Facing Heaven Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are Facing Heaven peppers?

Facing Heaven peppers, also known as Chao Tian Jiao in Chinese, are a type of chili pepper commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. These peppers are small, round, and have a unique shape where the tip of the pepper points upwards, resembling a “facing heaven” position. They are known for their strong medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units) and are often used in various Sichuan dishes to add heat and flavor (particularly when dried.) The peppers are typically stir-fried, used in sauces, or incorporated into spicy dishes such as Mapo Tofu or Kung Pao Chicken.

Facing Heaven peppers, facing upwards on the vine
Facing Heaven peppers, facing upwards on the vine

Table of Contents

Facing Heaven pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 50,000
Median heat (SHU)40,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 20 times hotter
SpeciesCapsicum Annuum
OriginChina
UseCulinary
Size1.5 to 2.5 inches, conical
FlavorSweet, Floral, Citrusy

How hot are Facing Heaven chili peppers?

At 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), the Facing Heaven pepper has an equal heat to the popular spice rack staple, the cayenne chili. It’s a solid medium heat. Compared to our jalapeño reference point, it’s four to twenty times hotter than a jalapeño.

Let’s also compare it to another popular chili found in Sichuan cuisine – the Tien Tsin pepper. The Tien Tsin is sometimes labeled “Facing Heaven”, but this chili (grown specifically in the Tianjin province in China), while sharing a similar look, is hotter and less citrusy. They range from 50,000 to 75,000 SHU, making the Facing Heaven a much less spicy alternative for your dishes.

What do they look like?

Facing Heaven peppers are small to medium-sized chili peppers, typically measuring around 1.5 to 2.5 inches in length and 0.5 to 1 inch in diameter at the base. They have a conical shape, tapering to a point at the top. The peppers have a smooth and glossy skin, which turns a vibrant dark red color when fully mature (aging from green to red.)

But what makes them distinct when compared to most chili peppers is how they hang on the vine. Facing Heaven peppers typically grow in clusters on the vine. The peppers hang from the stems, with their tips pointing upwards, giving them their distinctive “facing heaven” appearance. The peppers are attached to the plant by their stems, which are flexible and allow the peppers to hang freely. As the peppers mature, they may slightly droop or angle downwards due to their weight, but their general orientation remains with the tips pointing upwards. This unique growth pattern adds to the visual appeal of Facing Heaven peppers on the vine.

These chilies, though, are often consumed when dry. When dried, Facing Heaven peppers retain their conical shape but undergo a transformation in color and texture. The vibrant red color of fresh Facing Heaven peppers deepens and becomes darker when dried. They take on a rich, deep red or maroon hue. The skin becomes wrinkled and slightly shriveled, and the peppers may appear smaller in size compared to their fresh counterparts. 

What do they taste like?

The flavor profile of Facing Heaven peppers is often described as having a unique combination of heat, sweetness (almost floral), and citrusy notes. They are known for their medium level of spiciness, which provides a pleasant heat that is not overpowering. The peppers also have a subtle sweetness that balances out the heat. Additionally, Facing Heaven peppers can have floral undertones, adding a delicate and aromatic aspect to their flavor. When used in cooking, they contribute a distinct and complex taste that enhances the overall dish.

How can you use them?

They are often used in Sichuan cuisine and can be used in various ways, such as:

  • Stir-frying: Add facing heaven peppers to stir-fries for a spicy kick and depth of flavor.
  • Dry roasting: Toast the peppers in a dry skillet until fragrant, then crush or grind them to use as a seasoning.
  • Infusing oil: Heat oil with facing heaven peppers to create a spicy, aromatic oil for drizzling over dishes.
  • Pickling: Preserve facing heaven peppers in a vinegar brine to use as a tangy condiment.

When using facing heaven peppers, it’s important to consider their heat level and adjust the quantity based on your personal preference for spiciness. Always handle them carefully, as the oils can cause irritation to the skin and eyes. And know how to combat chili burn before you experience it.

Where can you buy Facing Heaven peppers?

Facing Heaven peppers can be purchased from various sources, including specialty grocery stores, Asian markets, and online retailers. Here are a few options where you might find Facing Heaven peppers:

  1. Local Asian Markets: Check your local Asian grocery stores or markets that specialize in Chinese or Sichuan ingredients. They may carry Facing Heaven peppers in the dried or fresh form.
  2. Online Retailers: Many online retailers offer Facing Heaven peppers for purchase. You can search for them on platforms like Amazon, specialty food websites, or online spice shops.
  3. Sichuan Specialty Stores: Some stores specialize in Sichuan ingredients and products. These stores may have Facing Heaven peppers available, either in-store or through their online platforms.
  4. Farmers’ Markets: Depending on your location, you might find Facing Heaven peppers at farmers’ markets, especially those that focus on specialty or international produce.

When purchasing Facing Heaven peppers, consider whether you prefer them in dried or fresh form, as availability may vary. It’s always a good idea to check the product descriptions and reviews to ensure the quality and authenticity of the peppers.

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Dried Facing Heaven Pepper, 4 oz.
$8.49 ($2.12 / Ounce)
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02/19/2024 12:25 am GMT

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on November 13, 2023 to include new content.
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