Red Pepper Flakes: The Macedonian Take On Chili Peppers

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You will often see red pepper flakes referred to as crushed red pepper; both terms are used for the same product, which consists of red chilies ground to flakes. Most red pepper flakes include a significant amount of the seeds.

The chili peppers used to make red pepper flakes were adopted into European cuisine after Columbus returned to Europe with them from the Americas.

Historians credit the Macedonian town of Bukovo with the invention of red pepper flakes. Because of this, names for the spice in several European languages are derivatives of Bukovo. Macedonians refer to any chili pepper mix as bukovec. Bukovo is situated in a region that provides the ideal environment for hot pepper production.

The types of peppers used to make red pepper flakes vary. This spice can consist entirely of one pepper variety or multiple. Basically, any of the most common hot peppers in the Capsicum annuum family will do. Peppers that are often used include jalapeños, serranos, and Anaheim chilies. Blended red pepper flakes often contain 3 to 4 different chili cultivars and measure between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville heat units.

Italians from southern Italy began using red pepper flakes in the 19th century. This is also the part of Italy from which the pepperoncini comes. The first set of Italian immigrants to the United States used red pepper flakes. They are known to have been served in some of the oldest Italian restaurants in America.

Variants of the standard red pepper flakes include Turkish urfa pul biber and Korean gochugaru. Both of these versions typically consist only of the dried walls of the pepper pods without the seeds.

Today, red pepper flakes can come from any of a number of producers throughout the world. Top producers include China and Turkey.

Red pepper flakes flavor profile

Because so many different varieties of chili peppers may be used to make red pepper flakes, the flavor profile can vary dramatically from blend to blend. Nonetheless, the prevailing flavor is of a mildly pungent and sweet capsicum with a heat level that typically ranges from light to moderate.

Health benefits of red pepper flakes

Like other forms of the hot pepper, red pepper flakes provide some important health benefits due to compounds like:

  • Vitamins: Chili peppers are a rich source of vitamins C and A. The beta-carotene that gives red pepper flakes their color gets converted to vitamin A in the body. Both are important antioxidants. You will also find a significant amount of vitamin B6 in each serving of red pepper flakes.
  • Fiber: Red pepper flakes do contain a significant amount of indigestible fiber; the fiber content is not affected by the drying process.
  • Capsaicin: Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that makes them hot; it has multiple health benefits in addition to making the peppers more enjoyable in food.

Because of these and other nutrients, you can use red pepper flakes to prevent or treat:

  • Diabetes: The capsaicin and vitamin C in red pepper flakes help with regulation of blood sugar. Stable blood sugar can aid the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
  • Prostate cancer: Capsaicin is effective for inducing cell death in prostate cancer cells.
  • Constipation: The fiber in red pepper flakes can help to keep food moving through the gut by adding bulk to it.

Common uses

In America, most people associate red pepper flakes with pizza parlors and other restaurants that serve Italian-style food, but the condiment has numerous applications. For example, it makes a great addition to pickles and sausage.