What Are Aji Charapita Peppers?
Ají charapita is a variety of chili pepper, with genetic proximity to Capsicum frutescens, which grows wild in the jungles of Northern Peru. It looks more like a wild berry than a chili.
This hot chili naturally grows in the wild – only recently being cultivated for commercial use. Today, Ají charapita is one of the main varieties of chili that is cultivated in Peru.
This chili though small in size like the American chiltepin possesses a lot of fiery heat. A pinch of Aji charapita powder is enough to turn your dishes hot and spicy. Most Peruvians love to use it in fish, chicken, and rice dishes.
Today, this pepper is an important spice in Peruvian cooking. Organic and natural Aji peppers gathered from the wild are exotic chili pepper; expensive and most sort after chili by chefs all over the world.
Aji Charapita has origin in the Amazon rainforest regions of Ucayli and Loreto, in Peru. Like most varieties of peppers, this pepper also grows best in warm and humid weather.
The Oldest known existence of chili pepper is traced back to ancient Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico; the primary centers of the diverse Capsicum genus. The original birthplace of this chili pepper is said to be in Peru where the natives cultivated chili peppers over 4,000 years ago. Another old legend says in Mexico chili peppers were cultivated from 3,500 BC.
Key Aji Charapita Facts In A Gist
- Capsicum species: Chinense
- Origin: Peru
- Other names:
- Heat level: 30,000 – 50,000 SHU
- Median heat: 40,000 SHU
- Size: 1/4 inch across, round
- Shape: tiny, pea-sized
- Color: matures from green to yellow,
- Flavor: sweet, fruity
- Uses: Culinary
- Harvest: 60-120 days since the transplant
- Best Substitutes: Yellow Jelly Bean Pepper, Yellow Fire Pepper, Cumari Do Para Pepper
What Does It Look Like?
The ají charapita is pea-sized, bright-yellow chili pepper. This pepper is tiny, round, and about a quarter of an inch across. Roughly, it’s like a pea or small round tepin-like peppers. Red aji charapita tend to grow larger than the yellow variety, but they are rarely cultivated. These peppers grow on a wild bushy plant; hundreds of these chilies can grow on a single plant. Being a wildly growing bushy plant, it isn’t good for container gardening.
What Does Aji Charapita Taste Like?
Aji charapita is one of the most delicious peppers around with a fruity, floral flavor. The mild bitterness of this pepper is enjoyable to the core. These very small round pods provide a unique flavor and heat to your dishes. The tiny seeds do not interfere with the taste and texture of your dish.
The fresh peppers taste like a habanero but with less heat. Dried aji charapita is a wonderful seasoning ingredient; a great addition to soups, stews, or sauces to make them instantly hot and spicy.
Is Aji Charapita Pepper Spicy?
Though tiny in size this pepper packs a great punch. The heat of the aji pepper can go up to 50,000 SHUs. It’s as spicy and hot as the cayenne pepper but does not come anywhere close to the heat of the habanero. Just 2-3 peppers are enough to add a good bit of heat to your meal.
Uses In Cooking
This chili pepper tastes great both fresh and dried. The tiny pea-shaped pods get dried easily and then they are crushed or ground.
Most often, they are dried whole and preserved, and then rehydrated before use. The whole dried chilies have a shelf life up to 6 months if preserved in an air-tight container.
In Peru, fresh peppers are crushed and added to stews, soups, rice, and meat dishes. Basically, just before serving aji charapita is added to the dishes. Use it just like other chili peppers in any recipe but be mindful of its higher heat levels.
Aji Charapita Vs. Chiltepin
Aji charapita and chiltepin are two wild chilies though recently cultivators in some regions have begun to cultivate them on large scale for commercial benefits.
Aji charapita is a small wild pepper native to Central and South America.
The chiltepin pepper is a tiny round chili pepper that grows wild through the south of the United States and Mexico.
Both these chilies have a lot of similarities in their appearance and use but they differ in levels of heat. Chiltepin pepper is spicy, measuring up to 100000 Scoville whereas Aji charapita has the maximum heat of up to 50,000 SHUs only. Both these chilies grow on bushy plants that bear hundreds of pea-sized tiny chilies at the same time. Aji charapita has a mild fruity taste but chiltepin is extremely hot with no fruitiness.
Chiltepin is a good substitute for aji charapita; they can be used interchangeably but adjust the ratio according to the heat levels.
Why is aji charapita expensive?
To get a pound of charapita pepper 1000s of pods are required as they are tiny peppers slightly bigger a pea. About 65 dried aji charapita peppers on the scale, weighing 3 grams, and the yield from a single plant is around 200 peppers only per season. The cultivation and harvest of this rare pepper also involve a lot of labor. Thus aji charapita is one of the most expensive peppers in the world which can cost up to $25,000 for about 2 lbs.
How to grow aji charapita peppers?
The seeds of aji charapita take about 3 weeks for germination and around 100 days to get matured peppers. The plantation must be completed around 3 months before the frost and plant the seedlings at 3 feet distance. This pepper is suitable for the container as well as greenhouse planting.
Who uses aji charapita peppers?
This priced pepper is a precious spice in countless Peruvian households. Some of the exotic Peruvian hot dishes contain aji charapita peppers as the key ingredient; also famous chefs across the world prefer this pepper to make their hot dishes exotic and rare.
Where to buy aji charapita peppers?
It’s hard to source aji charapita peppers outside Peru and Bolivia, also you’ll find them in a few regions of Mexico. In fact, it’s more of a wild chili than a cultivated chili. There are few merchants who sell both whole or ground peppers as well as their seeds via online stores. Many chefs say that authentic peppers collected from the wilds of Northern Peru are far superior to cultivated ones.
Other Varieties Of Aji Peppers
There are many different strains of Peruvian and South American aji peppers and here are the links to some of the most popular aji peppers: