When you crack open a jar of yellow lantern chili sauce, the heat is immediately evident—prickling your nose and reaching up into your sinuses, accompanied by the promising aroma of pickled garlic.
What is the Hainan yellow lantern chili?
The Hainan yellow lantern chili (海南黄灯笼椒) is a spicy little guy that looks just like the name would suggest. Small and round in shape and about 2 inches long, these bright yellow chilies hang off the pepper plant—their cheerful color belying the heat they contain. You may also see it by the name of “yellow emperor chili.”
Hainan is the smallest and southernmost province of China, made up of various islands, boasting beaches and mountainous tropical forests.
Yellow lantern chilies pack 300,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), and it’s no surprise that it’s a cultivar of the Capsicum chinense (C. chinense) species of peppers—the same as some of the hottest peppers the world over.
The Carolina reaper, which packs 2.2 million SHU, Trinidad scorpion, which packs 1.2 million SHU, and habanero, which ranges from 150,000-575,000 SHU all belong to C. chinense.
What is yellow lantern chili sauce?
To make this chili usable for a broader array of palates, it’s primarily turned into a delicious hot sauce.
Yellow lantern chili sauce is made with fermented salted yellow lantern chilies, also known as Hainan chilies, garlic (likely also lightly fermented in salt), MSG, and pureed pumpkin to add heft to the sauce without adding heat.
At least that’s what can be found in the Pearl River Bridge brand that we use—the same company that makes our preferred soy sauce.
How to cook with yellow lantern chili sauce
One of the most common and beloved Chinese recipes that uses yellow lantern chilis is Golden Soup with Shaved Beef—the recipe will be in our cookbook coming out November 1!
It’s a popular restaurant dish with a beautiful deep golden yellow color from the yellow lantern chili sauce. While the sauce straight from the jar will make your neck get hot, it’s mellowed by marbled fatty shaved beef and enoki mushrooms.
We haven’t done much experimenting with yellow lantern chili sauce in noodles or other applications. For the chili heads out there, you could certainly add this hot sauce to your collection for regular rotation!
According to this absolute gem of an old school Cantonese TV commercial for yellow lantern chili sauce, it would appear that Pearl River Bridge encourages you to use it in just about any dish that you want to give an extra kick in the pants.
Buying & Storing
We’ve found that the Pearl River Bridge brand is relatively reliably available. If you can’t find it in your local Chinese grocery store, you can buy it online at retailers like Say Weee or Amazon.
And we know some of you are already wondering if you can get your hands on fresh peppers. We’ve haven’t found fresh peppers from a mainstream source here in the States yet, but you can always buy seeds for your home gardens.
Once you’ve cracked open your yellow lantern chili sauce, you’ll want to store it in the refrigerator and treat it like any other condiment you have in the refrigerator for longer periods of time—use clean utensils every time you dip into it. Use it by the best by date on the jar.
You may find that the color dulls slightly over time, but we’ve found that this isn’t something to be concerned about.