We normally create articles about a generic ingredient and then recommend brands to try within that category, so you won’t find a specific brand of sauce in our Ingredients Glossary very often. In this case, though, we’re making an exception for Lao Gan Ma chili sauces, which are staples in our kitchen and are used in a number of our favorite dishes.
WHAT IS LAO GAN MA CHILI SAUCE?
Known as “ancient godmother” in English, Lao Gan Ma is a popular brand of chili sauce. The company was founded by Tao Huabi in 1997 in the Chinese province of Guizhou. The woman in the photo is the identical one that appears on the package!
She came from a low-income family in a small mountain community, so she never had the opportunity to learn to read or write. After losing her spouse and providing for her two children after only a few years of marriage, she started a noodle shop.
Famous for the unique chili sauce she provided with her noodles, she eventually opened her own sauce factory and amassed a fortune that allowed her to retire at the age of thirty-five.
Although the company makes a wide selection of chili sauces, Sarah’s Simple, Spicy Pan fried Noodles, and the Thai Basil Shrimp Fried Rice both include the brand’s Spicy Chili Crisp Sauce.
Many of our American friends who enjoy good food are familiar with Lao Gan Ma sauces and know how popular they are outside China.
IS THERE A VARIETY?
There have been many iterations of Lao Gan Ma goods throughout the years, but we’ve identified three that consistently outperform the rest. Each of us has a favorite!
LAO GAN MA CHILI OIL WITH BLACK BEAN:
This was our first experience with Lao Gan Ma sauces, and it also happens to be our family’s favorite chili sauce. All those umami tastes from the chilies, and canned black beans are incredible. It’s still one of our go-to bottled condiments for slathering on everything.
LAO GAN MA SPICY CHILI CRISP:
When it comes to exports, LAO GAN MA SPICY CHILI CRISP is undoubtedly the most sought-after Lao Gan Ma snack. There are onions, garlic, and chili peppers included. The “crisp” quality of the sauce is undeniable.
LAO GAN MA HOT CHILI SAUCE:
One of the more interesting flavors from this brand is found in LAO GAN MA HOT CHILI SAUCE. Its signature ingredients—chili, peanut, fried beancurd, and preserved root vegetable (the label claims it’s rutabaga)—combine to provide a sauce with a satisfying crunch and a deep, savory flavor.
HOW IS IT USED?
The amount of praise we have for this sauce is practically inexhaustible. The locals refer to it fondly as “woman sauce.” When we saw that the same severe-looking woman appeared on each bottle, we dubbed them “The Jar Lady.”
Every meal in the Woks of Life household includes this sauce. Our go-to dipping sauce for noodle dishes, including fried rice, stir-fried noodles, pan-fried noodles, noodle soups, and dumplings, is a chili sauce made with black beans.
PURCHASING AND STORING
These spicy condiments are stocked in any store that stocks Chinese pantry staples. It’s also sold by a number of online retailers, though at a premium compared to in-store costs (as is the case with most Chinese-branded items sold on Amazon).
Put opened sauces in the fridge and only use clean tools to handle them. Our testing shows that it can be stored for up to six months in the fridge without going bad. The truth is, though, that it never lasts very long.
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