The Condiment Wars Come for Chile Crisp (or Crunch)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when we reached peak chile crisp in the United States, but if you were to inspect my kitchen today you’d see, alongside an old jar of Lao Gan Ma — years ago, the only chile crisp I could easily find in the food shops nearby — at least a half-dozen others.

While each jar contains a spicy crimson sediment under oil, some have the sweetness of star anise, while others are deepened with tiny dried shrimp or fried shallots. Some have the delicate crunch of fried sesame seeds, garlic or crushed peanuts, or the mouth-numbing tingle of Sichuan peppercorns.

Some of these preparations are rooted in regional Chinese or diasporic traditions, family customs or someone’s idiosyncratic taste, and each is different from the others. (Yes, I really do need them all!)

You might call these condiments chile oil or chile crisp or chile crunch, and the truth is that I didn’t give the precise language of the category too much thought until Thursday.

That’s when The Guardian reported that Momofuku, the global culinary company founded by the celebrity chef David Chang, owned the trademark for the term “chile crunch” and was moving to protect it, while seeking similar trademark status for “chili crunch,” spelled with an “i.”

Momofuku’s Chili Crunch was introduced to stores in 2020.Credit…Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images
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