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What is Piment D'Espelette?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Piment d'Espelette literally means “pepper of Espelette” in French. It is a food product produced around the town of Espelette in Southern France, in the region sometimes known as Basque Country. This pepper is so famous that it has been given a protected designation by the European Union, ensuring that only peppers grown in the Espelette region may be labeled as “piment d'Espelette.” This is designed to protect the heritage and integrity of this unique pepper, which is a commonly-used ingredient in Basque food.

Peppers were one of the earliest imports from the New World, and they attracted immediate attention in Mediterranean Europe. Cooks realized that peppers could be easily cultivated in kitchen gardens, and that they made a convenient replacement for the much more costly black pepper. The earliest documented instances of pepper cultivation near Espelette date to the 16th century, and by the 18th century, the region was famous for its peppers.

The piment d'Espelette is red when mature, and relatively small and mild. Heat-wise, it is usually compared to paprika, another flavorful European pepper product. Piments d'Espelette also have a dark, slightly smoky flavor which can be intensified with roasting or pan-searing, and a robust peppery flavor which can be useful in a wide variety of dishes. These peppers are traditionally used to rub Bayonne ham, a famous export of the region, and they also appear in many other Basque dishes.

Fresh peppers are sometimes available at markets and grocers, and strings of dried peppers are usually readily available in Southern France as well as being exported abroad. Piments d'Espelette are also sold in dried and powdered form, and in the form of pastes, which may be in jars, cans, or tubes. They are also sometimes blended into spice mixes which are meant to evoke the cooking of Southern France. If a dish calls for piment d'Espelette and you have trouble tracking this ingredient down, paprika often makes an adequate substitute.

Espelette takes its famous export so seriously that it has an annual Celebration of Peppers every October, in which the piment d'Espelette takes center stage. Peppers bedeck the streets while citizens compete with their favorite recipes and restaurants feature pepper dishes on their specials menus. Other regional foods are also feted during the annual Celebration, and for visitors to the region, it can be a great way to get a taste of Basque cooking.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon342655 — On Jul 22, 2013

Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco has P d'E.

By anon338421 — On Jun 13, 2013

Traci Des Jardins has Cayenne listed as a substitute in one of her recipes.

By anon322262 — On Feb 26, 2013

There is an amazing chef who uses piment d'Espelette in a ton of her french/American recipes.

By anon284197 — On Aug 08, 2012

It can be bought at the grocery store in the ferry building in San Francisco.

By anon257752 — On Mar 28, 2012

Piment d'Espelette is available online from many places. I know a chef that uses it in a ton of her wonderful recipes. She also lists online sites that have it for sale.

By anon88847 — On Jun 07, 2010

I have started to grow some piment d'Espelette plants, from the grains I brought back from the Pays Basques. They are now about 12 inches tall and only leaves. My question: ehen do they start to develop the peppers, and will these grains actually produce peppers?

Living in Florida, in Miami, it's warm, and at the moment quite humid.

In short, how long can one expect to have peppers from a seed?

By anon42888 — On Aug 24, 2009

Is piment d'Espelette available at any stores in the San Francisco Bay area, California?

By anon39627 — On Aug 03, 2009

It can be bought online.

By anon22365 — On Dec 02, 2008

What type of paprika would be a substitute for piment d'Espelette? Spanish (smokey), Hungarian (sweet), or hot?

By anon19128 — On Oct 06, 2008

Is piment d'Espelette available at any stores in the Orange County, CA area?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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