Basque Country

Espelette Hot Peppers (Capsicum annuum d'Espelette) most likely originated in Mexico prior to their arrival in the 16th century to the village gardens of Espelette located in Basque Country, located in southwest France. The open pollinated peppers have been adding spice to Basque cuisine ever since. Espelette lies near the border of northeast Spain and about a 30 minute drive from the beach.

The tapered, 4-6 inch peppers gained such status and appreciation that in 2000, Espellete was granted French AOC certification Appellation d'origine controlee, a geographical indication used on outstanding products that include Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil, fine wines, Roquefort cheese, Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegars.

If you ever find yourself in France during the last week in October, check out the Fête du Piment annual pepper festival. The festivities attract thousands of tourists to the southwestern French village of Espelette to enjoy the music and pepper tasting.

White House Garden Cooking

In a recent taping for the Nate Berkus Show at the White House Kitchen and Garden, Executive Chef Chris Commerford gave Nate an on-the-spot cooking class on making Roasted Pumpkin Squash Soup. As the chef sprinkled Espelette power to aromatics (carrots, celery, onion, garlic) that were simmering, she explained to Nate that, "Espelette is kind of like the French version of cayenne pepper." For the recipe, see the link posted below.

Espelette Pepper Heat

Espelette adds spice and flavor to foods, but actually is not as spicy hot as Cayenne pepper. Cayenne ranks 30,000-50,000 Scoville units; Espelette and Jalapeno rank 3,500-8,000. (In 1912 Pharmacist Wilbur Scoville devised the method to rank the heat level of chili peppers based on the amount of capsaicin present.)

Espelette HaImagervest

Like most pepper varieties, Espelette peppers are harvested in late summer. During September, in the French Basque region, ristras of peppers are hung to dry in homes and on balconies throughout the region. Dried peppers can be ground to powder and used as a spice to flavor most any dish, including Bayonne ham, piperade and basquaise (tomatoes and peppers).

Pepper Nutrition

Capsicum in chili peppers helps to control hunger and increase the body's metabolism, and it may help to burn calories. Peppers also contain beneficial nutrients, including carotene and antioxidants. Calculated from USDA nutrient values, one hot chili pepper (45g) provides an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of Vitamin B6.

Chili Pepper Nutrition Data: Serving Size: One hot chili pepper (45g); Calories: 18; total Dietary Fiber: 0.7g (3%DV); Iron: .46mg (3%DV); Potassium: 145mg (4%DV); Manganese .08mg (4%DV); Vitamin C: 65mg (108%DV); Thiamin: .03mg (2%DV); Riboflavin: .04mg (2%DV); Vitamin B6: .23mg (11%DV); Folate: 10mcg (3%DV); Vitamin A: 428IU (9%DV); Vitamin K: 6.3mcg (8%DV)
Percent Daily Values (%DVs) are based on a caloric intake of 2,000 calories for adults and children age 4 or older

Espelette Spice and Seeds

To make pepper powder, simply harvest the peppers, air dry, then grind. You can also find Espelette pepper powder in gourmet food stores and online. Espelette peppers have European PDO, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. To grow your own, Espelette seeds can be purchased from garden companies who guarantee the seeds are from one of these French Basque communes: Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Espelette, Halsou, Jatxou, itxassou, Larressore, Pée Saint-sur-Nivelle or Souraïde Ustaritz.

Chili or Chile? Either spelling is acceptable according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Dave's Garden lists peppers with both spellings. New Mexicans prefer the spelling chile. Chili is the preferred spelling in the USDA nutrient database. Chile with a capital "C" is a country in South America.

Photo credits: Piments sur les façades and Piments - France - Espelette - Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64) - 2005-08-05 taken by Pinpin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. GNU Free Documentation license.

Related Links:

Roasted Pumpkin Squash Soup with Pepitas and Greek Yogurt recipe Obama Foodorama blog

Homemade Ground Pepper Spices by Diana Wind

Piment d'Espelette Chocolate & Zucchini blog

France: A Great Afternoon in Espelette by Dorie Greenspan

Chile Pepper Ristra for Good Luck GardenCuizine blog