There’s a good reason why Lao Gan Ma (老干妈 Old Godmother) has spread across the globe from a small town in Guizhou Province China. Tasting Lao Gan Ma provides an immediate sensory appeal with an electrifying mix of balanced heat, mixed with a nutty and savory umami flavor.
What is Lao Gan Ma
Lao Gan Ma, translated as Old Godmother, is a famous chili crisp condiment. Chili crisp condiments are created by infusing oil with peppers, spices, aromatics, and other ingredients such as douchi or fried peanuts. In Sichuan, tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns are added. Lao Gan Ma started in Guizhou Province China but is fast becoming a global sensation.
There are several varieties of Lao Gan Ma, including Chili Oil with Black Bean, Spicy Chili Crisp, Fried Chili in Oil (our personal favorite!), Chili Oil Condiment with Mushroom, and Hot Chili Sauce. They also produce hot pot seasoning.
Lao Gan Ma has a very inspiring origin story. It was created by a woman named Tao Huabi (陶华碧) in Guiyang, Guizhou, China in 1984. Tao Huabi did not receive a formal education since her family could not afford to send her to school. After being widowed a few years into her marriage, she needed a way to support herself and her two young children, so she opened a small noodle stand.
Her noodles were simple but were tossed with a very fragrant and flavorful chili oil. Word of her chili crisp began to spread, and Lao Gan Ma was born. In the 1990’s she stopped selling noodles and focused exclusively on her sauce. It wasn’t until 1997 that the Lao Gan Ma company was created and the sauce began to spread like wildfire. Tao Huabi is not only famous for the flavor of her chili oil, but also for her “rags to riches” story.
Today Lao Gan Ma is exported to 30 countries and produces over 1.3 million jars per day, and Tao Huabi was on the 2015 Forbes list of riches families in China.
Lao Gan Ma has a balanced heat, meaning it's fragrant and flavorful without being overly spicy. This type of spiciness is common in Guizhou and Sichuan (although they are famous for their heat). The “Fried Chili Oil” version has a nutty flavor due to the added fried peanuts and the “Spicy Chili Crisp” version features umami notes from the douchi (fermented black soybeans).
There is a saying in our household that Lao Gan Ma “makes everything better!” You can put it on almost anything and it will improve the flavor - baked potatoes, scrambled eggs, sesame noodles, stir-fried cauliflower, or in dumpling dipping sauce!
Where to buy Lao Gan Ma
Some mainstream supermarkets in the U.S. are starting to carry it and you can find it on Amazon, but almost all Asian supermarkets keep it in stock.