Roasted chilies from the brands Yayee, Chilean, and Clean Paradise, clockwise from left.

Roasted chilies – addictively spicy but liable to leave a burning sensation in the pit of one’s stomach – are flooding the cubicles of hungry office workers across Thailand.

In mid-2018, Thai sellers began importing chilies roasted in sesame from China’s Yunnan to test the local market. Thai tongues approved and orders for the bright red, rather dangerous-looking snack began pouring in by the sack.

“I guess it’s popular because Thai people already like spicy food,” said Pitchaya Wanwapana, the owner of Kin Prik, which started selling roasted chilies online in 2019. “Chilies are less spicy roasted than raw or in a stir fry, because the seeds have been pounded out.”

Many brands latch onto the claim that chili peppers are nutritious and a healthy snack, glossing over the salt and oil that helps make the snack so delicious.

Khaosod English tried out three roasted chili brands and rated them across three criteria: spiciness, crunchiness, and whether they’re unbearable salt-bombs.

Chilean is the most “neutral” of the bunch, which makes sense since they sell wholesale to other retailers who may then further flavor the chilies. The brand is less salty than many others – instead, the flavor has chicken soup notes and is slightly herbal. Chilean would go well with rice and stir-fries.

The spiciness is nothing overwhelming, though continual snacking will slowly spread the heat through your mouth. The dull crunch borders on chewiness. A 130 gram bag bought directly from Chilean costs 179 baht, with the chilies picked and roasted in Yunnan.

Yayee is more aggressively spicy and more crunchy too, like eating chips. This brand uses local Thai chili spur peppers, which seemed to make for the most complex flavor of the three we tried –  think hot chilies a la southern Chinese food but with added Thai zest. Although the owner declined to be interviewed, she mentioned that her chilies are “homemade.” A 150 gram jar runs for 200 baht.

Finally, the label of Clean Paradise boasts both vegan and low-sodium credentials. It’s true these chilies don’t result in “sodium mouth”. They have a good crunch and the strongest toasted sesame smell of the three. Due to the snackability, spice collects in your mouth until you’re looking around for water. Like the others, the chilies go great with rice, or alone as a snack. An 80 gram jar sells for 88 baht.

Like many products from China, there are both “original” and “knockoff” roasted chilies.

“It’s like buying Huawei and Xiaomi versus buying non-branded electronics,” said Suchapat Jedsadawaranon, the owner of Chilean, which claims to be the original distributor of roasted chilies imported from China.

Suchapat recommends looking for chilies with Chinese or Thai FDA approval, preferably made in the Yunnan region. “Knockoffs” are made with local chili spur peppers (prik chee faa or พริกชี้ฟ้า) instead of Chinese hot peppers (prik puang jeen or พริกพวงจีน). The former has a smokier aroma, while the second gives off more of a herbal smell when roasted.

“Some resellers buy lower-grade roasted chilies, then cover up the taste with powdered seasoning, whether it’s larb flavor, salted egg, tom yum, and so on,” Suchapat said. “After that, it’s impossible to tell the difference.”

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