Chinese condiment brand Lao Gan Ma
is perhaps the most well-known of the chilli crisp oil producers and is often credited with popularising the concept in the Western world. Its hero product, Spicy Chilli Crisp
, contains 'prickly ash powder' - namely a powdered version of the shrub that produces Sichuan peppercorns (delivering that same numbing sensation).
Crunchy, hot and packed with umami; Lao Gan Ma paved the way for a number of artisan brands to emerge over the past few years, tapping rising interest from consumers in complex, spicy flavour experiences, with a touch of adventure.
The chilli crisp oil craze hit real heights at the tail end of the last decade, and while not all iterations contained the mouth-numbing qualities of Sichuan peppercorns, arguably the standout entry into the category was US-based Fly By Jing
and its "hot, spicy, crispy, numbing and deliciously savory", Sichuan Chili Crisp.
After launching in 2018 (following a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign
), Fly By Jing's Sichuan Chili Crisp skyrocketed in popularity across the US, becoming a pantry staple for lockdown home cooks. Applications were limitless as consumers became hooked on the magic of Mala, with popcorn, fried chicken, salads, fried eggs, and even vanilla ice cream eagerly doused with the tongue-tingling, crunchy hot sauce.
And, in the summer of last year, Shake Shake teamed up with Fly By Jing to launch the UK-exclusive Chili Crisp menu
, marking the latter's UK market entry. The menu was led by the Chili Crisp Chicken, a chicken burger glazed with Fly By Jing's Sichuan Chilli Crisp, with Chili Crisp Chicken Bites with spring onion mayo, and Chili Crisp Cheese Fries topped with Shack cheese sauce and spicy Sichuan Chili Crisp also part of the lineup.
Then there's Fly by Jing's mala spice mix
, which is also among its most popular products, with the "warm, versatile, numbing' seasoning made with 11 potent herbs and spices, including Erjingtiao chilli and the prized “Tribute” Sichuan pepper.
Now, in 2023, mala flavour innovation is beginning to emerge in both the UK and US, with Sichuan peppercorns' uniquely tongue-tingling qualities opening up new avenues for creative product development.