Obedient Ingredients

A place to put cooking ideas to the test.

Pili Pili Oil

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I just returned from a trip to Tanzania. To commemorate this trip to East Africa, I will be testing a recipe I saw online for pili pili oil.

Pili pili is the Swahili name for “pepper”, so this is simply a hot pepper oil. Pili pili sauce (hot sauce) was very common in dishes I experienced in Tanzania, but I did not experience any spicy oil.

Here is a recipe I came across from the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section. NY Times, huh? I know the food section, while informative and interesting, can come off as a little elegant, baroque, ostentatious, resplendent, froufrou and and other synonyms for the word “fancy.” This recipe certainly came across that way.

How would this recipe fly with us common folk?

Here is the recipe:

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 bay leaves, crumbled

1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)

12 whole small dried red chili peppers or Japanese chilies, or about 8 chiles de arbol, broken in half, or 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (Note: I used the dried chiles de arbol)

1 to 1 1/4 cups olive oil (does not need to be extra virgin), or a combination of olive oil and grapeseed oil, as needed

1. Place the herbs, chiles and oil in a medium saucepan and heat slowly over low heat until they begin to sizzle. If you insert a thermometer, the temperature should not go above 220ºF. Turn off the heat and wait for the oil to stop sizzling, then cover and allow to cool.

2. Transfer the herbs and chiles to a clean, sterilized bottle (you may need to use a funnel to do this neatly). Pour on the olive oil. Close tightly and allow to stand in a dark, cool place for a week to mature.

Yield: 1 to 1 1/4 cups oil.

My thoughts:

I tried this one week and five weeks after I made this. I didn’t really notice any difference in flavor over the difference of time. The heat intensity was certainly delayed, but really biting, mostly from the back of the throat instead of on the tongue. The flavor was really complex, as you can see from the slew of different herbs included in this oil.

My word for this oil is subtle. Other than the biting heat, all of the different tastes were more undertones than primary flavors. I’m not really sure I know what I’m talking about, but that’s how I can describe it.

What this missed was something stronger like garlic. Certainly there needed some acidity. I recommend pairing this with a vinegar or pickled vegetables.

I used this oil for my grilled cheese. I really enjoyed it, especially mixed with the mayonnaise.


I would make this again, but not for SPICY oil. No no, my friend. The kick was intense but too focused and not full bodied as I would like it. I need to go back to the drawing board for a proper spicy oil!

If nothing else, this made for wonderful pictures.

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