Aji Dulce – All Facts Including Flavor, Uses, Substitutes

What Is Aji Dulce?

Aji Dulce chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum chinense, are brightly-colored, slightly wrinkled pods that grow on leafy shrubs belonging to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. This pepper is also known in different names such as Ají dulces, ajicito or ajíes in Puerto Rico: ají gustoso or ají cachucha in the Dominican Republic or ají cachucha in Cuba. In English, “Aji” means pepper and “Dulce” means sweet, thus “sweet pepper”. This sweet and mildly hot pepper is most commonly used in Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican cooking.

Origin And History

According to various theories, all Capsicum chinense peppers have their origin in the Brazilian Amazon. Studies have established that Native Brazilians brought C. chinense to the Pacific coast and Spanish colonists took them from what is now Peru to Mexico to their colonies. The hot versions C. chinense peppers like habanero and scotch bonnet became popular in English-speaking Caribbean Islands. The sweet types of C. chinense peppers like Aji dulce received wide acceptance in Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Today, you’ll find the cultivation and sale of ajíes peppers in many localities in the Yucatan Peninsula area, the Caribbean, and the Northeastern United States.

How Do They Look Like?

Apparently, Ajíes look like Habanero peppers as they both have a similar shape, color, size, and aroma but the former has only a trace of heat.

Even the very same pepper can have different appearances depending on their growing conditions. The pods can be squat, hat-like, and wrinkled, or they can be oblong to round in shape. On average, this pepper grows to 3 cm in diameter and 7 cm in length. They have straight to irregularly curved shapes with gentle tapering towards the tail-end. The skin is medium-thick, glossy, and taut with irregular folds. Young peppers are green and as it matures, the color changes to orange-yellow and then red. The interior of the chile is crisp and aqueous, encasing a central cavity filled with flat and round, cream-colored seeds.

How Hot Is The Aji Dulce Pepper?

Aji Dulce, true to its name, is a sweet pepper with hardly any significant heat. It has a very mild heat ranging from 0 to 1,000 SHU on the Scoville Scale. Obviously, heat-wise it’s comparable to the Poblano Peppers or Cubanelle peppers. A typical Jalapeno pepper, with an average heat of 5,000 SHU, is 5 to 40 times hotter. Surprisingly, depending on the growing conditions, their heat can be as low as 0 to 100 SHU like other sweet peppers.  You’ll also find a cross-pollinated version of ajicito or ajíes peppers which are hot like habanero.

What Do Aji Dulce Pepper Taste Like?

Aji Dulce, also known as Aji Cachucha, is overall a sweet pepper with very little heat. The sweet and fruity flavor of Dulce pepper is a hearty treat for those who can’t stomach the burning heat of the habanero. Many say the pods are subtly smoky and herbaceous. The taste is closely similar to that of Habanero despite the vast differences in pungency. Ajíes chiles have hints of topical sweetness, smoky undertones, and a wonderful zesty flavor that would linger in the mouth for long. Some say that aroma of this chile is like the Trinidad perfume with a fruity scent.

How Do You Use Aji Dulce Peppers?

Dulce pepper is a key ingredient in several Caribbean dishes, especially in green salads and stir-fries. It’s an integral part of Sofrito, a tasty blend of minced peppers, onions, herbs which is the heart of Puerto Rican cuisine. Similarly, in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands, this chile is a regular addition to soups, stews, rice, and bean dishes. Some of the popular recipes with Aji Dulce pepper includes Puerto Rican Arroz con Pollo, Sancocho, or Cuban Ropa Vieja and Picadillo. Being a sweet chile with a fruity flavor, this chile can easily be integrated into most vegetable dishes, both raw and cooked applications. Cubans use it to flavor mild salsa, paprika, herbal vinegar, and sauces. Dulce peppers pair well with green lentils, beans, culantro, cilantro, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and all types of meat.

What Can I Substitute For Aji Dulce?

If you aren’t living in the Caribbean, finding a substitute for Aji Dulce pepper is inevitable as this pepper isn’t available, especially the fresh pepper, in most parts of the world. If heat differences aren’t a major issue for you, the closest Aji Dulce substitute is Habanero, for they are quite the same in color, appearance, and flavor. Red or orange bell pepper is another great alternative to ají cachucha as they have the same color and flavor. You can also use any of the peppers from the aji pepper family, especially the ones that rank very low on Scoville Scale, such as Aji Panca, Aji Pineapple, Lemon Drop, or Peppadew peppers as a replacement for Aji Dulce.

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: