South American & Caribbean Chilis
Chilis in Spanish South America
¤ Andean Region
- Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia,
¤ 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]
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]
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
Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported.
Aji Limo -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
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]
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 -
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
Details and Cooking
Bishop's Crown -
[C. baccatum var. pendulum]
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
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.
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;
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 - [
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;
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
[Italian Frying Pepper; C. annuum]
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]
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]
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;
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]
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.
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]
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]
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.