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Friday, January 21, 2011

Mystery Spices

Portrait by Mark Moore of Pict Studios.
Every so often—more frequently when cooking in a kitchen with foreign items—you will run into a spice you've never encountered before, a spice for which you have no frame of reference, or a spice whose appearance does not correlate with the name on the label.

When cooking with Oz, we discovered one such spice while preparing the Lentil Soup. Searching for something to give it a little extra zing, we came across the above-pictured jar in Oz's kitchen cabinet. Glancing at the label, the kitchen crew immediately knew it was Turkish in origin (the Turks like their i-with-no-dot letter quite a bit,) but were all uncertain as to what, exactly, it was. Physically, it resembled a slightly finer version of crushed red pepper, but there were almost no seeds in it, and the color was much deeper and richer, almost like Sumac. It smelled fragrant, but didn't have a particularly unique odor. Being the intrepid culinarians that we are, each sampled a small portion (a couple flakes,) and found it to be somewhere between the flavor of paprika and crushed red pepper, but with a marked sweetness.

From what Oz's father (a Turkish fellow) says, and what little English information was found by another researcher, it's a family spice, a sort of "house blend" of ground/crushed peppers used widely in Turkey.

It was quite delicious, and definitely added a certain je ne sais quoi to our soup.

The moral of this story is this: Never be afraid to try something new. Flavors are an experience as powerful as any other, and can catalyze creativity or be the springing-off point for research and new culinary understanding. Sometimes, if you're lucky, a new spice can be just what you're looking for.


  1. I'm a lurker.. lurk lurk... but enjoy the blog. Do you want a translation of the spice name rather than the rough "house blend?" I should be happy to translate it for you but also don't wish to be officious.

  2. Absolutely! I'm a curious person, and all I've been able to find as a translation is a rough one of "Red Pepper Flakes," which I suspect is slightly off.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Aaron,

    That is precisely what I have though I can certainly research it further.

    kırmızı - red
    pul - flake
    biber - pepper

    It is possible that there is a cultural component that would enlighten us further as to meaning. Perhaps the red pepper in question is something rather particular to Turkey. I have had in the past very interesting conversations around food items. Where in English we have several types of berry beyond strawberries for instance, they have no precise analogue in Turkish.

    Anyway, I doubt this is news to you so I shall simply close and thank you again for your delightful blog. If I garner more information from my sources, I shall happily share it with you.

  5. Apologies. Jocelynne Simone is my not my nom de plume but I am still sincerely at your linguistic service.

    ~The Language Wench

  6. That reminds me of a jar of spice that Katie's stepmom gave us that we have no idea what to do with. It's called Ras el Hanout and it smells delicious, but we have no idea what to use it for.

  7. Ras el Hanout is, to my understanding, one of those general purpose spice blends. You can put it on meat, with vegetables, any savory dish you see fit.

    The ultimate goal of cooking is to make things that taste good, so all I can say is to taste the spice, start seasoning things with it, and stop when it tastes good.


Your opinions and comments always are welcomed, but do be civil... this isn't a kitchen, after all.