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Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp

photo:   Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp food/drink

A crunchy, mildly spicy savory condiment that can be used in just about any savory meal without taking on low calorie density weight.

Pros

  • Mild spicy chili flavor with umami and crunch
  • Great with trail burritos, mac and cheese, ramen, you name it
  • High calorie density (7cal/g)

Cons

  • Contains MSG (if you're phobic about that)
  • Must be packed in oil-tight container
  • Addictive!

Lao-Gan-Ma.jpgTrail burritos? Absolutely! One pot mac and cheese? Yes, please! Freeze-dried chili and beans in the pouch? Why not? Just plain ramen, with or without the little flavor packet? Now we’re talking…

Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp can spice up and add a little crunch to just about any meal, without any real weight penalty. It’s mainly chili peppers fried in soybean oil until crispy, with (according to the label), fermented black beans, salt, Szichuan pepper corns, some indetectable sugar, and a mysterious “flavor enhancer”, which turns out to be good old MSG*.  The oil picks up all the flavors, and all the bits add crunch.

Because it’s packed in oil, LGM Chili Crisp has a higher calorie density, 7 cal/g, than most of the meals you might embellish with it, so in addition to flavor every spoonful adds a little calorie kick, well worth its weight in the backpack. Just repackage it carefully because oils have a tendency to leak. It doesn't need to be refrigerated after opening, and so should last the duration of most trips or even survive shipping to a resupply point. Neither I nor my more sensitive wife find it to be objectionably hot-spicy when used in moderation.

One of the better uses of Laoganma might be spooning it over the business end of a hot burrito. It’s impractical to carry salsa on anything much longer than a weekender, but otherwise easy to whip up trail burritos with fast rehydrating beans, cheese, and other light ingredients. But what’s a burrito without salsa?

IMG_2804.jpg
Tuna P. Wiggle + Laoganma = Yummy!

I have to confess I am becoming addicted to this stuff. I try to use it sparingly, but I could easily consume half a jar with a burrito or two, or at least a quarter jar with our favorite Tuna P. Wiggle – box macaroni and cheese with freeze-dried peas and tuna. I’m not the only one. Spicy chili crisps seem to have been “discovered” during the pandemic years, with other varieties and make-your-own recipes swirling around the internet, some with garlic and a wide variety of other spices. Trader Joe’s offers its Chili Onion Crunch version – I’d love to try it, but we don’t have “Kjøpmann Josef” in Norway.

Laoganma has a US web site that offers a number of other chili-based condiments, but this is the only one we have tried. It garners 4.5 to 5 star average ratings on Amazon. We get it at one of our local Asian markets, where we also go for powdered coconut cream, another ingredient with a high calorie density that can be used in trail Thai curries and some desserts. Who knows what other backpackable treasures are hiding on those crowded shelves?

*The sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the 20 essential amino acids found in all proteins, relatively abundant in meat, mushrooms, and fish and soy sauces, and responsible for the tongue-pleasing umami flavor. I add MSG to my homemade refried beans to fill out the flavor. MSG or one of the various spice mixes containing it might also be worthy backpacking condiments. 

Experience

We've been trying Laoganma at home and on the trail for a couple months now, after it was recommended as a condiment in an online recipe. I've been enjoying chili-incorporated foods my entire adult life, and have been experimenting with trail condiments more intensively during the last decade.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: About NOK60 = about $6;

About the Author

Rick Strimbeck is an American transplanted to Norway where he says he'll "never run out of mountains." He is a veteran backpacker and expert nordic and backcountry skier and in summer runs, hikes, kayaks, and canoes in Norway's mountains and fjords and elsewhere in Europe and the U.S. When he's not outside, he does research on Norway's trees and alpine plants and teaches as a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

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Price Current Retail: $13.98

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