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The Story of Merkén Spice

Updated: Feb 17

The Story of Merkén is the story of a discarded cuisine becoming newly discovered and appreciated.

What is Merkén Spice?

Merkén is a Chilean spice blend that also goes by the name of Merquen. Specifically, this spice blend is from the Araucania region of central Chile where it has been used by the Machupe people in their traditional cuisine for hundreds if not thousands of years.

After the conquerors of Spain and Portugal arrived in South America, many of the ancient cuisines were considered rustic and suitable only for the extremely poor. These cuisines were pushed to the side as European foods became more desired and prestigious.

In the 1990s that changed as a new generation of Chileans looked to their roots for long-lost traditions. And those traditions included indigenous food ingredients and cooking methods. Merkén was one of the traditional flavors that Chileans fell in love with! Throughout Chile, Merkén has become mainstream and is found everywhere and used in everything much like Pumpkin Spice during the winter holidays in the United States.

The Machupe people used Merkén to flavor cheeses and nuts. Nowadays throughout Chile, you’ll find Merkén in:

  • Stews

  • Lentils

  • Dips

  • BBQ Meats

  • Hot Chocolate

  • Pink Potatoes (mashed potatoes tinged pink with Merkén)

  • Pasta

  • Wine Jellies

Merquen-flavored Olive Oil is also hugely popular throughout Chile where it is referred to as Olave.

What is the Merkén Recipe?

Merkén, like many different traditional spice blends, has many different versions. Our blend is a mix of Goat’s Head Chile Flakes, Smoked Paprika, Coriander, and Pacific Sea Salt. In Spanish, Goat’s Head Chiles are called ají cacho de cabra. Native to Chile and Peru, this smoked chile pepper imparts a unique smoky and dark fruit flavor to Merkén. With just a mild heat, we describe these peppers' flavor as rich and intense rather than spicy.

The process of making Merkén is a long one as the chiles are planted in September and harvested in February while still green. The chiles ripen off the vine until they turn a deep rich red in about a month’s time. Next, the chiles are dried in the sun before being roasted over a wood fire. The seeds are removed. The chile is ground with a stone mortar and pestle before being mixed with salt and other spices.

Some of the ground Goat’s Head Chiles are set aside to be used straight and are called natural merkén. The color of this Natural Merkén or Goat’s Head Chile always attracts lots of attention on SpiceTopia’s SpiceWall!

What does Merkén or Merquen Seasoning Taste like?

Before you taste this robust spice blend, you’ll smell its sweet, dark, woodsy, smoky aroma! The taste starts with a hint of citrusy flavor before the salt comes out to play with the smokiness and earthiness of the peppers. The flavor seems to grow the more you eat, so we suggest starting with less and adding more as you go.

Merkén In The United States

While the popularity of Merkén in the United States is slowly growing, we believe that the more people taste this unique spice blend the more will fall in love with it.

We’ve enjoyed cooking with this beautiful flavorful spice and find it makes a wonderful deep savory addition to tomato sauces, omelets, and roasted meats. One of our favorite recipes using merkén is a rift on a sandwich you’ll find sold on the streets of Chile. We’ve switched out the beef for chicken, but feel free to use your favorite cut of beef.

You can also watch us create this recipe live on Facebook or Instagram!

Chilean Street Sammie
  1. Slice up a boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh into strips.

  2. Rub chicken with Ventucky Poultry Grilling Rub

  3. Combine 1 tablespoon of mayo with 1/2 teaspoon of Merkén

  4. Toast your favorite bun or bread.

  5. Saute chicken in a little bit of oil until lightly browned and cooked through.

  6. Remove chicken from the pan. Add a handful of green beans to the same pan.

  7. Cook green beans until just bright green and still crunchy.

  8. Assemble sandwich by smearing the bread with your Merkén mayo, topping with chicken strips, green beans, and pepperoncinis.

If you enjoy learning about new spices and bringing new flavors to your kitchen, then SpiceScription may be for you! Our monthly subscription box features a new spice each month along with 3 exclusive recipes to help you get creative with that month’s featured spice!


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