What is Aleppo pepper?
The Aleppo pepper, also known as the Halaby pepper, is a brick red chilli pepper that is dried and used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is a cultivar of the Capsicum annuum pepper, developed in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has long been considered a spiritual home of Middle Eastern cuisine, thanks to its prominent position on the Silk Road.
The name Aleppo pepper is derived from the plant’s native city, as is the name Halaby pepper, which comes from Aleppo’s Arabic name, Halab. Until recently, the majority of Aleppo peppers came from Syria, but many crops have been destroyed during the ongoing civil war, and some farmers have moved production across the border into Turkey.
To make them into the spice that is their most popular form, the peppers are semi-dried, de-seeded, then crushed or coarsely ground. The result is attractive, dark red chilli flakes, which can be used to add flavour and heat to anything from salads to grilled vegetables and marinades. Aleppo pepper has been a common spice in Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, and is particularly popular in Syria, Armenia and Turkey, where it is traditionally used to season meat, beans, salads, and muhammara dip.
What does it taste like?
Aleppo pepper is milder than regular chilli flakes, measuring a moderate 10,000 on the Scoville scale, but what it lacks in heat, it makes up for in flavour. While not as fiery as some chilis, it still has a substantial kick, but this is experienced as a slow build of heat, rather than a full on attack.
It has a deep, aromatic flavour, with earthy undertones reminiscent of cumin. It has been compared to Ancho chilli powder, but with a coarser, more flakey texture, more oiliness and a saltiness left behind from the salt used in the drying process. There is also a slight sweetness that has been compared to raisins or sun-dried tomatoes.
Aleppo pepper alternatives
Aleppo peppers should be available from Middle Eastern markets, and can also be purchased online, but if you need a substitute there are several options available.
You can create a pretty good dupe for Aleppo pepper using a mixture of cayenne pepper, sweet paprika and a little salt. The heat of the cayenne pepper, mixed with the sweet, complex flavours of the paprika are a reasonable match for Aleppo pepper, while the salt replicates the saltiness left behind by the drying process.
Some other chilis that have reasonably similar flavour profiles to the Aleppo are the Turkish Marash or Antebi peppers or the Korean Gochugaru pepper. All of these peppers have deeper and more complex flavours than most chilis. The Gochugaru is sweet and smoky, while the Marash is also smoky, but a little hotter than the Aleppo, and the Antebi is fruitier and milder.
In a pinch, you can substitute regular chilli flakes for Aleppo pepper, which will at least provide a little heat, if not the same depth of flavour. Try grinding the flakes to a fine powder to try and release a little more flavour. You will also need to reduce the amount added, as regular chilli packs more of a punch than Aleppo pepper.
If you would like to try the subtle heat and complex flavours of the Aleppo pepper for yourself, here are some of our favourite Aleppo pepper recipes.
For a dish with real wow factor, try these flavourful Moroccan ‘cigars’, a dish designed by chef Tal Ronnen for prestigious LA vegan restaurant, Crossroads Kitchen.
Great for sharing, this grilled mushroom antipasto salad from Bon Appetit is savoury, satisfying and seasoned to perfection.
Perfect as a light lunch or supper, this recipe for spicy Aleppo pepper shrimp toast from Tried and True Recipe is full of rich, spicy flavours and takes just 15 minutes from start to finish.
For the ultimate grilled chicken, try this Aleppo pepper chicken recipe from Panning The Globe. The complex flavours of Aleppo pepper are combined with Turkish yoghurt, tomato paste, garlic and lemon to make simply the best chicken marinade you’ve ever tasted.
If you can’t get enough of all things chilli, join us on a journey of discovery into that classic flavour combination, chilli and chocolate.