Aji Chili Peppers
SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 1,177 – 75,000 SHU
Also known generally as the Peruvian hot pepper, “aji” is the common name primarily in South America and areas of the Caribbean for chili peppers.
History of the Aji Chili Pepper
Aji Chili Peppers have an interesting history, represented in the way that the cuisine that has most taken to this particular pepper. It is most well loved in Peru, where the pepper shows up in a variety of dishes and is often served at the table as a condiment aside red onion and garlic.
The word “ají” is actually a word used in the Caribbean to refer to this particular plant, but the name became so widespread that this is what it is known as in most of the world. “Ají amarillo” literally translates to “yellow chili” in Spanish, which is the color that this pepper turns while cooked.
The mature pods of an ají pepper are actually bright orange.
Types of Aji Chili Peppers
There are many different strains of Peruvian aji peppers, and the plants are typically very productive. I have grown many different varieties and the plants always explode with chili peppers. Talk about a great harvesting plant.
A few popular aji are:
- The Aji Amarillo, or “aji yellow” or “yellow chile,” also known as the aji escabeche, the most common pepper cultivated and consumed in Peru. It often grows from 3 to 5 inches long easily, though it sometimes reaches 6 to 7 inches, and its color changes to a deep orange when mature. It is usually hot, from 40,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale, with a pungent flavor. It often appears in dried and powdered forms, and finds its way into many traditional Peruvian dishes as well as some Bolivian dishes.
- Aji Cito – The Aji Cito chili pepper is possibly the hottest of the Capsicum Baccatum peppers at around 100,000 Scovilles.
- Aji Cristal Peppers – Aji Cristal peppers are small, spicy chili peppers native to Curico, Chile, that ripen to a fiery orange-red color. They are widely used in local cuisine.
- Aji Dulce Peppers – The aji dulce pepper is a brightly colored pod popular in the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with sweet flavor and mild heat.
- Aji Fantasy – The Aji Fantasy is an aji variety that was developed over a 5 year period in Finland. It is a sweet pepper, emphasis on sweet, with a mild heat level. The peppers are highly flavorful and ideal for many dishes. The plants are quite productive.
- Aji Habanero – The Aji Habanero has only a fraction of the heat of a regular habanero but is named for its similar appearance and smoky, fruity flavor.
- Aji Limo – The Limo chile (or Ají Limo) is another super-hot chili from Peru. (Ají is the term for chile pepper in South America.) It grows to about 2-3 inches, and may be red, yellow, orange, or even purple or white, providing great color for your dishes.
- Aji Panca – The Panca chili (or Ají Panca as it’s known in South America), is a deep red to burgundy pepper, measuring 3-5 inches. It is the second most common pepper in Peru, and is grown near the coast. Similar in shape to the Ají Amarillo, it is less spicy and has a rather sweet, berry-like, and slightly smoky flavor.
- Aji Pineapple – The Aji Pineapple is a gorgeous yellow baccatum pepper with elongated fruits that average from 2-3 inches long. They begin green and ripen to the vibrant yellow that you see in the photos. Similar to other Aji peppers, which are typically bright and fruity, the Aji Pineapple runs around 20,000 Scoville Heat Units, so it is moderately hot.
- The Aji Norteño, or “northern aji.” This variety is only popular in Peru’s northern coastal valleys, but in those areas residents claim that the pods – at 3 to 4 inches, tapering, and appearing in yellow, red and orange colors – possess a fruity flavor of moderate pungency that fits well with their sense of placeand with their many seafood dishes. The hot peppers, at around 45,000 to 75,000 on the Scoville scale, are typically served fresh on the side.
- The Lemon Drop, or Hot Lemon, also known in Peru as Kellu Uchu. It comes from a vine-like bush that grows about 3 feet, and it produces few seeds. It averages 2 1/2 inches long and has a cone shape with crinkles and a color – appropriate to its Anglophone names – of bright yellow when mature. It even has a citrus flavor though its Scoville score can range into the somewhat-hot region, starting at 15,000 but climbing to 30,000. They often turn up, either fresh or smoked, in a variety of salsas.
- The Peppadew™, with a size and color approximating a cross between a round pepper and a cherry tomato. Peppadew, from “pepper” and “dew,” is actually the brand name for a piquanté pepper originating from South Africa’s Limpopo province where it is still popular, especially as a pizza topping, likely because of its taste that falls somewhere between a bell pepper and a mild chili pepper. With low heat, around 1,177 on the Scoville scale, and much sweetness, this pepper is often great for stuffing with cream, goat, feta or even mozzarella cheeses, or for using as an addition to salads, sandwiches, omelets and kebabs. It also makes an appearance in Celestial Seasonings-brand “Safari Spice” red tea.
- Other Aji peppers include the ayucullo, cereza, charapa, aji limo, mono, panca and pinguita de mono in Peru; the escurre-huéspedes and the lengua de pájaro in Cuba; and the chombo in Panama.
Aji Pepper Recipes
Here are a number of recipes I have created that celebrate the heat and flavor of aji chili peppers.
- Fermented Aji-Garlic Hot Sauce
- Aji-Lime-Kiwi Sweet Pepper Jam
- Aji Picante Sauce
- Aji Pineapple Hot Sauce
- Pebre with Aji Chili Peppers