Sichuan's Famous Flavor Profiles

Sichuan food is traditionally known for being full of spicy and umami flavors. But with a long and exciting history of food, travel, and cultural influences, there are many unique flavor combinations, ingredients, and styles of Sichuan cooking that all contribute to the cuisine we know and love. 

Whether you’re trying out Chinese dishes at home for the very first time or looking to take your skills to the next level, these unique flavor profiles, as defined by Fuchsia Dunlop, are the perfect guide. Explore what defines and pushes the limits of Sichuan flavor, how to recreate heat, sweet, and spice in your own kitchen, and celebrate generations of Chinese cooking. 

For more information on Chinese ingredients, recipes, and history, trust Fly By Jing. We make it easy to explore and enjoy Chinese cooking experiences with all the best spices. And it all begins with these famous flavor profiles. 


Sichuan’s Famous Flavor Profiles

The Sichuan region of China is known for its humid environment, which is perfect for growing the hot peppers and chilis that characterize many of its iconic dishes, including erjingtiao chilis and tribute peppers. But it’s not all about the heat. Here are some of the most famous flavor profiles you’ll find in Sichuan cooking. 

1. Homestyle Flavor

Homestyle flavor, or jiachang wei, is imbued with a lot of the classic flavors that make Sichuan cooking so beloved. For homestyle flavor Sichuan dishes, like twice-cooked pork and homestyle tofu, you’ll use ingredients like fermented black beans and soy sauce. Sweet and sour ingredients like pickled chilis and vinegar round out some of the common flavors in homestyle Sichuan food. 

2. Fish Fragrance Flavor

Some of the other Chinese cuisines, like Cantonese and Shandong, are more based in seafood ingredients and flavors, but Sichuan has fish dishes of its own. Fish fragrant flavor, also known as yuxiang wei, imbues the flavors used in classic fish dishes, especially pickled red chilis, ginger, garlic, and scallions. The combination of flavors is much more common than the name. 

3. Strange Flavor

Strange flavor, or guaiwei, is actually named for a combination of flavors. Many Sichuan and Chinese food dishes blend flavors, but with strange flavor recipes, no one flavor stands out. Instead, you’ll utilize sweet, spicy, umami, and salty in equal measure, to create some beloved dishes like bang bang chicken and Sichuan sesame noodles with strange sauce. 

4. Numbing and Hot Flavor

It’s no surprise that Sichuan cuisine has hot dishes. Numbing and hot flavor, mala wei, embraces the hot chilis and peppers that Sichuan is most famous for, but it goes beyond the burn. With numbing and hot flavors, you’ll enjoy a combination of spice with salt, sour, and sweetness. 

5. Red Oil Flavor

Chili oil is one of the most famous ingredients in Sichuan and Chinese food cooking. With red oil flavor dishes, you’ll combine chili oil with balancing ingredients like sesame oil, soy sauce, and sugar for the perfect blend of umami, spice, sweetness, and salt.  

6. Garlic Paste Flavor

Garlic is used to balance a lot of the more intense flavors in Sichuan cooking. In the garlic paste flavor, or suanni wei, garlic takes the main stage but is combined and simmered with ingredients like chili oil, sesame oil, brown sugar, and classic Chinese spices. While still spicy, garlic paste flavor dishes are much more subtle than other Sichuan dishes. 

7. Scorched Chili Flavor

As the name would indicate, scorched chili flavors, or hula wei, are achieved by finding that perfect balance of heat and chilis. Dried chilis are cooked in oil, along with Sichuan peppers, and sometimes mixed with other ingredients like ginger, garlic, and scallions. It’s especially important not to allow the chilis to burn, so finding the right heat to cook the chilis is key.   

8. Tangerine Peel Flavor  

It’s hard not to love a little sweetness. Tangerine peel flavor, or chenpi wei, combines the classic chilis of Sichuan dishes with just a little bit of dried tangerine peel to get the perfect balance without any bitterness. Cold meat dishes commonly utilize tangerine peel flavor. 

9. Sichuan Pepper Flavor

There are lots of great ways to prepare peppers for Sichuan dishes. With the Sichuan pepper flavor profile, or jiaoma wei, it’s all about the fresh peppers. They’re usually mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil and served in cold meat dishes, especially poultry. The key to these dishes is using very fresh peppers. 

10. Sichuan Pepper and Salt Flavor

Sichuan pepper and salt flavor, jiaoyan wei, is excellent for dipping both sweet and savory foods, like vegetables and pastries. The fragrance is essential, so you want to use fresh peppers and cook close to serving. 

11. Sour and Hot Flavor

The sour and hot flavor profile is beloved for a reason. There are many, many variations of sour and hot, or suanla wei, dishes. They are often referred to as “hot and sour” recipes in American Chinese food, but even with the addition or substitution of Sichuan peppers, these dishes are really all about the sour and delicious bite. 

12. Fragrant Fermented Sauce Flavor

Fragrant fermented sauce flavor, or jiangxiang wei, combines the best of sweet flour sauce with extra salt and sweet for a fermented and wonderful flavor profile. Common dishes with the fragrant fermented sauce flavors can be pork or tofu stir fry. 

13. Five Spice Flavor

Five spice shows up often in Chinese cooking—and for good reason. Five spice, or wuxiang wei, flavor, is a mix of spices (sometimes more or less than five), which often includes star anise and Sichuan pepper. It may be served with a wide variety of foods, including meat, eggs, and tofu. It can be simmered, mixed with chilies, braised, steamed, and more. 

14. Sweet Fragrant Flavor  

Sugar, juice, and fruit are used to give balance to sweet fragrant flavor or tianxiang wei dishes. The hot and sweet dishes that are imbued with this flavor profile can be made in many different ways, like stir-frying and simmering. 

15. Fragrant Boozy Flavor  

Rice wine makes an appearance in many Chinese food dishes. With the fragrant boozy flavor profile, or xiangzao wei, you’ll use a fermented rice wine, or laozao. It can be used on meat, poultry and vegetables, and pairs well with salt, sugar, sesame oil, and spices. 

16. Smoked Flavor

Smoked flavor, also known as yanxiang wei, is created by smoking meat or poultry. This is usually done over wood and leaves, but the flavor can be adjusted by smoking over bamboo leaves, peanut husks, or tea and camphor leaves. 

17. Salt-Savory Flavor

Salt-savory flavor, xianxian wei, is all about the umami flavors, which are balanced with salt, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame, but the umami remains the most powerful. Both hot and cold dishes can be made with a salty-savory flavor. 

18. Lychee Flavor

The name lychee, or lizhi wei, is actually about the balance of sweet and sour flavor, which the lychee name is best known for. There is also a touch of saltiness, and lychee flavor dishes can be either “small lychee flavor” or “big lychee flavor,” depending on what you’re cooking. 

19. Sweet-and-Sour Flavor

Sweet and sour dishes are common in Chinese cooking, but this type is specific to the Sichuan style. Tango wei balances sugar, vinegar, and salt and may be mixed with other ingredients like garlic and ginger. 

20. Ginger Juice Flavor  

There are many excellent Sichuan dishes that use ginger flavor. With ginger juice flavor, or jiangzhi wei, which are often cold meat and fresh vegetable dishes, fresh ginger is combined with soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and vinegar. 

21. Sesame Paste Flavor

You always want to have sesame in your pantry when cooking Chinese food. Sesame paste, or majiang wei dishes, use a toasted sesame paste, along with sesame oil, salt, stock, and sugar. You can add chili oil for a little extra heat. These dishes are usually served cold. 

22. Mustard Flavor  

Like most mustard dishes, mustard flavor or jiemo wei balances salt and sourness from vinegar and mustard. It’s used for cold dishes, most often. 

23. Salt-Sweet Flavor

Salt-sweet, or xiantian wei, dishes are a combination of umami and sweet flavors. You can adjust the balance to your personal preferences, and they are often mixed with ingredients like peppers, Shaoxing wine, and spices. 

In Conclusion

There are many ways to approach Sichuan cooking, flavors, and ingredients. No matter what kind of recipes or flavors you try out first, you’re sure to create bold and delicious dishes that the whole family will enjoy. 

And Fly By Jing is here to help. We carry a wide variety of ingredients and spices that make it easy to create the dishes you love. And it all comes with the history and information on where these recipes, flavors, and profiles originated and how they have developed over the years. Begin making your favorite dishes today. 


Fuchsia Dunlop |

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