Thursday, August 28, 2008

Merken: A treasure from Chile

I fell in love with a new spice recently (which is saying a lot, because I buy and use and collect spices the way some women do shoes) and I shared my new obsession with The Boston Globe's Food section. Foodies, I'd like you to meet my delicious friend, Merken:

Short Orders
Chilies from Chile add life to spice

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

Rich, bold, smoky, and complex, Merken is a traditional spice blend created by the Mapuche Indians of the Araucania region of Chile ($9.50 for a 1.78-ounce jar). A staple there for centuries, the coarse, coppery powder -- a combination of smoked Cacho de Cabra (Goat's Horn) chilies, toasted coriander seeds, and salt -- tastes a little like chipotle, but with far more richness and bite. You can use it to take your end-of-summer barbecue to a higher level or add depth to a simple soup, but we can't get enough of it sprinkled on warm, roasted cashews -- the savory smokiness is a perfect foil to the buttery sweetness of the nuts. At Williams Sonoma, Copley Place, 100 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-262-3080, and other locations. [More]

In Chile, there are as many different versions of Merken as there are Mapuche families; the people at Chileangourmet started studying the spice blend in 2004 and eventually decided to start producing Certified Merken, under the supervision of Universidad Catolica de Temuco, in order to create and export a consistent product. More than 70 Mapuche families create the blend for Chileangourmet, and sales from the product directly benefit them as well as your palate. In addition to Williams Sonoma stores, you can find it online at Tu Chile Aqui.

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