Merken is made from the Cacho de Cabra chile (translates to Goat Horn). The chile itself is extremely hot, though merken – which is mixed with salt and spices such as cumin and coriander – tends to vary in strength. Generally it’s mild. It’s more smoky and flavorful than spicy hot. The indigenous Mapuche people in the Araucanía Region of Chile use the all in one spice mix heartedly in soups and as a rub for meat. Merken is available for purchase in the United States at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods Market.
How to Make Merken
Traditionally in Chile, Cacho de Cabra chiles are sun dried until they become violet colored. Once dry, they are placed in a wicker basket and hung to the ceiling above a wood fire. They are then sun dried a second time and the chile, the ají is finely ground with a stone mortar. Lightly smoked coriander, cumin, and sea salt are then added. Generally the combination is about ¾ ají, the rest salt and other spices.
10 Uses For Merken
1.) Sprinkle on scrambled eggs or an omelette for an extra kick
2.) Sprinkle it on pizza instead of red pepper flakes
3.) Rub on beef or salmon before grilling
4.) Add to a soup
5.) Sprinkle on slices of cucumbers with a squeeze of lime (my favorite)
6.) Add to olive oil to use for dipping bread.
7.) Sprinkle on pasta or tuna salad.
8.) Sprinkle on a desert (goes especially well with dairy/cream).
9.) Sprinkle on the poached egg on top of your Eggs Benedict.
10.) Add to the rim of a glass of a Pisco Sour (I know that sounds odd, but it’s actually very good).
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.