Shatta: Hot Pepper Paste

A combination of hot peppers and spices has been enjoyed by cultures in various ways around the globe for centuries and in recent years those flavors have evolved. Sometimes the simplest combination of peppers with spices is closest to what was originally enjoyed.

Culturally specific hot sauces like harissa from Tunisia, Gochujang from Korea, and shito from Saudi Arabia are gaining popularity in the US. Each one of them has its own unique flavor, color, texture, and consistency that make them stand out from each other. One of the more popular hot sauces from the Middle East is called shatta.

Shatta is a hot pepper condiment from Gaza that combines olive oil with garlic and salt. It is used on rice and stews to brighten the flavor and increase spiciness in foods. Shatta can also be enjoyed mixed with hummus or as a topping for pitas and quesadillas.

A commercially manufactured form of shatta is a simple combination of red hot peppers, vinegar, and salt. These are three common ingredients in many hot sauces internationally because hot peppers can have so much bold flavor. Shatta is a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern condiment that mixes red peppers with a minimal of ingredients to maintain the flavor of the peppers. Homemade shatta or sauce from origins like the Middle East will use olive oil instead of vinegar.

Where does shatta come from?

Shatta also called Middle Eastern hot sauce, originated in or around Gaza and is frequently used in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt as a condiment to flavor otherwise bland foods. Cuisine from this region is known for one-dish meals of rice and vegetables and is heavily spiced.

How is shatta different from other condiments?

Shatta is often referred to as a paste, hot pepper condiment, or chili sauce. It is not a sauce with the thin consistency of some other hot sauce condiments. The secret of shatta is to maintain the fresh taste of the peppers without any processing like roasting or boiling the peppers like many hot sauces do.

What is shatta made with?

A jarred shatta sauce is typically made with red peppers and vinegar but homemade sauce recipes will often use olive oil and vinegar. There will be a difference in flavor but vinegar will preserve it better for storage. Like many hot sauces in the form of a paste, the peppers will make up about 50% of the sauce. This can make these pastes very hot compared to hot sauces from the US. Some versions of the sauce will contain a tomato paste.

How is shatta different from schug or zhug?

Aside from being a thick consistency hot sauce condiment schug, zskug or zhug is quite different than shatta. Schug is a bright green color from the serrano peppers used. Other ingredients include typical Middle Eastern ingredients such as olive oil, cilantro, lemon juice, herbs, and garlic. This popular Israeli condiment can have a variety of flavors to it like many hot sauces and pastes. Compared to schug, shatta will be spicier. Shatta is similar to harissa in what it is made with and the region it comes from like hot sauces in the United States.

How is it prepared?

Like many hot sauces shatta prepared at home and commercially are done in different ways. A commercial shatta will contain preservatives such as potassium sorbate to lengthen the shelf life. There isn’t any processing such as fermenting involved.

Making shatta the traditional way

Many hot sauces are simple enough to make by throwing hot peppers and other ingredients into a blender, locking down a speed, and calling it a hot sauce. Shatta has a texture and consistency of its own and putting the ingredients into a high speed blended may create an entirely different sauce. Consistency, texture, and appearance have a lot to do with flavor perception.

Mortar and pestle

Some food processors are low speed and are incapable of blending a sauce into the consistency of water. A thicker paste will be blended at a lower speed. Traditional tools like a mortar and pestle will allow more control over the consistency of a sauce but it is rare someone would have these in their kitchen.

Food processors tend to have a lower wattage to them and will make it difficult to blend into a liquid form, making them great for making shatta. Because of the amount of peppers a few pulses of the food processor may be all you need. Sauces like shatta, schug, and harissa are a thicker paste because the technology to blend them further, into the consistency of water was lacking.

Nutritional contents

Considering that shatta is mostly made from peppers there are not many negative nutritional concerns aside from sodium that you will find in a jar sauce.  Hot peppers are packed with vitamins and minerals making them a healthy addition to a diet. Most pepper varieties will have vitamin A, B6, and K1 as well as potassium and copper. Because there isn’t much processing or cooking that is done to make shatta it retains much of its nutrients.

Making Shatta authentic

Like many condiments specific to a region it may be difficult to mass-produce them or in a way that duplicated the flavor that was originally intended. Many hot sauces and pastes rely on the peppers from the region in which the sauce is known.

Hot peppers are grown in large quantities in Gaza and are part of the Gazan culinary culture for years. Not every culture has a hot pepper or hot sauce associated with it but many regions where the conditions are right for hot peppers to grow will have a hot sauce condiment associated with them.

Foods to use with shatta

Shatta is often used as a topping on many simple Middle Eastern foods like pitas. It can also be used during the roasting process on chicken or pork. Koshari is a mixed chickpea, pasta, and onion dish often topped with zesty tomato sauce or shatta. Many pastes made with hot peppers can be very similar in color,

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