What Is Urfa Biber?

A Guide to Buying, Using, and Storing Urfa Biber

Urfa Biber

The Spruce Eats / Maxwell Cozzi

Urfa biber, also called urfa pepper or isot pepper, is a salty, spicy, deep maroon Turkish chile pepper sold in flakes. Urfa refers to the region where the pepper is grown, and biber means pepper in Turkish. The uses for this spice are limitless, from seasoning for braised meats and roasted vegetables, to standing in anywhere you’d use crushed red pepper. Urfa pepper has a delicious flavor that can add depth and spicy, smoky nuance to any dish.

Fast Facts

  • Also called urfa pepper or isot pepper
  • Originates in southern Turkey, near the Syrian border
  • Flavor profile: Spicy, salty, smoky, with notes of chocolate and tobacco
  • Found in specialty grocers in the spice aisle, or through online purveyors

What is Urfa Biber?

Urfa biber chile peppers are reminiscent of long bell peppers, and they are usually found as a dried, flaked seasoning similar to crushed red pepper. The pepper is cultivated in the Urfa region of southern Turkey, near Syria, and turns from dark green or bright red to deep red as it ripens on the plant. It’s then sun-dried during the day and tightly wrapped in fabric or plastic to “sweat” at night, preserving the pepper’s natural oils on its skin. The pepper is then crushed and packed with salt to prevent caking, maintaining a slightly moist, oily texture. It’s perfect for use as a seasoning on a variety of dishes, but is traditionally used on lamb or sauteed with tomatoes and eggplant.

How to Use Urfa Biber

Urfa biber can add heat and deep chile flavor to any dish. Sprinkle it on vegetables while cooking; blend into homemade salad dressings; season braising liquid when slow cooking meats; use it to bring new life to leftover pizza — the possibilities are endless. Mix the pepper flakes with cumin, coriander and onion powder for a delicious spice rub. Urfa biber can even be added to desserts, particularly chocolate treats like brownies or cookies, to add a little smoky heat and salt to balance out the sweet. Use it in most recipes in place of crushed red pepper or black pepper for deeper flavor. It's important to note that because urfa biber flakes are packed with salt, so reduce the salt in your recipe accordingly.

what is urfa
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what is urfa
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what is urfa
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what is urfa
Getty Images / Nadore 
what is urfa
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What Does Urfa Biber Taste Like?

Urfa Biber is spicy, salty, and slightly sour. Thanks to the sun-drying process, there’s also a hint of smokiness. In addition, the pepper is earthy with notes of chocolate, tobacco, and a slight raisin-like sweetness. The heat of the fresh pepper is mild when fresh, and intensifies during the drying process. The flaked pepper clocks in at 30,000-50,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Urfa Biber Recipes

Use urfa in place of salt and black pepper in the following recipes:

Where to Buy Urfa Biber

Urfa biber can be found in specialty grocers or Middle Eastern grocery shops. Due to it its growing popularity around the world, some higher-end mainstream grocers may carry it in the spice aisle. It can also be found online on Amazon and other online spice shops. You’ll typically find it in glass or plastic jars, or zip-top plastic packaging. 

How to Store Urfa Biber

Keep crushed urfa biber in an airtight container, and store in the pantry away from light and heat. It should stay potent for at least eight months.