piment d’espelette: the most popular chilies in France

Piment d'Espelette (Espelette pepper)
Piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper, Ezpeletako Biperra) is produced by drying the fresh Capsicum annuum and grinding it into a fine powder. The maroon powder offers dishes a mild spicy flavor with notes of fruitiness. Espelette peppers go best with piperade, a comforting yet special traditional dish enjoyed in the Basque region of France.

What is piment d’espelette?

Espelette peppers
Espelette peppers

Piment d’Espelette is among the most popular chilies in French and international cooking. It is only grown, cultivated, and made in the Basque country of France, making it a rare and sought-after chili pepper.

Thanks to their unique flavor profile, these dried peppers from Espelette can be used for hearty stews and soups, beef, veal dishes, and vegetables, and even to add spice to chocolate and some unique cocktails.

Heat level500 – 4,000 SHU
OriginCultivated by the Basque people of northern Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
AppearanceA bright red pepper
Flavor profileA fresh and fruity flavors with a mild and warm heat profile

Is piment d’espelette spicy?

Piment d’Espelette ranks low at 500 – 4,000 units on the Scoville heat scale (SHU), just a notch below tabasco sauce and jalapeno. Despite its dark red pepper powder appearance, it is not too spicy and is best described as mild with a small hint of heat.

Origin

Piment d’Espelette is a red Capsicum cultivated by the Basque people of northern Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques. However, the chile pepper was first planted in Castile, Spain, after being exported from Mexico. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the piment d’Espelette pepper was later introduced to the French commune of Espelette. 

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Espelette powder is common in Basque cuisine. It has now reached peak popularity in Europe, with a controlled designation of origin and French agricultural label (Appellation d’origine contrôlée). This ensures that only chili peppers grown in Espelette can be called “piment d’Espelette.”

The Protected designation of origin (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) is another guarantee that the peppers come from the 10 French villages. This stamp of approval ensures quality control.

Appearance

Fresh Capsicum annuum is a bright red pepper. Once they have been turned into dried peppers, they become dark red. The final pepper powder product is also dark red and more maroon, similar to paprika powder.

Flavor profile

Piment d’Espelette is known for its fresh and fruity flavors with a mild and warm heat profile. Since they are dried peppers, they also have a hint of smokiness but nothing too overpowering.

All high-quality Espelette powder comes from 100% dried piment d’Espelette pepper. However, some shops also sell fleur de Sel piment d’Espelette, or sea salt flowers with chili pepper.

Nutritional Benefits of piment d’espelette

Different peppers come with varying nutritional and health benefits. Piment d’Espelette peppers are a good source of vitamin C which helps to strengthen the immune system. They also help in reducing inflammation as well as giving the body a boost in collagen production. 

Another nutritional value they offer comes from the high amount of potassium. Lastly, the pepper powder also contains iron which helps protein hemoglobin production and improves blood flow.

What is the difference between piment d’Espelette and chili powder?

Piment d’Espelette powderPowder made from a specific type of pepper grown only in the village of Espelette
Chili powderA term for various pepper powders ranging from cayenne, paprika, and habanero

The main difference between piment d’Espelette and chili powder is the origin of the peppers. Espelette powder is made from a specific type of pepper grown only in the village of Espelette.

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Meanwhile, chili powder is a term for various pepper powders ranging from cayenne, paprika, and habanero. The two terms cannot be interchanged, especially for Southern French cooking.

Interesting piment d’espelette recipes

Although it is a rare, highly controlled, and sought-after pepper powder, piment d’Espelette pairs well with many dishes. The easiest way to use the spice is to incorporate it in marinades with olive oil and dry rubs for pork, seafood, and chicken dishes.

I recommend the following:

You can also elevate egg dishes such as deviled or scrambled eggs to the next level by sprinkling some Espelette chili powder on top.

Another easy way to use piment d’Espelette is to make your own Espelette aioli, which matches fried potatoes perfectly. If you can’t get enough of the unique blend of sweetness and heat, making an Espelette pepper compound butter is the way to go. The butter can then be used to garnish steaks or for grilling shrimp. 

Another unique way to use piment d’Espelette is to sprinkle the powder on top of chocolate ice cream. The resulting flavors are reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate, the perfect blend of sweet, creamy, spicy, hot, and cold. 

Lastly, piment d’Espelette can also be used as a cocktail ingredient for a refreshing summer drink. Its subtle spice gives Bloody Mary a bold twist, and adding sea salt Espelette powder to margaritas is a great way to enjoy the chili at its best.

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What can I use instead of piment d’Espelette?

Red peppers can work as a substitute
Red peppers can work as a substitute

Since Piment d’Espelette AOC can be hard to find even on Amazon, you can replace the powder with other red peppers — just avoid using traditional black pepper.

The best substitute that gives the same heat and sweetness is sweet or smoked paprika powder. A combination of Spanish paprika (¾ teaspoon) and Cayenne pepper (¼ teaspoon) will do the trick for every teaspoon of piment d’Espelette.

Aleppo pepper is another possible option for French dishes such as piperade.

Finally, if there is no other option, red pepper flakes can add heat to a dish but will not have the same sweetness as piment d’Espelette.

Randell

Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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