Does The Trendy Urfa Biber Pepper Actually Taste Like Chocolate And Wine?

There are somewhere between three to four thousand types of chili peppers in the world, which means there's a whole variety of hot peppers out there beyond the usual dried chilies, powders, and occasional jalapeño. It's time to meet a new chili that's already crossing borders and taking over the menus of trendy and hip new restaurants — the urfa biber.

Urfa biber is named after the Turkish word for pepper (biber) and the Turkish city Urfa near the Syrian border where the chili first came from. Closer in appearance to poblano peppers, urfa biber is grown in the region of Şanliurfa in southern Turkey where these chilies are harvested and dried in two steps.

Urfa biber is first sun-dried till the pepper's skin darkens and its flavor goes from fresh, floral, and citrus to a deep smoky, and earthy. But here's what makes urfa biber a very unique chili: while the peppers are laid out in the sun during the way for about a week, they are covered in a tarp to sweat at night. As the peppers sweat, ferment, and oxidize, the bright orange chilies turn into a shade of deep red or burgundy and their natural flavors become more intense, giving the peppers a spice that is surprisingly, also cheesy.

Urfa Biber has the heat that's expected of chilies but with a hint of sweetness

Spice expert and owner of the New York-based La Boîte, Lior Lev Sercarz tells Food & Wine that because urfa biber is left to sweat, it has an oily and damp texture when ground into a powder. This texture is similar to the sediment or dregs that are often found at the bottom of a red wine bottle. But the Turkish chili has more in common with red wine than just its texture.

Sercarz notes that urfa biber is neither too spicy nor too sweet. It has the mild heat that's expected of chilies, a hint of smokiness that comes from the way the chilies are sun-dried, and a depth of flavor that is reminiscent of wine and chocolate tannins as well as tobacco and raisins.

The flavor profile of urfa biber brings a layered heat to roasted root vegetables and meat-heavy stews. The chewiness of raw urfa biber flakes and its sweet-savory heat also makes it an excellent spice to break up the dairy on a cheeseboard or amp up the flavors of a sweet dessert. But don't stop at just stews, cheese platters, desserts, and Turkish specialties — urfa biber's unique flavor can be added to just about any dish just as you would sprinkle salt and pepper — think eggs, hummus, yogurt-based dips, leftover pizza, or even salads.