Tatlı biber salçası, literally “sweet pepper paste”, and acı biber salçası, literally “hot pepper paste”, are the two most used condiments in Turkey.
What is biber salçası?
Any fan of Turkish cuisine knows that this sweet or spicy red pepper paste is an absolute must for the pantry as it appears in almost all Turkish dishes, with or instead of tomato paste.
The popular biber salçası is an integral part of Anatolian cuisine. It is mostly used to flavor main dishes, as well as to garnish many börek.
Adding just a small dash of this thick paste is enough to give a more or less spicy and fragrant flavor to a Turkish dish.
They are found, for example, in the famous Adana kebabı, also known as kıyma kebabı, which is a long skewer of ground lamb, and lamb tail fat, grilled on a charcoal barbecue.
Mercimek köftesi is also made with biber salçası. It is one of the most popular Turkish mezze. These are vegan patties made with red lentils and bulgur.
As is the kırmızı mercimek çorbası which is a delicious red lentil soup, traditional in Turkish cuisine, perfumed with this pepper paste.
How to make biber salçası
Biber salçası is a very thick red paste made up of red peppers and salt. To extend the shelf life of the homemade version, therefore without a preservative, olive oil is often added.
The stems and seeds of the peppers are removed, then the peppers, after being cooked, are very finely crushed or coarsely ground, and then salt is added.
The peppers are cooked in boiling water and this water is ultimately pure pepper juice. It should not be thrown away as it can be used for flavoring many dishes and soups.
The crushed peppers are dried in the sun for 6 to 8 days, depending on the intensity of the heat, until the mixture develops an intense flavor and a pasty consistency.
It is quite possible to replace the sun drying process with a drying in an oven at 90 F (30˚C) for about 24 hours.
The biber salçası is then poured into small sterilized glass jars, and, tightly closed, they can be stored for up to 6 months.
Before closing them, it is strongly recommended to pour olive oil on the surface in order to store them well.
Which pepper to use for biber salçası
In Turkey, pepper is one of the most consumed vegetables. There are many types of peppers, but the king is the kapya biber, which is a sweet thick-walled bullhorn style red pepper.
The spicy variety is called aci kapya biber. The sweet varieties of kapya are generally sold dark red and more rarely yellow.
Sweet kapya is a medieval variety that is mainly harvested in the fall in Turkey. It weighs about 3 oz. (between 80 and 90 grams) and measures between 6 and 8 inches (15 and 20 cm) long with a cylindrical or flat shape and two marked lobes. Kapya is characterized by fleshy and juicy fruits and there are several varieties.
Turkish varieties of kapya biber are suitable for salads, stews, roasts, grills and sauces, such as ajvar.
The benefits of pepper
The pepper is made up of 92% water and contains a large amount of mineral salts, including potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron and magnesium. In addition, its percentage of vitamin C is four times higher than that of citrus fruits, so as to promote the absorption of iron, the development of muscles and the resistance of the organism to infections.
The Turks worship pepper and find several health benefits to it. It would prevent vascular occlusion, would reduce the risk of heart attack, and would regulate the digestive system.
Thanks to its lycopene, it would be effective in the fight against cancer and would strengthen the immune system.
In addition, it would have a cholesterol-lowering effect, it would regulate blood circulation, and help heal many inflammations.
Whatever the variety of pepper, 50 grams of red peppers are therefore equivalent to 75% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. They are also very rich in vitamins E, B, J and K, fiber and vitamin A.
They thus fight the action of free radicals, prevent cell aging, and help stay fit.
They give a feeling of satiety and they are very low in calories. Finally, especially with red peppers, there are high levels of carotene and capsaicin: the first substance helps purify the body, while the second has antibacterial, anti-tumor, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties.
What is the origin of pepper?
The pepper belongs to the genus capsicum and to the nightshade family. The most widely cultivated variety is capsicum annuum.
It is one of the most characteristic vegetables of the summer season and cultivated for centuries all over the world, from Europe to China through Peru and this explains why it is present in traditional recipes of many countries.
Diffused in many different varieties, it differs mainly by the color of the skin. Mild or slightly spicy, red, black, purple, orange, yellow or green, its maturity depends on the color of the pepper, black and purple being hybrid species. The green pepper is a pepper that has not reached maturity.
The pepper is a plant native to South America and imported with other animal and plant species to Europe. If the pepper spread in Europe from the 15th century, it was not until the 18th century that the pepper became popular and its culture developed in Europe.
Human use of this plant dates back to 5,000 BC and seeds of this species have been found during archaeological excavations in the Tehuacan Valley in Mexico.
When Christopher Columbus landed in America in 1492, he discovered this fruit. Indeed, today it is called a vegetable, but botanically speaking, it is a fruit.
Christopher Columbus then discovered it in two different forms, because the Indians had, in previous millennia, already selected one plant to obtain a fairly mild pepper and another to obtain a much stronger species.
Christopher Columbus thought then that he had simply discovered a variety of black pepper and it is therefore quite naturally that peppers, quickly diffused all over the planet, will take names derived from the word pepper including paprika, or pepperone in Italian.
The molecule that gives the spicy taste to peppers is capsaicin. The two different forms discovered by Christopher Columbus will have different destinies: the strongest form, the one that contains the most capsaicin, will give rise to what we commonly call today “hot peppers” used as spices in many preparations. These will be disseminated thanks to the Portuguese on several continents and especially in Africa and Asia, and obviously throughout the Mediterranean basin.
The other, milder form will be gradually softened by selection, until a pepper completely devoid of capsaicin, now called “bell pepper” or “sweet pepper”.
The heat of the peppers is evaluated according to the Scoville scale which goes from 0 to 10 depending on the level of capsaicin contained, from 0 for sweet peppers, to 10 for very hot peppers.
The red peppers have spread via Turkey to Hungary and across the Balkans. Pepper cultivation is very important in Hungary today.
Around 1570, the noble and famous Hungarian poet, Széchy Margitnak, planted Turkish red pepper in his garden. This step is clearly considered to be the first source documenting the arrival of peppers in Hungary, therefore around 75 years after the discovery of America and the arrival of seeds in America.
The Hungarian climate generously welcomes the capsicum plants and they are grown there intensively. Hungary is, to date, one of the main countries in the cultivation of peppers in Europe.
On the other hand, the Hungarian monks would have tried to remove the hot peppers believing that the hot taste was evil.
But the Hungarian population likes hot peppers. Many new varieties have been selected and the yield has increased.
Pepper sauces and condiments
There are many recipes for hot sauces, often the only common ingredients are chili and salt.
Some sauces use fruits or vegetables as a base and add hot peppers to make them hot.
Louisiana sauce is the most popular in the United States. It is known as Louisiana-style hot sauce and contains peppers, like tabasco pepper or Cayenne pepper.
The Mexican hot sauce, called salsa picante, is one of most famous hot sauces in the world.
There are also Asian sauces, such as sambal. These sauces are usually a little sweeter and have a flavor of garlic or other ingredients.
On the other hand, the sauces of Chinese cuisine, especially Sichuan, as well as Thai or Indian cuisines, are the most spicy.
- The pepper was the first living organ to serve as a “guinea pig” for the development of nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging techniques.
- It was from pepper that in 1932, a Hungarian researcher managed to extract vitamin C. Indeed, Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt, Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1937, for having, among other things, discovered vitamin C and flavonoids and for exploring their biochemical properties. He isolated it in the form of white crystallized powder, and he managed to get 500 g, using 2 tonnes of peppers. It was he who gave this vitamin the name of ascorbic acid, meaning “capable of preventing scurvy”.
- Europe produces between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 tons per year, Spain is the leading European producer, followed by the Netherlands and then Italy.
- 10 lb kapia peppers (or bull's horn peppers)
- 1 lb red hot peppers (optional)
- 4 tablespoons rock salt
- 1 cup olive oil (or sunflower oil)
- Carefully remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and wash them with plenty of water.
- Drain and cut into large pieces.
- Sprinkle them with a small amount of rock salt and place them in a pot with a lid.
- Barely cover them with water.
- Cook covered over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
- Drain the peppers.
- Keeping the peppers in the colander, crush them first by hand to get rid of as much water as possible.
- Then crush them in a mortar using a pestle until getting a paste by gradually adding the remaining rock salt while crushing them.
- Then spread this preparation on a large baking sheet.
Two options for drying:
- Expose the crushed peppers under the sun for about a week while stirring them with a wooden spoon 2 times a day.
- Place the crushed peppers in an oven at 90 F (30°C) for 24 hours.
- Sterilize 3 glass jars of ½ cup (100 ml) each.
- Distribute the paste in the 3 jars, spread oil on the surface of the paste and close the jars tightly.
- Turn the jars over and place them on the lid and leave them there for about 8 hours.
- Turn them over again and store them in a dry place away from heat.
- After opening a jar of biber salçası, keep it in the refrigerator for a month, with the lid tightly closed.