South American & Caribbean Chilis
Whole and cut Rocoto Chilis

Chilis in Spanish South America

¤   Andean Region   -   Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile.
¤   The North   -   Colombia, Venezuela
¤   Caribbean & Caribbean Coast   -   Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana
¤   Central / Southeast   -   Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay.

Chilis in Portuguese Brazil

More on Chili Peppers.


Chilis of the Spanish Regions

"Aji" (pronounced Ah-hee) is the word for Chili Peppers in Spanish Speaking South America and the Caribbean. It is from the Taino word "axí". The Taino were the original inhabitants of much of the Caribbean, but were driven almost extinct by the Spanish and diseases they brought. The Spanish took the word "Aji" to much of South America.

The Spanish took Mexican Chilis back to Spain, and there specialized in breeding sweet and semi-hot chilis, unlike the Portuguese, who spread stinging hot chilis throughout the world.

Chilis of The Andean Region

The Andes mountains extend from the central spine of Colombia all the way down to the tip of Chile. Colombia cuisine is generally pretty mild, so we place it in the North, with this section covering Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.

While the rest of the world concentrates on C. annuum, C. frutescens, and C. chinense, the Andes region along the west coast of South America has stuck with its own native species: C. pubescens and C. baccatum with almost no involvement with those other species.

Aji Amarillo   -   [C. baccatum var. pendulum]
Whole and cut Aji Amarillo Chilis

This chili is most commonly associated with Peru but is also used in Bolivia. The baccatum species originated in Peru and/or Bolivia and still dominates the Andes region today. The name means "Chili Yellow", but it ripens to a bright orange. Some sources say they turn yellow ("amarillo") when cooked, but they actually stay pretty orange. This is a fairly hot variety (H7) but variable, and grows to 3 to 6 inches long. In Peru they are used mostly fresh, but in Bolivia they are dried and ground. A number of products are made from this chili, see Details and Cooking.

Aji Charapita   -   [Wild Chilean Chili Pepper; Cumari (Brazil); C. chinense]
Whole Aji Charapita Chilis

This tiny chili, about 1/2 inch diameter, is very popular in Peru, and is also well known in Brazil. It is a fairly hot chili (H8) with a fruity flavor, and a popular houseplant in Peru, so it is always instantly available for cooking. The plant is bushy and can produce hundreds of chilis. The usual way of eating it is to crush a fresh chili with your fork to get some juice on it, then use the fork to flavor the food. It has just recently been put into cultivation.   Photo by Dtarazona distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported.

Aji Limo   -   [C. baccatum var. pendulum]
Whole and cut Aji Limo Chilis

This chili is most commonly associated with the north coast of Peru, where it is essential to the proper flavor of the Ceviches made there. It is also used in other dishes, particularly rice dishes. It is described as having a "citrus spice" taste when cooked. It is smaller and a bit hotter than the Aji Amarillo and can be green, yellow or red, and white and purple varieties are known. The name comes from a common lemon yellow variety, also called "Lemon Drop". The photo specimens were previously frozen, purchased from a Los Angeles market specializing in South American foods.

Aji Rocoto   -   [Rocoto, Locoto (Peru, Bolivia); Manzano, Chile de Caballo, Qsacyol (Guatemala); C. pubescens]
Whole and cut Red Rocoto Chilis

Native to northwestern South America, these chilis have been cultivated for about 8000 years. They are the same species as the orange Manzano chilis of Mexico, but red ones predominate in South America. They are popular in mountainous regions because they can stand colder weather than most chilis. The bush can live 15 years and grow as tall as 10 feet.

They Range from green to yellow, orange and bright red, round to bell shape and 1 to 3 inches diameter, they are fairly hot (H8), and have dark brown or black seeds. They have fairly thick walls so they do not dry well. Rocoto is the only widely cultivated species of C. pubescens. The photo specimens were purchased from a large market in Los Angeles (Burbank) that specializes in Mexican, Central and South American foods, mixed in with orange Manzanos.   Details and Cooking

Aji Panca   -   [C. baccatum]
Whole Dried Panca Chilis

This is the second most common chili in Peru, after the Aji Amarillo. It is similar in size, a bit larger, but deep red and very mild (H1), with a sweet, berry like, slightly smoky flavor. Usually dried by the growers before taking to market, they are popular for use in stews and with fish and chicken. In North America, they are uncommon dried, but more available as a paste.   Details and Cooking

Bishop's Crown   -   [C. baccatum var. pendulum]
Whole and Cut Bishop Crown Chilis

This oddly shaped chili is probably native to the region around Bolivia, but is now grown, mainly as a curiosity, in North America, the Caribbean and Europe. The flesh is thin but crisp and it has rather little heat (H2), all of which is concentrated up near the stem. While its characteristics do not strongly encourage culinary usage, as a decorative the plant puts out a lot of bright red chilis that hang like little bells, about 1-5/8 inches across the widest part. It yields well only in the first year.

Peruvian Chili Pastes
Peruvian Chili Pastes

These four chili pastes are much used in Peru and Ecuador, and to a lesser extent in Bolivia and southwest Colombia. Because the only significant ingredients are Chilis, Salt and Citric Acid, they can be used in many recipes where fresh chilis are called for but are not available. All these pastes were made in Peru and purchased from a large Los Angeles Hispanic market, or on-line.

¤   Aji Amarillo:   (upper left)   This is the most important paste, made from fresh Aji Amarillo chilis. Like them, it is quite hot, but not excessively so.
¤   Aji Mirasol:   (upper right)   This paste is made from dried Aji Amarillos, called Aji Mirasol. Like the Amarillo paste, it is fairly hot but not excessively so.
¤   Aji Rocoto:   (lower left)   This is the second most important paste, made from fresh Aji Rocoto chilis. It is quite a bit hotter than the Aji Amarillo pastes.
¤   Aji Panca   This paste, made from dried Panca chilis, is far milder than any of the other Peruvian chili pastes and has a slightly smoky flavor.


Chilis of Northern South America

This region, consisting of Colombia and Venezuela is noted for relatively mild cuisine. Chili sauces are made as condiments, and a few dishes adopted from outside the region feature chilis. Colombia actually grows a huge amount of Tabasco and Cayenne chilis, but for export to North America and Europe, not for local consumption.

In the mountains of Central Colombia and along the Pacific coast, what few Chilis are used are the same varieties used in Peru. On the Caribbean coast, the Aji Dulce is most used, and other Caribbean chilis are used very cautiously

Aji Dulce   -   [Aji Cachucha, Ajicito; C. chinense]
Aji Dulce

This is the most used chili in Venezuela and also used on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. For details see Caribbean Chilis below.

Black Pearl   -   [ C. annum]
Black Pearl Chilis on Plant

This chili was developed in Colombia, and is now fairly well known. With its small round fruits, deep black maturing to bright red, and it's black-purple leaves, it is quite striking. It is a decorative rather than culinary chili. The photo is from a plant I had, and I was quite disappointed with both hotness and flavor, but it did look good.


Chilis of the Caribbean & Caribbean Coast

Aji Dulce   -   [Aji Cachucha, Ajicito; C. chinense]
Aji Dulce

This chili is a variety of the fiercely hot Scotch Bonnet, but very mild. It still has the tropical fruity taste of the Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros. It is much used in Puerto Rico and Cuba where hot chilis are not much appreciated. In South America it is most widely used in Venezuela, but also in Colombia on the Caribbean coast. In some recipes of coastal region, a number of Aji Dulce will be combined with one hot Scotch Bonnet or Habanero.   Photo by Portorricensis contributed to the Public Domain .

Cubanelle   -   [Italian Frying Pepper; C. annuum]
Fresh green and red Cubanelle chilis

This chili is very much favored in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, regions where hot chilis are not appreciated. It can surprise, though. While usually solidly within H1 it can occasionally get to the high end of H2. They are usually harvested while still yellow-green, but turn bright red if allowed to ripen. They.have rather thin walls and grow to about 6 inches.   Subst: preferably the very low heat Hungarian or Armenian / Turkish chilis. Anaheims are second choice (thicker walls, more intense flavor, usually a little hotter) and green bell peppers are a distant third (very thick walls, different flavor).   Photo by United States Department of Agriculture = public domain.

Habaneros   -   [C. chinense]
Whole Red amd Yellow Habanero Chilis

Originally from the Yucatán, This extremely hot chili (H10) is one of the most important chilis in the Caribbean Islands, and is similarly used along the Caribbean coast. They come in Green, Red, Orange and Yellow, with White, Purple and "Chocolate" varieties known. Shape can vary radically. The color most commonly sold here in Southern California is Orange. The name Habanero "from Havana" comes from a time when they were shipped from that port, but they are little used in Cuba today as hot chilis are out of style there.

Scotch Bonnet   -   [Bonnie Pepper, Scotty Pepper; Ball-of-fire (Guyana); Aji Chombo (Panama); C. chinense]
Red Scotch Bonnet Chilis
This chili is often confused with the Habanero, but is definitely a different cultivar. It is the same hotness (H10) as the Habanero, but with a somewhat sweeter and smokier flavor. In appearance, it is more rumpled. It got its name from a common variety in Jamaica that were of a flattened disk shape said to look like a Scottish hat. Today, due to the meddling of chili growers, they come in many shapes, colors and levels of hotness. This is the preferred chili for making jerk meat in Jamaica, as well as some hot sauces there, but are now grown all over the region. The largest in the photo was 2 inches long, 1.4 inch diameter and weighed 5/8 ounce.

Madame Jeanette   -   [Suriname Pepper; C. chinense]
Whole Yellow Madame Jeanette Chilis

This very hot chili (H10) is the most important chili in Suriname. Related to the Habanero, it is just about as hot, but more aromatic in cooking. The taste is said to have hints of pineapple and mango - but the main feature of this chili its full mouth hotness. They come in Yellow and Red, and vary greatly in shape, from long and curved to pumpkin shape, but always a bit wrinkled. It is thought it's name is that of a local prostitute (apparently very hot).

Adjuma   -   [Aji Umba, Dji Oema Ning (Suriname (lit. "Your name is woman")); C. chinense]
Whole Red amd Yellow Adjuma Chilis

This extremely hot chili (H10), originally from Brazil, is almost as important as the Madame Jeanette in Suriname. It's size, shape and color are confusing, so it is often sold as Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, or even Madame Jeanette. It is less aromatic than Madame Jeanette.


Chilis of the Southeast

This Region, consisting of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, is almost a "chili free zone". It is extremely beef, pasta and baked goods oriented, and under very heavy European influence (particularly Spanish and Italian), essentially no native population at all. Chili Powder (Aji molido) and Chili Flake (aji triturado) are used in small amounts as in Europe, and mild Spanish Paprika is quite common. Bell Peppers are used a fair amount.

The most notable exception to cautious use of dried red pepper is some older recipes for Chimichurri Sauce, the "absolute must have" sauce to accompany the grilled and roasted meats that dominate Argentine cuisine. Some use a fresh green chili, and some use a fresh red chili. Variety is not defined in the recipes I've seen, but it seems to be milder chilis in both cases. An unusually high (for Argentina) amount of red chili flake or powder is used in most Chimichurri recipes.

Locoto
Rocoto Chilis I can include this fresh chili only because I've found in an Argentine cookbook (written in Spanish) a single recipe for "Sopa Norteña" which calls for one aji picante, defined specifically as "Locoto". Norteña probably refers to Bolivia, where the Locoto chili is used. OK, it's not specifically an Argentine recipe, but it is in an Argentine cookbook written in Argentina, and it implies Locoto chilis might be somewhat available in Argentina.


Chilis of Portuguese Brazil

Brazil was a Portuguese colony, and Portuguese remains the dominant language of the region. Brazilian cuisine is significantly different from the Spanish regions due to the vast Amazon Basin with its flora and fauna, and also heavy influence of Black Africans from the era of slavery. Today Brazil is 47.7% White, 7.6% Black and 43.1% Pardo (White, Black and Natives mixed in various proportions).

The word for chilis in Brazil is "Pimenta". While the Spanish took chilis home from Mexico and developed mild chilis in Spain, Portuguese sailors took the stinging hot chilis of Brazil to India, Asia and Africa.

Brazil is the origin region for species Capsicum chinense, and Capsicum frutescens is also significant there. Many interesting chilis grow in the region, but almost none of them are known or available in North America. I hope to be able to expand this section over time, though I may have to grow the chilis myself.

Malagueta   -   [Piri Piri (Portugal, Africa); C. frutescens]
Small Red Bird Chilis on plant

Up to 2 inches long, these are standard bird chilis, Larger ones are called Malagueta in Brazil and Portugal, smaller ones are called Piri Piri in Portugal and Malagueta in Brazil. They are pretty much identical to the Piri Piri chilis of Africa, because those were brought to Africa by the Portuguese. They are quite hot at (H9). Subst: Thai Chilis, not as hot but much more available.   Caution: many food writers have fallen afoul of confusion between Malagueta Peppers and Melegueta Pepper, a spice seed in the Ginger family also known as Grains of Paradise.

Brazilian Hot Sauce   -   [Molo de Pimenta, Salsa de Pimenta]
Brazilian Hot Sauce

Probably made from Malagueta peppers, this sauce is similarly hot to North American Tabasco sauce, but is thicker and redder because it also contains non-hot red peppers. I find a half and half mix of Tabasco and Tapatío gets pretty close, though the color isn't quite as bright. The photo specimen is Predilecta brand, said to be the most popular in Brazil. Ing: red pepper pulp, water, vinegar, salt, chili pulp, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate.


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