While there are many varieties of peppers in the world, one in particular is often touted as being exceptionally flavorful and steps beyond the generic red-pepper flake. These crushed peppers are referred to as Aleppo, an ingredient commonly used in Turkish, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern cooking, and they’re so popular because they bring more complexity than grocery store red-pepper flakes.
The catch is that, while you might still be able to purchase a spice labeled as Aleppo, know that it might not be what you think it is.
Origin: Originally a spice made from crushed Aleppo peppers, named after the city of Aleppo, in Syria
History: The Syrian civil war ended the production of peppers in Aleppo, so anything that you now find labeled as Aleppo isn’t actually from Aleppo anymore; it's likely made from crushed Marash peppers and produced in Turkey
Commonly found in: Turkish, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern dishes
Substitute: Mix red pepper flakes with salt and cumin
What is Aleppo Pepper?
A deep red color with a salt-like feel, what is sold as the Aleppo pepper provides dishes with depth, texture, and color, making it a popular ingredient. Unfortunately, as cookbook author Robyn Eckhardt writes in her book "Istanbul and Beyond," the Syrian civil war ended the production of peppers in Aleppo, so anything that you now find labeled as Aleppo isn’t actually from Aleppo anymore.
That doesn’t mean that it isn’t flavorful and good; it’s just not the original Aleppo pepper.
A recent purchase of Aleppo from Kalustyan’s in NYC had “Syrian pul biber/halaby pepper” in parenthesis underneath the name and mentioned that it was named after Aleppo, a city in Syria that was on the Silk Road. It’s versatile, flavorful, and I love using it in my everyday cooking. Topping a pasta, roasted vegetables or a tomato toast are some of my favorite ways to use it.
Depending on what you buy, an Aleppo-type pepper will have more depth than the average red-pepper flake—typically they add a salt-like texture with a slight smoky flavor and subtle hints of sun-dried tomato, and even an earthiness to it. They are generally moderately spicy, so you should use them as you would red-pepper flakes in terms of heat level. (For scope, on the Scoville heat scale, the Aleppo pepper is rated 20,000 and the red pepper can range from 15,000 to 45,000.)
Aleppo Pepper vs Marash Pepper
The Marash pepper comes from Turkey and is often used as a finishing touch on dishes because of its subtle heat, light acidity, and bright color. Like Aleppo, it's more complex (rather than simply hot) and can be used to add a final fragrance to a dish and provide that finishing touch of texture and flavor.
Some Aleppo-style crushed peppers are made from Marash peppers, like the Silk Chile Flakes from Burlap & Barrel. Marash peppers, according to the product description, are “botanically identical to the Aleppo pepper.”
Where to Buy
Most Aleppo pepper (if it’s still called that) you can buy now will be consist of peppers sourced from Turkey. Other online stores offer Aleppo-style peppers with varying flavor profiles; for example, Spicewalla’s pepper has bright and fruity aromas with hints of sun-dried pepper and cumin, while The Spice House’s Aleppo has a salty, raisin-y flavor and is more mild in heat.
How to Store
Store your peppers in an air-tight container, out of direct sunlight and away from any heat sources in the kitchen. While spices don’t have a set expiration date, they will become less potent over time, which means that your Aleppo-style pepper won’t be quite as spicy or deliver the same intensity of heat as it did when first purchased. This doesn’t mean that it’s gone bad, but you might need to use a bit more than you’re used to.
Aleppo Pepper Substitutes
If you’re unable to find either an Aleppo-style or Marash pepper, then you can try to replicate it by mixing red pepper flakes with salt and cumin to give these peppers a bit more depth of flavor. Of course, they won’t be quite like the original crushed sun-dried peppers, but it will still give the dish a bit more dimension than just heat.
How to Cook with Aleppo Pepper
Aleppo chile flakes are used a lot in Turkish, Lebanese and Middle Eastern cooking. You can use Aleppo on kebabs, grilled or roasted chicken, seafood, in salad dressing or for topping off creamy yogurt-based dips to add a little heat. You could also sprinkle it on a tomato salad, toast, or season your eggs with it.
While you could loosely adhere to the rule that you can use it where you would use what’s sold as red-pepper flakes, it would depend on the flavor profile of the peppers that you are using.
Experiment with your spice, maybe using it as part with other spices and oil as a marinade chicken or meats and see what it pairs well. To keep it in the Mediterranean family, you can try dried oregano, cumin, or coriander and adjust based on your personal preferences.
Recipes that use aleppo or aleppo-style pepper: