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Plenty of chefs have a secret—one of the most prevalent in the last few year was the answer to: “Where do you get your Aleppo pepper?” Known for its’ bright red hue and distinctive smoky flavor, Aleppo pepper has been harder to find as its namesake city in Syria has been ravaged by civil war for the last seven years. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Aleppo pepper along with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of other crops were destroyed in and around Syria between 2011 and 2016. But now some spice vendors are sourcing their Aleppo peppers from nearby Turkey, which means it’s not impossible to get your hands on.

So What Is Aleppo Pepper Exactly?

An Aleppo pepper, or Aleppo chile, is a capsacin-containing pepper that’s ground into a spice, and is often used in Middle-Eastern dishes and condiments like  harissa, kebabs, and za’atar (though people are getting more creative with it, too). Historically, part of the allure of the Aleppo pepper lies in the small-batch preparation method. Instead of washing and coring the pepper, the pepper would be cleaned with cloth, cut on one side to remove seeds, then set on the rooftops of houses to dry in the sun. Once the pepper is partially dry, it is ground, mixed with salt and a bit of olive oil, and left to completely dry.

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Even now, spice makers often rely on family farms to produce the pepper. Because most Aleppo peppers are not likely coming from Aleppo, (a lot of spice growers have moved their operations to Turkey and it’s also being grown in the U.S. now) it’s not uncommon to find peppers labeled “Aleppo-style.” Some chefs find that Aleppo pepper can be used interchangeably with other peppers of the region, such as Marash pepper, Alebi pepper, and Antebi pepper.

Villa Jerada Aleppo, $8 at Sur La Table

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How Spicy Is It?

The Aleppo pepper may be a chile, but you don’t need to pour a glass of milk before you sprinkle it on your scrambled eggs. It actually clocks in at a moderate heat level—around 10,000 on the Scoville scale. In terms of taste, it’s not dissimilar to the red pepper chile flakes you already toss on pasta or your slice of pizza, but may have more of a robust, sundried-tomato like taste.

How Should I Use It?

Think of it as a slightly more sophisticated cousin to crushed red pepper. While the taste may be more pronounced, it’s still an approachable flavor. It’s a mainstay in many Middle-Eastern or Turkish recipes (Nigella Lawson likes to use it in on her Turkish eggs). If you need some inspiration, look to Cook for Syria Recipe Book (bonus: all profits from this book’s sale benefit UNICEF’s Children of Syria fund), The Aleppo Cookbook, or Our Syria. But don’t be afraid to use the pepper to suit whatever happens to be on your weekly menu. It can also be used to spice up popcorn, salads, pasta, and proteins. Reach for it next time you grill pork chops or salmon.

homemade harissa pepper paste

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Where Can I Find It?

First, start with the spice rack in your local grocery store—as we mentioned it’s popping up more now that it’s being grown in the U.S. and Turkey. If that’s a miss, head to your nearest Middle-Eastern market and scope the shelves there. You can also go the online route—we like Sur La Table’s version and you can’t beat the packaging.

Related Video: 40+ Recipes That Will Get You Cooking With Pepper

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