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Jan 2, 2009 12:31 PM

Homemade Chili Oil - Using Citric Acid

I have read lots of articles and posts on various sites saying that the home cook shouldn't make certain infused oils (particularly garlic) due to the risk of botulism toxins forming in the oil.

Every article says that commercial production of these types of infused oils is safe, because they always use some form of acid like "citric acid" and then goes on to say, "Because these inhibitors are not generally available in home kitchens or convenient for home cooks, the US Food & Drug Administration suggests that such oils be made in small quantity and refrigerated."

Well - WHAT IF the average home cook has citric acid? I do. I purchased some at an Indian food store some time ago, made by SWAD.

The recipes I find for homemade infused oils never involve adding the citric acid, I guess "because these inhibitors are generally not available".

I would like to make chili-infused oil, with the citric acid to make it more safe. But how much to add and when to add it to the cooking process?

Any help or information would be MOST appreciated. Thanks!!

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  1. It may be safe to make chili oil in a wok without citric acid.
    I have watched Chinese cooks do this: hot red chilis, fresh or dried, are added to preheated oil in a wok (carefully, with gloves on! The oil should have a high smoke point, and be heated to the smoke point. The wok will need a very strong flame under it, so some ranges may not be adequate.

    After a minute or two of very hot stir frying, the mixture is cooled and separated . The resulting oil will be red, and very hot with the chili flavor.

    This is what I have seen demonstrated, and of course, there are bottles of chili oil in many Asian restaurants.

    Is it safe to do at home without citric acid?
    Has anyone done this, or observed it being made in a restaurant?

    1 Reply
    1. re: jayt90

      that should work if there are no C. bot spores on the chilies, because they are heat resistant.

    2. The citric acid is an antioxidant so that the oil doesn't go rancid. Botulinum toxin is what you are worried about and that is destroyed by heating for long periods of time, acid has no effect. The garlic and chili commercial operations use are dried or brined or in vinegar. This decreases the water content of the vegetable or herb and prevents the C. bot from growing and producing toxins.

      1. Per McGee, you can blanch the garlic and then soak it in an acid (vinegar or lemon juice) for a couple of hours. It should then be refrigerated. The citric acid would work. When I rarely need citric acid, I raid my vitamin shelf and crush the C's.

        I make chili infused oil by putting hot dried chiles in oil and holding them for a month prior to use. And have done this for years - have I just been lucky or does the dried chilies make a difference?

        1 Reply
        1. re: alwayscooking

          It makes a HUGE difference if the herb is dried.

        2. I buy citric acid from my local bulk store and I live in a hick town. Pretty easy to find I think
          I use it when canning salsa. I don't care for vinegar very much so substitute some citric acid to keep the Ph down.
          However...that is in tomato juice which is mostly water. Whether it will it dissolve in oil is another question and I don't know, but I would be careful to find out.
          BTW vitamin C is ascorbic acid I think, not citric. Might be the same. I guess if it takes the Ph down, it doesn't really matter.
          Making chili oil in the wok as you use it would be perfectly safe. No time for botulism spores to grow.
          Hope this helps.