Story Behind Chilli Flakes

Story Behind Chilli Flakes

Have you ever wondered what are chilli flakes? How come we find shakers of chilli flakes in Pizzerias and restaurants selling Italian food and not in others? Are chilli flakes used only in Italian cuisine? Which other regions in the world use it and for what kinds of food.

Meghalaya, a state in the Northeast of India, with its pristine lands and hilly terrain, is home to some of the spiciest and most flavourful chillies like Bhut Jolokia and Bird’s eye chilli.

Zizira, based in Shillong, is working to get the rich plant treasures of Meghalaya, which are grown using traditional farming practices, known to the outside world. 

Read our story – how our conscious business is making a difference to the community of farmers of our state Meghalaya, in the Northeast corner of India.

Not surprising that we set out to explore the story behind chilli flakes.

What Are Chilli Flakes? How Are They Different From Chilli Powder?

Simple! Ripened and dried chillies are crushed to produce chilli flakes. Something you can produce by pounding in a pestle and mortar or by grinding in a mixi in the pulse mode – short run and then stop.

You will see flakes of the dried outer skin, the veins and the seeds will be visible too. Finely ground dried chillis becomes chilli powder. It will be smooth and, yes, powdery!


Chillis From Different Genus Can Be Used to Make Chilli Flakes

We set out to tell you what are chilli flakes. Let us see if there are preferred varieties of chillies which are used to make chilli flakes.

Chilli flakes, we understand, are normally made from a Genus called Capsicum Annuum belonging to the Solanaceae family. Surprisingly, the starchy potato, the fleshy eggplant and tomato too belong to the same Genus. Because of poisonous alkaloids present in some plants of the Solanaceae family, it is also known to as ‘nightshade’ family.

Capsicum Annuum, which covers varieties like the bell pepper and paprika, is said to have originated in South and Central America and started being used as a spice over 5000 years ago. So, it has been in use for a pretty long time!

Download a copy of the 54 medicinal plants & herbal remedies of Meghalaya.

Bhut Jolokia, Bird’s Eye Chilli, and Habanero belong to the same Solanaceae family, but to a slightly different Genus – known as Capsicum frutescens. This Genus includes Tabasco varieties that are used in Tabasco sauce. This too originated in South and Central America. chilli flakes

Chilli flakes, also called Red Pepper Flakes, can vary in the way they look and taste, depending on the size of the flakes, the flavor and the heat content. This depends on the variety of chilli used and where they were sourced from, which can be anywhere from Turkey, to India, to China!

Regions That Produce and Use Chilli Flakes

Chilli flakes are used in Southern Italy, not so much in the Northern parts. It is believed that the use of chilli flakes on pizzas started to the late 1800s.

When some southern Italians migrated to the US, they grew chillis in their backyard and enjoyed their pizzas with sprinkled chilli flakes. By early 1900s chilli flakes started being served in Pizzerias in the US. Initially, they used to be served at the table in open bowls. Only later the shakers came into existence.

Syria has its own variety of chilli flakes, the famous Aleppo pepper, named after the ancient city of Aleppo (which has unfortunately been mostly razed to the ground in the present-day conflict in this area), in northern Syria. You will not find seeds in these chilli flakes, as the pepper is deseeded before it is processed. Its texture is in-between that of chilli flakes and chilli powder.

Aleppo pepper is used widely in Turkish, Syrian, as also Mediterranean cooking. Its mild, salty and sweetish taste, with a lovely flavour, makes it a favourite as a plain sprinkle, or for sauces and marinades.

Ethiopia has its signature spice mix called Berbere which uses chilli flakes, along with many other spices.

Mexican cooking calls for the use of chillis and the more popular are chilli flakes than powdered chilli. One of the well-known Mexican spices containing chilli flakes is Piri Piri. Another popular variety of Mexican chilli is Guajillo (pronounced Wha - hi - oh), which is used as chilli flakes.

Spanish use Paprika (pimento), which is finely powdered chilli, not chilli flakes.

Did you know that Koreans cooking calls for chilli flakes (‘Ghochugaru’ in Korean) too? They use it in soups and stews, meats and in other dishes. This can be a fine powder or as flakes. The flake variety is more popular.

chill flakes

 In Meghalaya we add chilli flakes to curries”, said Ibanri Banda Jyrwa, a team member of Zizira. “Dried bird’s eye chilli flakes are mixed with salt and sprinkled on fruit salads and vegetable salads”

Does the Taste Change With Age?

Yes, over time chilli flakes can lose some of their spiciness. Keep the container tightly closed and store in a dry and cool area.

If you find the heat not ‘hitting’ your nose when you give it a smell check, then it may be time to replace! Always buy small quantities at a time.

Tips on Getting the Most From Chilli Flakes

Toasting the chilli flakes will bring out the flavour and taste. It goes well with many savoury food items, like vegetable curries, creamy sauces and pastas. Even salads and home-made fries taste good with a sprinkle It is best added at the end of the cooking process, rather than cook with it. Always store in a cool, dry space.

Buy small quantities and replace every 6 months, as it loses its flavour. Care has to be taken to know the source of the chilli flakes you buy. Zizira, as you know, sources its ingredients directly from the farmers who use traditional methods of farming.

I hope you found this story interesting – you found out what are chilli flakes and about the many cultures that prefer them to chilli powder.

A possible product from Zizira could be a range of chilli flakes using locally grown special chillis like Bhut Jolokia, bird’s eye chilli etc.

Do you wish to know more? Or maybe ready to do a taste test and give us feedback? Or wish to send us a favourite recipe of yours using chilli flakes? Get in touch!

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