Do you ever stop to think that all the casualties of war aren’t just human lives? Take Aleppo pepper, for instance. It’s a Syrian chile, dried and crushed with a mild, fruity flavor and it’s one of my favorites. It has been grown in that country for centuries. Sadly, because it is traditionally cultivated in the war-torn region around Aleppo, the city for which it is named, this pepper is no longer available for export. Most suppliers now substitute Turkish Maras pepper.
The Maras pepper is a very close relative – probably even the same variety — and it is grown in a very similar terroir, so for culinary purposes, if properly grown, it is probably a satisfactory swap. But I am grieving the loss of the authentic Aleppo. I discovered it many years ago in Montreal; Phillipe de Vienne, an extremely knowledgeable spice vendor, imported it for his shop Epices de Cru in the Jean Talon market. At the time, I was experimenting with a Middle Eastern cooking and was immediately smitten by the pepper’s sweet yet spicy flavor. I associate it with a time in my life when I was learning about Middle Eastern cuisine and exploring other regional spices and herbs such as sumac and za’atar. It is part of my memory bank — like Proust’s madeleines – and in some ways, I feel like I have lost a friend.
If peace ever returns to Syria I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the farmers will return to their land and our supply of authentic Aleppo pepper will begin again. In the meantime, chile growers are keeping the variety alive. Thanks to chile grower extraordinaire, Rebecca, Johnston at chilli-seedz.com for cultivating the Aleppo pepper in Queensland Australia, and also for her beautiful photo.