Panda Express taps into rising popularity of chili crisp for new LTO

Chili Crisp Shrimp draws inspiration from Sichuan cuisine while staying true to Panda’s American Chinese menu.
Chili Crisp Shrimp
Chili Crisp Shrimp, the newest LTO from Panda Express, was inspired by Sichuan cuisine. | Photo courtesy of Panda Express.

Panda Express launched Chili Crisp Shrimp Wednesday across the chain’s 2,500-plus locations.

The limited-time item taps into the popularity of chili crisp, an ingredient that has doubled in menu mentions year over year, according to Restaurant Business’ sister company, Technomic. It’s now categorized in the “growth” stage in Technomic’s Flavor Lifecycle of ingredients edging toward the mainstream.

Chili crisp is a rosy-red blend of chopped dried chilis, garlic and oil that results in a spicy, slightly crunchy  experience when used in cooking or as a condiment. The mixture adds texture, flavor and umami to a dish.  

For its Chili Crisp Shrimp, Panda Express wok tosses lightly breaded shrimp with aromatic peppers and onions, then finishes it with a crispy, savory chili garlic sauce enhanced with chili crisp oil. The result is an appealing balance of spicy and crunchy in every bite.

“After in-depth testing and listening to our guests’ feedback, we knew we wanted to offer a bold new menu item with shrimp that marries the traditional flavors of Sichuan cuisine with the fresh, premium ingredients Panda guests know and love,” said Jimmy Wang, executive director of culinary innovation at Panda Express, in a statement.

Wang suggests pairing Chili Crisp Shrimp with a side of Chow Mein, Fried Rice or Super Greens for a full meal.

Panda Express has been playing around with hotter Sichuan flavors of late. Back in May, the Asian quick-service chain tested Spicy Wagyu Beef Dumplings at its Panda Express Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena, Calif. The meat-filled dumplings are stir-fried with kale and onions, then flavored with Fly By Jing Zhong Sauce, a sweet, tangy, spicy, umami-rich condiment.

The dumplings are still not available nationwide, but Chili Crisp Shrimp will be on all Panda Express menus across the U.S. through Dec. 31.

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