History, culture, recipes: Espelette chilli pepper, the pride of the Basque Country!

Spice up your cooking with the trendiest ingredient from the Basque Country: Espelette chilli pepper! Discover its fascinating history, its benefits and secrets, and how to use it in your favorite dishes.

A pepper from Mexico by sea

So, you may be wondering where the famous Espelette pepper comes from? Well, we have to go back in time to the discovery ofAmerica by Christopher Columbus. It was at this time that Europeans first discovered chillies, which had been cultivated for thousands of years in South America. Piment d’Espelette, for its part, was introduced in France in the 17th century, thanks to the Spanish conquistadors who discovered it in Mexico. But it’s in the small Basque province of Labourd is the place where chillies have been grown for four centuries.

The secret ingredient to transform your dishes

Espelette pepper is one of the star ingredients of Basque cuisine. Learn how to use it to enhance your dishes and impress your guests. In Basque gastronomy, piment d’Espelette is a versatile ingredient, long used to replace pepper. It adds a touch of spice to many traditional dishes, from piperade to poulet basquaise andveal Axoa. Piment d’Espelette is mainly consumed in powder form. You can sprinkle piment d’Espelette on scrambled eggs, hash browns, or even desserts like apple pie or hot chocolate.

A jewel of Basque cuisine protected by a PDO

Piment d’Espelette is the only spice in France to benefit from a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which means it can only be produced in a production zone limited to ten Basque communes around the village ofEspelette. August 15 traditionally marks the start of the harvest. The chillies are hand-picked and sun-dried for several weeks before being ground into powder. Only red peppers that are at least 80% red are harvested. Drying is completed in an oven. This production process gives piment d’Espelette its unique taste and deep red color. The Gorria variety is considered the original Espelette chili variety.

Also read: Don’t miss the Espelette chilli festival in October!

The health benefits of Basque chilli pepper

Piment d’Espelette is not only delicious, it also has health benefits. It is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Its medicinal virtues and anti-bacterial properties first made it a household name. Chillies were powdered and applied to meats to improve preservation. The Spanish conquistadors used it for therapeutic purposes, as did the Aztecs. However, be careful not to overuse it, as it can also be irritating to the stomach.

Espelette chilli pepper on the Scoville scale

To assess the strength of a pepper, we use the Scoville scale, named after its inventor Wilbur Lincoln Scoville. This scale measures the amount of capsaicin, a chemical compound that gives chillies their pungency. TheScoville scale ranges from 0 (no capsaicin) to over a million in the case of Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper. Piment d’Espelette, on the other hand, measures between 1,500 and 2,500 units, giving it a rating of 4/10, which makes it moderately hot compared with other varieties.

photo@Céline teyteau, pixabay