Pick a Pepper: The Best Dried Pepper Flakes

Todd Coleman

Since so many recipes in Issue #138 call for dried pepper flakes and powders, we got to wondering why cooks would reach for one version over another.

Take the dried chile flakes in this issue's cabbage and collards recipe: These flakes (pictured at right) are usually coarsely crushed blends of dried mild and hot peppers, such as ancho, cayenne, and habanero, with the seeds left in for added heat. We love how they bring straightforward spiciness and a little added texture to everything they touch.

Far more demure is ground Aleppo pepper (middle), which is used in our grilled kafta recipe. It has a sweet, earthy flavor and mellow heat. Unlike chile flakes, which have sharp edges and tough seeds, Aleppo blends smoothly into sauces, eggs, and other foods with a velvety or creamy texture you'd want to preserve.

Another option is deep, smoky piment d'Espelette (left), a powder made with a chile grown in the Basque region of France that's prized for its mild heat and complex notes of peach and brine. It makes a vibrant addition to the moules frites recipe, and it dissolves beautifully in sauces and broths.

You can swap in either Aleppo or Espelette whenever you might use chile flakes or even paprika. Just make sure to taste as you go, as each spice has a different heat level and will bring its own sweetness, sharpness, and other distinctive qualities to a dish.