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Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: The Secret to Tastier Homemade Pizza

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Updated: September 26, 2022

Do you like your pizza with a little heat? If so, you have probably reached for the crushed red pepper flakes shaker that’s in every pizzeria. A little sprinkle adds the perfect amount of heat to a pipping hot slice. 

red pepper flakes
Photo by Anthony Duran on Unsplash

On a pepperoni pizza, crushed red pepper mixes with the smoky pepperoni in an undeniable flavor combination. On a Hawaiian pizza, the salty ham and the sweet pineapple are enhanced with a dash of crushed red pepper.

And on a simple classic pizza like a Margarita, these tiny red flakes add a nice layer of heat to sweet earthy basil and melted cheese. We could go on and on because crushed red pepper really is that good and perfect for every slice of pizza. 

But have you ever wondered where crushed red pepper comes from? First of all, crushed red pepper and red pepper flakes are the same things; the terms are used interchangeably. We love using these pepper flakes on pizza but weren’t exactly sure which peppers they came from.

There are a lot of different types of peppers, and they all have complex flavors, we know chipotle peppers are just dried smoked jalapeños, and habaneros come in different colors, but we didn’t know anything about crushed red peppers, so we decided to find out more.

What Are Red Pepper Flakes?

how to make red pepper flakes
Photo by Pickled Stardust on Unsplash

The peppers used to make crushed red pepper are a mix of peppers from the capsicum annum family, like jalapeño, bell, Fresno, and Anaheim peppers. While red pepper flakes are a blend of these peppers, cayenne pepper is usually the dominant pepper in the blend.

The ratio and types of peppers are slightly different depending on the blend and brand, but cayenne almost always steals the show. 

Red pepper flakes look like little seeds, but they also have the skin and veins of the peppers mixed in that amp up the heat. Crushed red pepper brings the heat, but other than heat, it doesn’t really add any extra flavor. Basically, it just amps up what flavors are already present, making it a versatile spice to keep stocked for anyone that loves hot spicy foods.

While crushed red pepper is a mix that focuses on bringing the heat, there are other types of chile flakes that bring the flavor and the heat. Single-origin chili flakes like Aleppo chili flakes, chipotle chili flakes, and habanero chile flakes are used in many dishes but aren’t generally available in pizzerias. 

How to Make Crushed Red Pepper at Home

crushed red pepper flakes

Crushed red pepper blends are easy to find in the spices and seasonings section of your local grocery store and online. But you can also make crushed red pepper at home. If you already have a pizza garden, you could even grow cayenne chilies and use those to make crushed red pepper. 

If you want to make crushed red pepper from fresh chile, you will need to dry them out first. Just lay them out on a baking sheet and dry roast them in the oven for close to five hours. Once they are dry, then throw them in the blender, and voila, you have made crushed red pepper.

If you don’t have fresh peppers, you can find dry ones, usually near the international foods in the supermarket, and run those through the blender. Once you have crushed red pepper flakes, store them in an airtight container in your spice cabinet. 

Although herbs and spices can go bad, crushed red pepper has a long shelf life. If in doubt, check the color and smell. When crushed red pepper goes bad, it turns a lighter, almost orange color, and the smell is very mild instead of pungent.

Pro Tips 

  • Make crushed red pepper in a well-ventilated room
  • When drying in the oven, do not add oil; it will make them rancid
  • Clean the blender well after mixing unless you want a picante smoothie
  • Use plastic gloves whenever working with peppers, especially if you wear contact lenses

How to Use Red Pepper Flakes on Pizza

Of course, you know how to sprinkle red pepper flakes on your pizza, but did you know you can use them in your sauce and dough too? When making a homemade marinara sauce, add a pinch of these little red flakes to the sauce, and it will build the complexity of the sauce.

You can also sprinkle a little in your homemade pizza dough along with other herbs like oregano and basil to create an aromatic crust.

Crushed red pepper isn’t only for pizza; you can use it on pasta, focaccia, polenta, bruschetta, and other Italian favorites. We also use it when we make noodles and rice dishes too. If you are struggling to get more veggies in your diet, we recommend a sprinkle of red pepper on steamed broccoli, and it perks up a boring green salad too.

We even watched our friend sprinkle it on a bowl of chocolate ice cream. While some really enjoy the mix of chocolate and heat, we prefer to use it on savory, not sweet, dishes, but we applaud his creativity and adventurous palate. 

Health Benefits of Red Pepper Flakes

health benefits of red pepper flakes
Photo by Fabienne Hübener on Unsplash

When we started using crushed red pepper more, we were curious if spicy food is healthy and were happily surprised to find out that hot chilies are actually healthy. The compound, Capsaicin, which gives cayenne peppers their intense spiciness, has been linked to several health benefits because it:

  • Is high in vitamin C and A
  • Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Promotes a healthy heart 
  • Helps curb salt intake
  • Boosts metabolism

Of course, if you are sensitive to spice or have any digestion issues, then start slowly and check with your doctor. Our bodies can adapt to everything, including heat and spicy foods. The key is to introduce it gradually. Otherwise, you could end up with indigestion and other tummy troubles.

What’s your favorite way to use crushed red pepper?

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DK & Eliana

DK & Eliana

Thanks for reading about our homemade pizza journey! We're a young married couple who started making pizza at home on our wedding night and haven't looked back yet. We've learned over countless attempts of trial and error how to make the perfect pizza sauce, pizza dough, and exactly which pizza accessories to buy for your home setup...

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