Merken (pronounced “mer-ken"), is also called merken spice, merken mapuche spice, or merken seasoning.
What Is Merken Spice
Originating from the southern Araucanía region of Chile, Merken is a traditional seasoning created by the indigenous Mapuche (pronounced ma-poo-che) people. The Mapuches are Chile’s largest native group, and their cuisine is based on harvesting what is in season and cultivating a deep connection to their food and cooking.
Merken can also be spelled as Merquen, the local version of this seasoning blend is made from aji cacho de cabra (Goat's Horn Chile), which is mildly spicy and smoky. Chilean food is generally not spicy, so Merken brings a spicy zest to many dishes, and is found in most Chilean kitchens. Over the last ten years, Merken has become more common in the U.S., but it still flies under the radar. With the current interest in more diverse spices and seasonings from elsewhere in the world, Merken is destined to emerge from the culinary shadows.
The History of Merken
A 2016 phylogenetic analysis (the study of the evolutionary development of a species with a particular characteristic) of 24 of the 35 Capsicum strains, spicy and otherwise, found that this species is native to a broad area including Peru, Ecuador and Colombia along the Andes mountain range in western–north-western South America, with Peru having the highest percentage. That makes this region is the birthplace of chile peppers from where they were then naturally distributed into Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay and Central Argentina.
The indigenous people of Chile, known as the Mapuche, were one of the most successful native peoples at resisting European invaders. They were successful because they quickly adopted Spanish methods of war, but they were also one of the few indigenous groups to embrace European crops into their own crop rotation. This gave them a unique advantage because they had crops that matured at different times, which meant that the Spanish were unsuccessful at burning their food supplies and starving them out. Instead, the Mapuche people continued to thrive and keep their land their own for nearly three centuries after the initial Spanish invasion of 1590s.
The roots of Chilean cuisine are driven from the combination of Chilean Mapuche culture and traditional Spanish cuisine, and was later influenced by immigrants from France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Mapuche cuisine is not considered as gastronomically rich as that of other indigenous cultures, such as the Incas. Chile's diverse geography and climate offer a wide range of agricultural fruits and vegetables and with Chile's 4,000 mile long coastline seafood is also an important part of their cuisine.
Through the second half of the 20th century this was considered a relatively bland cuisine that was further perpetrated by the area’s chefs and Chilean cuisine experts as well, who didn’t mention Merken anywhere on restaurant menus or in cookbooks. However, due to globalization and the culinary pressure from other countries that were embracing the heat of chiles, the re-emergence of spicier native food has increased in Chile over the last 20 years.
This is where Merken Spice comes in. Merken has seen a resurgence in popularity as Chileans are becoming more interested in learning about and consuming the more traditional foods of their ancestors. This has also helped catapult Merken into the global spotlight as a seasoning to look out for! Merken was crafted by the Mapuche people with ingredients both familiar to them and borrowed from the Spanish in the centuries spent fighting over who would control the territory. The most important of these is the Goat's Horn Chile, an ingredient so crucial that if it's substituted the blend can no longer be called "Merken." The Goat's Horn Chile is indigenous to Chile and has been cultivated by the Mapuche people for centuries. This seasoning has become somewhat of a celebrity in Chile now, as people are embracing this simple and delicious blend as a part of their cultural heritage and global culinary footprint.
What Does Merken Taste Like
Smoky, earthy, with a bit of heat and some saltiness to it.
How Do You Use Merken
This is a traditionally Chilean condiment, so it is used on traditional Chilean dishes like lomito (a pork sandwich), chacarero sandwiches, or on pebre, the famous Chilean salsa. It can be used as a seasoning sprinkled on things like hard bread or boiled eggs. Chileans are also fond of using it on pizza and meat-based dishes. Beef is especially compatible with the flavor of this smoky, savory spice blend. A favorite Chilean snack is "mani merkén," or peanuts that have been tossed with Merken Spice.
Merken Spice has rich flavor and would be a wonderful addition to hearty meat; massage into a beautiful strip steak or add to any beef dish to which you want to give a twist, like goulash. Sprinkle it over a bowl of turkey chili. Rub over fresh tuna and grill to medium-rare. Add to the seasoning for a duck confit, then used the seasoned duck fat to make the richest fried potatoes ever. Put in the water for a crab boil, stir into fresh salsa, add to lentils or fresh succotash. Make a sandwich spread by stirring into mayonnaise.
What Can I Substitute for Merken
There is no seasoning blend that can really match Merken's very unique flavor. If you don't have any Merken Spice on hand, you can substitute 2 teaspoons of Merken with 1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika, 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Chile Powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of Ground Coriander.
|Ingredients||Smoked Paprika, Goat's Horn Chiles, Sea Salt, and Coriander|
|Also Called||Merken spice, merken mapuche spice, or merken seasoning|
|Recommended Uses||Use to season beef, chili, peanuts, pizza, salsa, and sandwiches|
|Flavor Profile||Smoky, earthy, with a bit of heat and some saltiness to it|
|How To Store||Airtight container in a cool, dark place|
|Shelf Life||6-12 months|
|Country of Origin||USA|
|Dietary Preferences||Gluten Free, Non-GMO|
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Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*