While most people associate French cuisine with subtle flavors, this famed culinary tradition also has a spicy side. Read on to learn more about piment d’Espelette, the pepper that sets French cuisine on fire.
What Is Piment d’Espelette?
The piment d’Espelette is a pepper typical of the cuisine of the Basque country, in Southern France. This pepper takes its name from Espelette, one of the most important towns in the region.
It is not known how this pepper arrived in France. However, the first historical references to its existence date back to the 16th century.
At first, people from the Basque country used the pepper only for medicinal purposes. Then they began to use it as a food preservative, before realizing that it was a good replacement for pepper, which was an expensive item.
Nowadays, the piment d’Espelette is sold in three different ways.
- Bright red and ranging in length from 2.5 to 5.5 inches long, whole piments d’Espelette are available fresh.
- Each string has 20-30 or 80-100 peppers that can be fresh or dried. Houses with strings of peppers put out to dry make for a picturesque view typical of Espelette and the surrounding region.
- Dried and ground, piments d’Espelette are used in a variety of ways, including as a conservative for ham.
In 2002, piments d’Espelette were awarded the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) certification, which the French government grants to some agricultural products grown or made in certain geographical areas. Two years later, in 2002, the peppers from Espelette were awarded the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) denomination, the European Union equivalent of AOC.
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