What do Espelette pepper, cayenne pepper, sambal oelek, harissa and tabasco have in common? They are very, very hot for our northern taste buds. We now have access to a variety of dried pepper sauces or pastes in the pantry.
It is the dried pepper of choice in these parts. Its flakes have been generously sprinkled on spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs. Cayenne pepper is used in India as well as Latin America. Its cultivation dates back to pre-Colombian times. It is used in chili and curry seasoning. Cayenne is a hot pepper that is classified as an eight on the Scoville scale.
Another favourite among us, tabasco is a pepper similar to cayenne pepper. Red pepper Tabasco sauce has been a patented product in Louisiana since 1870. Today, the Tabasco brand covers a range of red and green pepper and garlic sauces. Classic Tabasco sauce is made from crushed tabasco pepper, macerated in oak barrels with salt for three years. Distilled vinegar is added during the maceration process. The mixture is filtered after four weeks and bottled. Tabasco sauce is hot. It ranks high on the Scoville scale. It can keep almost indefinitely at room temperature.
Available mainly in puree or powdered form, harissa is a common seasoning in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Its name derives from the Arabic word harasa, which means crushed. It is the national condiment in Tunisia. Couscous would be quite bland without it. Harissa is made from little red peppers, cayenne pepper, vegetables, canola oil, garlic and herbs such as coriander and mint, spices such as caraway, and sometimes more than twenty other spices. Harissa is very spicy. It adds a kick to soup, meat fish, stew and rice. It can be mixed with broth or olive oil and lemon juice. Harissa puree comes in a tube or a small metal container. It should be stored in the fridge after opening.
Sambal oelek is a puree of crushed red pepper, grated onion, lime, oil and vinegar. It is part of Indonesian cuisine, just like tabasco is common in American cuisine and harissa in North African cuisine.
Sambal is very spicy. Its colour is bright orange-red. It differs from other pepper-based products. Like other pepper purees, sambal is added to recipes in small doses, 1 ml (1/4 teaspoon) at a time. It also increases flavour. It can be stored in the fridge for several months. It can be used as a replacement for cayenne pepper and tabasco. To taste it is to love it.
This newcomer to our tables is an ancient spice from the Basque region. It is a hot pepper. It sits around 4 on the Scoville scale, less pungent than cayenne pepper. Very aromatic, it adds flavour before it adds spice.
Espelette pepper can be used in the legendary drying ritual of Bayonne ham. Bayonne ham seasons the piperade (a traditional Basque omelette topped with peppers, onions and tomato sauce).
It adds a spicy touch to ratatouille and stews. It adds zing to grilled or Spanish-style fish. In Espelette, peppers are threaded with string and hung from the windows of white homes to dry before being pulverized. This pepper is mainly used in powder or puree form. Espelette pepper can be used in recipes that call for ground cayenne pepper.
This scale was established in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville to measure human tolerance to the spicy heat of peppers. Originally, the scale was developed based on human tasters. Today, it is established according to high-performance liquid chromatography. It is more precise but doesn’t alter the taste of the peppers. The taste varies from mild to explosive, with warm, spicy, hot, strong, scorching, burning, scalding and volcanic in between. The scale rates peppers from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest.