The hottest Chinese peppers to use

Chinese peppers
Chinese red or Tien Tsin peppers are mildly spicy (62,500 SHU) and a key ingredient in kung pao chicken, while Chinese 5 Color peppers are earthy, sweet, and bitter with 5,000 to 30,000 SHU. They are great for stir-fry dishes. Er Jing Tao and Sichuan Seven-Star peppers — staples in Sichuan cuisine — have fruity and citrusy undertones, respectively.

What peppers are used in Chinese cooking?

Spices such as jalapeño and Cayenne add that spicy kick to culinary pieces worldwide. In China, there are about 2,000 varieties of peppers. However, the most common are:

  • The Chinese red pepper (a.k.a. Tien Tsin or Tianjin pepper)
  • Chinese 5 Color pepper
  • Yunnan Wrinkled Skin pepper
  • Facing Heaven pepper
  • Er Jing Tao chili pepper
  • Hainan Yellow Lantern chili
  • Yunnan Shuan Shuan chili

Flavor profiles and heat of Chinese peppers

Here is a comparison of the commonly used Chinese peppers, featuring their flavor profile and heat level. The heat level is measured using Scoville heat units (SHU) or the amount of capsaicin in the pepper.

Flavor profileHeat level (SHU)
Chinese 5 ColorThese peppers offer a medley of sweetness, bitterness, and earthiness5,000 to 30,000
Er Jing Tao chileA staple in Sichuan cuisine and used to make chili oil and chili powder, these deliver robust and sweet flavors with some fruity raisin undertones15,000 to 20,000
Facing HeavenThese medium-hot peppers add fragrance to dishes and are commonly used in stir fries and meat stews40,000
Yunnan Wrinkled SkinThese peppers are moderately hot, capable of giving a slightly feverish feeling, and crunchy to taste55,000
Sichuan Seven-StarAn important ingredient in Szechuan cuisine, these peppers pack a mild spiciness with some notes of citrus60,000
Chinese red or Tsien TsinThese peppers have a mildly pungent taste and an equally inviting spicy aroma, with slimness and a musty undertone similar to cayenne62,500
Xiao Mi LaAnother popular chili in Sichuan and Yunnan, these peppers are extra spicy and a key ingredient in mala hot pot75,000

What are the hottest Chinese chilies?

7-pot Barrackpore chili pepper
7-pot Barrackpore chili pepper

In China, the hottest chilies are:

  • 7-pot Barrackpore chili pepper (over 1 million SHU)
  • Yunan Shuan Shuan chilis (1 million SHU)
  • Hainan Yellow Lantern Chilis (170,000 to 300,000 SHU)
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What is the best Chinese pepper?

Chinese 5 Color
Chinese 5 Color

While there are many hot pepper cultivars or varieties, it all comes down to the Chinese 5 Color and Tien Tsin peppers.


Botanically, the Chinese 5 Color pepper (Capsicum annuumis an heirloom variety from the Solanaceae family. Native to China, it gained its name because it changes colors five times throughout its different stages of maturity.

This pepper has many culinary applications. It’s a versatile spice that can be chopped and used in recipes for soups and curries — or diced and added into dips, salads, and salsas.

Tien Tsin is also botanically classified as Capsicum annuum. It’s indigenous to China. Its name comes from the province of Tientsin, where it was originally grown.

This pepper is popular in Hunan and Sichuan cooking, particularly in stir-fries and soups. While it’s most commonly associated with kung pao chicken, it’s an essential ingredient in curd rice, chicken curry, and Szechuan shrimp.


Chinese 5 Color peppers are small peppers that are conical in shape. They grow about one inch long, changing their colors from purple to cream, yellow, orange, and red. 

On the other hand, Tien Tsin peppers are bright red chilis that are one to two inches long.

Flavor profile

The Chinese 5 Color pepper is a hot chili that combines earthy, bitter, and sweet notes. It boasts a more complex flavor than Tien Tsin, which usually adds heat to a dish instead of introducing an added flavor. But in terms of taste, Tien Tsin is mildly pungent and has a spicy smell.

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Comparison Table

Chinese 5 Color PepperTien Tsin Pepper
OriginChina, botanically classified as Capsicum annuumChina, botanically classified as Capsicum annuum
Appearance1-inch conical peppers whose colors change from purple to cream, yellow, orange, and redBright-red peppers whose length ranges from 1 to 2 inches
FlavorEarthy, bitter, and sweetMildly pungent
ApplicationsHas a wider range of applications, including stir-fries, salads, and dipsCommonly used in kung pao chicken, Szechuan shrimp, and chicken curry recipes
Shelf life1 week when fresh, up to 2 years when dried1 week when fresh, up to 2 years when dried
FormFresh and dried (can also be ground into a powder)Fresh and dried (can also be ground into a powder)

How long does it take for Chinese 5 color pepper to grow?

The Chinese 5 Color pepper is highly ornamental and takes 75 to 85 days to grow. It’s available from late summer through fall. However, they can also be grown indoors during wintertime.

What is the main difference between Tien Tsin peppers and Chinese red peppers?

The Chinese 5 Color pepper is a versatile chili pepper used in curries, stir-fries, soups, stews, dips, salads, and salsas — giving recipes a complex medley of earthiness, bitterness, and sweetness.

Meanwhile, Tien Tsin is a mildly hot pepper that adds heat instead of flavor. Its bright red color is a signature element of kung pao chicken.


Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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