Chilli flakes! They’re a condiment that can change a bland meal to one that packs a punch! The spiciness they impart along with the slight crunch of their texture can make a huge difference to your food. Add them to pastas, pizzas, soups, and more, they make all the difference!
Have you ever wondered why 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? Well, read on to find out!
What Are Chilli Flakes? How Are They Different from Chilli Powder?
Simple! As the name suggests, chilli flakes are ripened and dried chillies that are crushed to produce flakes. They’re something you can produce by pounding chillies in a mortar and pestle or by grinding in a blender on the pulse mode – giving it a quick short run. Chilli flakes are made up of flakes of the dried outer skin of chillies, the veins, and the seeds. The difference between chilli flakes and chilli powder lies in their texture. Chilli flakes are coarse whereas finely ground dried chillies become chilli powder with a smooth powdery texture!
How to Prepare Chilli Flakes at Home
Chilli flakes can be easily prepared at home. All you need are chillies, a saucepan, and a blender or a mortar and pestle!
You Will Need:
- A saucepan
- Dried chillies
- A mixer grinder/ blender or a mortar
- An airtight container
- Break apart the chillies
- Heat the saucepan on a medium flame
- Roast for 1-2 minutes till the chillies are nice and crisp
- Let the chillies cool down
- Grind them in the mixer for 10-20 seconds till you get a coarse mixture
- If you don’t have a mixer, you can grind the chillies using a mortar and pestle
- Store the roasted chilli flakes in an airtight container
Origin of Chilli Flakes
Today, chilli flakes are commonly used as a condiment with pizzas. It is believed that the use of chilli flakes on pizzas started in the late 1800s in Italy. Chilli flakes are used in Southern Italy, not so much in the Northern parts.
When some Southern Italians migrated to the US, they grew chillies 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 did the shakers came into existence.
Chillies from Different Genus/Varieties Can Be Used to Make Chilli Flakes
Chilli flakes are normally made from a genus of chillies 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 as the ‘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 long time!
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, also called red pepper flakes, can vary in the way they look and taste, depending on the size of the flakes, the flavour, 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!
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”
Chilli Flakes Around the World
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.
Mexican cooking calls for the use of chillies and chilli flakes are more popular 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.
Ethiopia has its signature spice mix called Berbere which uses chilli flakes, along with many other spices.
The Spanish use Paprika (pimento), which is finely powdered chilli, not chilli flakes.
Did you know that Korean cuisine also has chilli flakes? Called ‘Ghochugaru’ in Korean, they use it in soups, stews, meats and in other dishes. This can be a fine powder or as flakes. The flake variety is more popular.
Benefits of Chilli Flakes
Chilli flakes have several properties that are beneficial for health. Here are just some of them:
- Chilli flakes fight inflammation in the body
- Chilli flakes help lower high blood pressure
- Chilli flakes aid in improving cardiovascular health
- Chilli flakes accelerate metabolism and aid in weight loss
- Chilli flakes help stimulate the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract
- Chilli flakes increase appetite
How to Use Chilli Flakes
Chilli flakes are a versatile condiment that can be used in a variety of dishes. They can be added to pizza, noodles, pasta, stir-frys, and more. Add them to soups, sauces and stews for a dash of heat. Sprinkle some on your favourite dishes to increase flavour and make them more appetising and spicier.
I hope you found this article interesting – you found out what are chilli flakes and about the many cultures that prefer them to chilli powder.