Cooking With Urfa Biber

I use lots of different peppers in my cooking, but if I had to choose just one, I would select Urfa biber each and every time.

Like so many of the chillies loved around the world, Urfa biber, also called isot pepper, is made from a cultivar of capsicum annuum, the same species which gives us jalapeños, bell peppers, cayenne, and New Mexico chile, among others.

How spicy is it? Estimates vary, but it’s typically described as being a medium-hot to hot pepper, ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU on the Scoville scale. For comparison, jalapeños weigh in at around 3,500-8,000 SHU, while habaneros (capsicum chinense) typically clock between 100,000-350,000 SHU. As with most peppers, heat may vary a bit based on soil conditions, moisture, preparation, and how the plant was pollinated.

The heat from Urfa biber tends to start slow and build over time, making it a great choice for slow cook dishes like curries or stews, where flavor is desired as well as spice.

The peppers are sun baked during the day but covered in cloth or plastic and “sweated” at night. Sunlight darkens the peppers, and can make them taste richer and smokier. The sweating process encourages the pepper flesh to retain moisture, and may also heighten the sensation of “oiliness” that Urfa biber is sometimes described as having.

As a result, crushed Urfa biber is mildly salty, moderately spicy, soft, sweet, fruity, and moist. It’s a pepper which brings a lot of flavor to any dish, and it can be used cooked or just sprinkled on almost anything you’d like to season. Urfa biber can taste a bit like chocolate, or red wine. Some cooks I know say it tastes like raisins. Others say the peppers have notes of tobacco. I think it tastes a bit like dried plums.

Urfa biber brings tasty heat to sweeter dishes when paired with beets or squashes. When cooking chili, I use it as a keystone spice: its complex flavor allows it to harmonize with sweetness and umami alike. It also blends extremely well with other chillies, creating a balance between the sharpness of cayenne and jalapeños and the heartiness of poblanos. Mix some with paprika, and you’ve got a flavorful sprinkle that works well on everything from pasta to popcorn to your favorite protein. Someday, I’m going to try to make Urfa biber ice cream.

Almost all varieties of capsicum annuum are praised for their ability to help clear a stuffy nose, and for acting as an anti-inflammatory. Urfa biber in particular is high in vitamins A and C, as well as potassium and iron. So, you can feel good eating this lovely treat on almost anything!

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