Red pepper flakes are a delicious and versatile spice that know no cultural identity or boundaries. You’ve probably seen them on the table of pizza places, Korean BBQ spots, in the spice caddies at Thai restaurants, and everywhere in between.
In recipes, red pepper flakes can also sometimes be called hot pepper flakes. Either way, consider these little sprinkles of spice a delicious addition to almost any meal.
And even if you do recognize that little hot pepper flake as a welcome addition to most foods… do you know what crushed red pepper flakes actually are?
Red Pepper Flakes: A Brief History
Quite simply, pepper flakes are the dried remains of a crushed red pepper (or a mix of several types of peppers).
Always a part of the Capsicum annuum family of nightshades, red pepper flakes are generally a combination of cayenne and paprika peppers.
Sometimes, you’ll find the occasional bell or jalapeno pepper thrown into the recipe too.
And because each pepper is slightly different in spice level and texture, you might find yourself preferring one brand or blend of red pepper flakes over another.
So, How Spicy is Spicy?
Well, the peppers that are part of the Capsicum annuum family all carry varying degrees of heat. The spice level is measured by units of heat on the Scoville Scale.
Created and named by Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist by trade, the Scoville Scale measures all peppers in SHU (or Scoville Heat Units) to gauge how spicy each variety of pepper can be.1
Scoville Scale for Crushed Red Pepper
Although every blend of red pepper flakes is slightly different, the average heat level is a relatively mild 15,000-30,000 SHU. By comparison, when you eat a habanero, you are consuming a much hotter pepper that ranks almost 300,000 SHU.2
“Hot” Tip: The SHU of a pepper changes dramatically when you include the pepper’s seeds in your pepper flake blend. The seeds are the hottest part of any spicy pepper and they can be removed, or added, depending on your level of bravery.
Red Pepper Flakes as a Healthcare Tool
Countless variations of crushed and dried cayenne pepper have made an appearance in many countries’ cuisines, but did you know adding this spice to your diet can have some positive effects on your body?
Red pepper flakes can:
- Stimulate your metabolism, and help you burn extra calories throughout the duration of your day3
- Aid digestion by stimulating your stomach’s ability to secrete digestive fluids and potentially soothe any stomach discomfort4
- Signal your brain to feel satiated, potentially helping you eat less and maintain healthy weight goals5
What to Look For in Crushed Red Pepper
You’ve probably noticed that your dried pepper mix contains many different shapes and textures. When you see crushed red pepper flakes with a lot of variety, it is a good thing, as the dried skin, seeds, flesh, and powder all carry different SHU levels and provide different flavors.
If you’re shopping for higher-quality spices to use at home, remember that they don’t all have to look identical. In fact, the more unique — the better.
Spice Up Your Life
In the immortal words of Geri, Victoria, Emma, Mel B, and Mel C (a.k.a the Spice Girls for those not around in the mid-90s) – “people of the world, spice up your life!” With a better understanding of what makes up red pepper flakes, you can now add a new level of zest to your life in as many ways as you see fit.6
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