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What is Chili Oil?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chile or chili oil is a spicy oil infusion made by adding chili flakes or whole dried chilies to an oil such as vegetable or olive oil. It is often used as a condiment, especially in Asian cuisine, and it can also be used as the base for a sauce or sautéed dish. Many grocers carry this oil, especially in the Asian or specialty foods aisles. It can also easily be made at home.

All oils do better if they are refrigerated after opening. Refrigeration prevents oils from going rancid as quickly. Chili oil from the store is designed to be shelf stable for several months, but refrigeration will prolong its life. When making chili oil at home, it should always be refrigerated, as most home cooks lack stabilizers which will keep the chilies in the oil from molding.

When used as a condiment, chili oil generally enhances the spiciness of a dish it is used on. When different people have varying heat tolerances, this oil can be an excellent way to avoid disputes, since it allows each diner to season to taste. Many Asian restaurants have small dishes of chili oil on the table, or can provide it when requested. When used as a base, this oil will greatly enhance the spiciness of a dish, since the temperatures of cooking will bring out the heat.

Many kinds of oil are used to make chili oil. Olive and vegetable are two common choices, but it can also be made with oils such as canola, sunflower seed, sesame, and avocado. Some oils have a low smoking point, and should be used in a cold infusion. Heating these oils should also be avoided, if possible.

To make chili oil at home, cooks can make a hot or cold infusion. In either case, the bottle that the oil will be held in should be boiled and allowed to dry completely, to make it as sterile as possible. In the instance of a cold infusion, whole or crushed dried chilies can be put into the bottle along with the oil.

The bottle should be refrigerated for at least a month before opening, with a longer waiting period creating a richer flavor. Hot infusions are made by heating oil and chilies together and pouring the mixture into a bottle, which is usually refrigerated. In the case of a hot infusion, the oil can be strained, or the chilies can be left in so that the infusion will grow hotter as it sits.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon105689 — On Aug 22, 2010

Art, I usually see this product called chili oil, but the word "chile" is also used for the actually fruit off the plant and some sauces made from it. (In my state, "Chile" refers to Hatch chilies rather than other types like jalapeños or poblanos.)

The name of the country Chile doesn't have to same linguistic root, but as far as the plants go, there are several ways to spell it. Here's to nitpicking without knowing about the subject!

Anyway, I was hoping the article would have more information on what dishes chili oil is traditionally used for, but I think I can make some myself so I won't have to worry about what kind of oil was used.

By anon94278 — On Jul 07, 2010

The big problem is, when buying a product containing "chili oil", is it a healthy oil like olive oil or sesame oil, or is it a dangerous oil like cottonseed oil or some other processed oil containing dangerous trans fats?

By shallman — On May 03, 2009

The plant is (usually) capsicum.

By anon18694 — On Sep 27, 2008

Chile oil? The plant is called "chili" and the country is called "Chile". I suppose chili oil has nothing much to do with the country of Chile. Happy cooking -Art

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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