This Turkish pepper brings unique flavor and heat to a variety of dishes.

By Nadia Hassani
May 26, 2021
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Urfa biber, also known as Urfa pepper, is a distinctive spice, instantly recognizable by its deep purply red hue. Read on to learn more about Urfa biber, including how to use it in your favorite recipes.

Where Does Urfa Biber Come From? 

Urfa biber is a spice consisting of dried Turkish chile peppers. "Biber" means pepper in Turkish and Urfa indicates the geographical origin of the pepper. Urfa is a city in southeastern Turkey not far from the border between Syria and Turkey. The chile peppers are grown in the surrounding region of Şanlıurfa.

The chile peppers used for Urfa biber called Isot are one of the many varieties of Capsicuum annuum. The fresh peppers look like an elongated bell pepper. Unlike other chile peppers, they are large — 2 inches or more wide, and more than 8 inches long.

How Is Urfa Biber Made?

The Isot chile peppers are left on the plant until they are a deep, vibrant red. After the harvest, the peppers are left to dry in the sun during the day and wrapped or covered at night. The temperature difference between the heat during the day and the cool nighttime temperatures causes condensation — the chile peppers start to "sweat." The tiny droplets of moisture help the peppers to remain soft, preserve the natural oils in the skins of the peppers, and trap the flavor inside the flesh. This drying process is what gives Urfa biber its chewy consistency. After the chile peppers are fully dried, they are ground to a flaky consistency with a small amount of salt and vegetable oil. The salt is not added for flavor but rather to prevent the flakes from clumping together.

urfa biber, turkish pepper, on a plate
Credit: Nadia Hassani

What Does Urfa Biber Taste Like?

The taste of Urfa biber is described as smoky and earthy but with subtly sweet and acidic undertones of raisin, chocolate, or coffee.

Urfa biber reaches 30,000 to 50,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, which measures heat of chile peppers. This makes Urfa biber about as spicy as cayenne peppers.

Interestingly, the fresh peppers aren't spicy at all, they only develop their heat during the drying process.

How to Use Urfa Biber

Urfa biber can be added to any dish where you would use black pepper — in fact, Turkish and Kurdish cuisine use chile peppers for seasoning instead of black pepper. 

Add Urfa biber to meats such kebabs or steak, roasted chicken, stuffed or roasted vegetables, rice, or to season chickpeas and other legumes. You can also sprinkle it on mezze like hummus or baba ghanoush to add heat and another dimension of flavor.

Urfa biber can also be used to make harissa, using the flakes instead of whole dried chile peppers.

Because if its sweet flavor component, chefs use Urfa biber for desserts to add a hint of heat, especially chocolate desserts and baked goods such as brownies, as well as hot chocolate. Urfa biber also pairs well with cakes or ice cream containing ginger, vanilla, or cinnamon.

cyprus gyro burger
Mexican hot chocolate with whipped cream
chevre with urfa biber
Left: Credit: doughgirl8
Center: Credit: Yoly
Right: Credit: Cazeula

Recipes with Urfa Biber

Try these inventive recipes using Urfa biber, each created by members of the Allrecipes community:

What Is a Good Urfa Biber Substitute?

There are several options for Urfa biber substitutes depending on what you are after. Keep in mind, however, that whichever substitute you use, it will be a compromise because neither of the suggested alternatives packs the same complexity of flavors, heat, or flaky consistency.

If you primarily want to add heat to a dish, use red chile flakes or cayenne pepper. For a hint of smokiness, smoked sweet or hot paprika will do the job. If a recipe calls for Urfa biber for sprinkling on a finished dish, Aleppo pepper has a similar flaky, pebbly consistency. 

aleppo pepper
Aleppo pepper packs less heat than Urfa biber, but has a similar flaky texture.
| Credit: Diana Moutsopoulos

Urfa Biber vs. Aleppo Pepper

Urfa biber has a similar consistency as Aleppo pepper but it is much spicier. Aleppo pepper only reaches 10,000 SCU on the Scoville scale. And Aleppo pepper is lighter in color than Urfa biber.

In addition to Urfa biber there are two other popular Turkish peppers: Kirmizi and Maras. Kirmizi pepper (Aci pul biber in Turkish) has a finely flaked consistency and a fruity, hot-and-sweet flavor. Kirmizi pepper has 35,000 SCH so in terms of heat, it is between Aleppo pepper and Urfa biber. Maras pepper (Maras biber in Turkish) originates in southeastern Turkey just like Urfa biber. It also has a slightly smoky, sweet taste but with 10,000 SHU, it is much milder.

How to Store Urfa Biber

Like all spices, Urfa biber should be stored in an airtight container or opaque jar away from moisture in a dark, cool place. Because of its oil content, it does not keep as long as other spices. The average shelf life for Urfa biber is about eight months. 

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