies, see my recipe for lajiaojiang. It cheats a little by using a bit of vinegar, because naturally fermenting fresh chilies requires a heavy dose of salt due to their high water content.

Sichuan Pickled Peppers (Paojiao)

This recipe makes enough brine for a quart/liter jar of peppers. Use this paojiao in recipes that call for a pickled pepper paste or as a gluten-free substitute for Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • dried erjingtiao chilies, enough to pack a quart/liter jar
  • 3 cups water
  • 40 grams kosher or sea salt (3-5 tablespoons, depending on type and brand)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gin, vodka or Chinese baijiu


  • Bring water to a boil, remove from heat, and add salt and sugar. Stir to dissolve. Let cool completely to room temperature, then stir in gin, vodka or Chinese baijiu.
  • Pack dried erjingtiao chilies in a quart/liter pickling jar and cover completely with the cooled brine. Make sure all chilies are submerged beneath the brine, weighting them down if necessary. Cover with lid and leave to ferment at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. You can ferment them longer, but they are not meant to be fully soured, just lightly preserved.
  • After fermentation period, pour off most of the brine or remove chilies to a clean glass jar with only a small bit of the brine. Seal tightly and refrigerate up to several months.


Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan's factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for heritage Sichuan ingredients and Chinese pantry essentials.

24 Responses

  1. EMF says:

    This is a fabulous idea! I’m trying it right away. I find I use pickled chilies more that the hot bean paste so this’ll be tested right away.

  2. Mike says:

    Nice! Seems easy and useful!

  3. Jud Ratliff says:

    I would love to grow jing tiao chilies! Do you know a source for jing tiao chili seeds?

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      I don’t know of any sources for seeds, but we’ve had a lot of customers successfully grow them with seeds from our chilies.

  4. Alfred Alarcon says:

    I love those jars that you have shown, I been searching for something like those but fail to find any like them, were they purchase here in the states? And if so could you mention where? For I’m looking to try pickle chile peppers.
    Thank you

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Alfred,
      The Wok Shop in San Francisco usually carries the glass pickle jars. Try their online store.

  5. John Noecker says:

    These look amazing. Just getting into Sichuan cooking and looking forward to trying all the recipes on your site!

    Recently had pickled peppers at a Sichuan restaurant and they used cherry peppers. Might be a good alternative when er jing tiao aren’t available.

  6. Hank Shaw says:

    Hey there,
    Can I ask why you pour off the brine? Seems that the chiles might get moldy over time without the protective brine. Is there harm in keeping the brine covering the peppers?

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Hi Hank,
      I usually pour off most of the brine because I find that the longer the chilies sit in it the more color they lose and softer they get. I have not had any of them without brine mold, though I can see how they might. I guess my brine had enough salt in it to begin with. Having said that, it’s probably a better bet to keep them in the brine for longterm storage.

  7. Daniel McGlynn says:

    Is it possible to pickle fresh green peppers? I planted some peppers this summer, I am not sure if they are Tien Tsin or Er Jing Tiao and unfortunately it got too cold before they all matured. If pickling them is not ideal is there a go to recipe for green peppers?

    • Kathy Yuan says:

      Hi Daniel,
      Yes, you can pickle fresh green peppers! We were in the same situation as you this summer, and I actually wrote a whole recipe making use of the green peppers in a traditional Sichuan condiment/topping that will be published in the near future. It may have to wait until after Lunar New Year, but if you sign up for our newsletter you’ll be the first to see it. Hope you bookmark it to try this summer with your next harvest!

      Sorry for the late reply, but hope this helps anyone else reading!

  8. Ben Suppe says:

    Just pickled some of the 二荆条 for the first time, turned out fantastic. I used about 7% brine for about five days. Just drained them – do you store uncovered at room temperature? Am sure will go through the first batch within a week or so.

    Also as a general comment I am so incredibly stoked to have discovered you guys, for the longest time have been trying to get something better than what I can find in your average Asian grocery or Ranch 99.

  9. Zuhairi says:

    Is it possible to make it without the addition of alcohol, to keep it halal? What other alternative might you suggest then?
    Thank you! Much appreciated

    • Hi Zuhairi. Apologies for the slow response, but, yes, I think you can just leave the alcohol out. It does help with deterring the formation of bad bacteria, but perhaps you could add a bit more salt to your brine. Not too much though, as they won’t ferment with too much salt. You may have to experiment.

  10. bobbie says:

    Took the last of my peppers and pickled them according to this recipe. They are delicious! There is no comparison between the quality of these dried peppers and others you can find online – Mala Market’s are the best.

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