Gourmet Aleppo pepper: a culinary casualty of the Syria war
For Americans following the war in Syria, Aleppo is the dateline of major clashes between the army and rebels. But for those with gourmet tastes, it's also the name of a pepper they'd prefer not do without.
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“It’s been very popular but we don’t have it any longer,” says Linnet Hultin, who runs the retail store and is the spice buyer at Atlantic Spice Co. in North Truro, Mass. “The supplier we used to buy it from no longer carries it.”Skip to next paragraph
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In Cambridge, Mass., Oleana, which serves Eastern Mediterranean fare, uses the pepper in place of black pepper on salads and even on a whipped feta dish.
“It helps to lift the flavors,” says chef and owner Ana Sortun, also the author of the cookbook, “Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Now, she says, cooks can shift over to Maras or Urfa peppers, which come from Turkey near the Syrian border. “The nuances are so slight, you would not notice the difference,” she says.
In fact, the spice retailer Penzeys, based in Milwaukee, Wis., says its supply of Aleppo pepper comes from Turkey. “I’ve been told it’s a region, so we have no trouble with supply,” says Margie Gibbons, a spokeswoman. “It’s my favorite thing in the kitchen.”
However, spice importer Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boite a Epice in New York says the use of Aleppo pepper is reserved to a small part of the American population.
“No one would notice that Aleppo prices have either gone up or if there is no Aleppo,” he says. “You can live without Aleppo.”
He points out that three years ago 80 percent of the nutmeg crop was hurt by the weather. “Did you even hear about it?” he asks.
However, for Aleppo fans, there is no need for complete abstinence if they are willing to search the Internet. Some spice providers purchased larger quantities of the spice as they saw the internal war cranking up. One of those is The Spice House, which says it bought large quantifies in anticipation of a supply problem.
“I just spoke with our distributor last week and was told they’re still sitting pretty on stock, so the conflict hasn’t affected our little business yet,” says Alex Wilkens, store manager at the Evanston, Ill. spice provider. “We only go through a hundred pounds every couple of months so I don’t see a problem, at least for us, in the near future.”
Over the longer term, it might become a larger problem if the war drags on, says Mr. Sercarz. “No one knows how long this war will last and that this year’s harvest is going to be harvested…. We will adjust and improvise.”
IN PICTURES: Inside Aleppo, Syria