Spice things up with Urfa Biber

Smoky, dark urfa biber is a sweet Turkish pepper that is traditionally used to season kebabs and hearty vegetable stews. Sometimes referred to as ‘isot peppers,’ these fruity, earthy-flavored capsicums have a mild to medium heat that can add wonderful complexity to any dish.

Pyrazines develop during the sun-drying process of urfa biber, giving the peppers a distinct smoky, earthy flavor.

Urfa biber are cultivated in the Şanliurfa region of southern Turkey just north of Aleppo, where the chile peppers (“biber” means pepper in Turkish) are harvested and then processed in a two-step drying process. The fresh peppers contain green, vegetal, floral, fruity, citrus and even wood-scented notes. The chiles are laid out to dry in the sun during the day, causing their skins to darken as organic compounds called ‘pyrazines’ develop beneath the surface. These pyrazines are what give urfa biber its distinct smoky, earthy flavor.

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Each night, the peppers are covered with tarps to “sweat” them, concentrating their natural oils and juices. Additional fruity, floral and even cheesy notes begin to develop in the urfa biber as farmers repeat this process daily for about a week. As the urfa biber ferments and oxidizes, their colors turn from bright reddish-orange to a blackish-red or burgundy.

Additional fruity, floral and even cheesy notes also develop during the ‘sweating’ process of the chiles.

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Once the urfa biber have dried, the peppers are ground to a coarse, flakey consistency and mixed with a small amount of salt before packaging. A dash of these smoky Turkish chile flakes will add instant complexity to any dish: fruity, earthy, smoky and even spicy notes similar to what we find in tomato paste.

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It’s no wonder urfa biber is used as a flavorful accent in so many dishes. It’s especially tasty on lahmajoun, a thin flatbread topped spicy tomato sauce and minced beef or lamb seasoned with cumin, cinnamon and fresh herbs. Just remember: A little urfa biber can go a long way since its heat builds gradually over time. These peppers have a mild to medium heat rating of 30.00 to 50.00 units on the Scolville scale, similar to jalapeños or cayenne pepper, so use sparingly!

GASTRONOMETRO Istanbul is an educational partner of Foodpairing that contributes to our research of local Turkish ingredients.

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