Photo by Gret@Lorenz/Flickr CC
Merken is the native spice of Chile, an essential ingredient of the Mapuche people. From what I can gather, they eat it regularly and with most everything. It's made from Cacho de Cabra chile--the name means "horn of the goat," given for the shape of the peppers.The ripe red chiles are harvested during February and the first few days of March, then dried over slowly smoldering pieces of native wood. In essence, the chiles are smoked during the drying process, and then, at the end of the process, ground to a fairly fine powder and blended with ground coriander seed.
It's about as easy to use and versatile as you're going to get: You just sprinkle it on whatever you're eating. I've taken to just keeping it on the kitchen table along with salt and pepper and then adding it to most anything where a bit of heat would be of benefit. Merken is great on vegetables, fish, and meat (I like it on lamb a lot). It's particularly good on potatoes, which the Mapuche eat a lot. I've put it on pasta, added it to eggs...pretty much, you name it, and it's good. Actually, fruit is great with it as well--melons, papaya, pineapple in particular. (Remember the Mexican custom of serving fruit sprinkled with ground chile.) Haven't tried it with chocolate but it could well be good there, too.
To purchase Merken, click here.