Kitchn Love Letters

The Ridiculously Tasty $11 Seasoning I Sprinkle On Just About Everything I Eat

published Jul 20, 2022
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I don’t mean to brag, but Calabria, the region where my family is from is home to some of the very best food in Italy. In fact, Calabrian food is often thought of as the champion of Southern Italian cuisine. Whether it’s clean, simple seafood dishes, vibrant red-sauce-soaked spaghetti, or unassumingly flavorful beans and escarole, you just can’t go wrong. But if you’re familiar with any ingredient from the area, I’m guessing it’s the world-famous Calabrian chili flakes.

If you like your food spicy hot, complex and balanced, or with an expected kick, then you’re probably familiar with these little bits of zesty goodness. Thanks to my heritage and ever-curious tastebuds, I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of chili flakes. Heck, when I was a kid my dad used to grow the chiles and dry them himself! From whole chiles to crushed seeds, there’s a whole lotta variety out there when it comes to this pantry essential. But the hands-down best Calabrian chili flakes I’ve ever had are from an unexpected source (no, it’s not my Nona): Boonville Barn Collective.

Never heard of em’? This small, female-owned spicy-stuff brand grows all its own chiles (which are then turned into flakes, powders, and jams — yes, jams!) on their farm in northern California. All products are grown with organic and sustainable practices — they’re even Renegade Certified! — and individually picked by hand. Bottom line: This is the (really) good stuff, and it’s incredibly fresh.

Boonville makes Poblano Chile Powder, Comapeño Flaky Sea Salt, Whole Dried Guajillos, and everything in between. But the jar that promises to keep me returning to this small, DTC supplier? The aforementioned Calabrian Chile Flakes. Although they’re grown half a world away from my beloved Italia, these bits of pepper pack a whole lot of Mediterranean-worthy punch. Unlike many others I’ve tried, the flakes are large enough to actually carry the flavor throughout any dish without being too large. You know when you’ve got a leathery chili skin sticking itself to the backside of your teeth? Yeah, that’s never the case with Boonville flakes.

But beyond the texture and size of these spicy bits, the flavor is top notch. It’s slightly acidic (in all the right ways), a teeny bit earthy (adding complexity, not just spice), super bright (think tomato-y), and, of course, spicy. The pique is drawn out, first hitting you with the complex, grounded, and citrusy notes, then hanging back to give your tongue an exciting zing after you’ve finished chewing. All the while, you’re not overpowered by the taste of spicy itself; instead, the flavors work harmoniously to add a welcome layer of yum onto whatever it is you’re eating.

Credit: Stella Totino

While I’ve topped off a bowl of penne or sprinkled a plate of eggplant parm (breaded with my fav GF breadcrumbs) with the stuff, I’ve also used the flakes on avocado toast, mixed it into piping hot oil for a quick chili oil, and added them as the final touch on some baba ganoush (see photo above). TBH, all you really need to transform any simple, potentially bland dish (think steamed broccoli, pan-seared fish, etc.) is a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of Boonville’s Calabrian Chile Flakes, and voilá, dinner is served! Trust me, at just $11, this is one easy flavor boost you don’t wanna miss out on. Even my Nona would approve.