Aji Charapita Chile Peppers
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Aji Charapita chile peppers are very small, averaging 5-8 millimeters in diameter, and have a round to ovate shape with a slender, straight green stem protruding from the pod. The petite peppers have thin, glossy, and smooth skin, transforming from green to yellow when mature. Underneath the skin, the flesh is yellow, firm, and crisp, encasing a cluster of tiny, cream-colored seeds. Aji Charapita chile peppers have a bright, fruity taste with unique citrus flavors that are followed by a moderate to hot level of spice that gradually builds in intensity.
Aji Charapita chile peppers are available in summer through early fall.
Aji Charapita chile peppers, botanically classified as Capsicum chinense, are tiny pods that grow on wide and bushy plants reaching over one meter in height and are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Also known as Wild Peruvian Chili, Tettinas de Monk, Charapilla, and Aji Charapa, Aji Charapita chile peppers are considered to be one of the most expensive peppers in the world. Native to the jungles of northern Peru, Aji Charapita peppers have a strong heat, ranging 30,000-50,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, and have recently increased in popularity for their fruity flavor. Despite their global recognition, the tiny peppers are not widely sourced outside of Peru, making them a rare and expensive variety, and are also considered to be one of the more costly spices when dried and ground, similarly to vanilla and saffron.
Aji Charapita chile peppers are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C, and also contain iron, potassium, magnesium, and riboflavin.
Aji Charapita chile peppers can be consumed fresh or are commonly squeezed with a fork to extract the juice. When raw, the small peppers can be finely chopped and mixed into salsas and sauces, or they can be sprinkled over soups and stews. In Peru, the extracted juice is the most traditional method of using the pepper and is used in jams, condiments, marinades, and sauces. The juice invokes a tropical flavor mixed with moderate heat and is incorporated into a popular Peruvian condiment known as “criolla,” which is made with lightly crushed Charapita, lime juice, red onion, salt, and water. Aji Charapita chile peppers pair well with meats such as fish and poultry, potatoes, tomatoes, cilantro, aromatics such as red onions and garlic, rice, and quinoa. The small peppers will keep 1-2 weeks when stored fresh, whole, and unwashed in the refrigerator. Aji Charapita chile peppers can also be ground and used in powder form as a spice or frozen for extended use.
Aji Charapita chile peppers are one of the most popular house plants in Peru and are grown and harvested as needed for cooking applications. Often allowed to become wide-spreading, Aji Charapita chile peppers are encouraged to naturally grow and thrive in home gardens, especially in the Loreto and San Martin regions of Peru, and are used in many traditional Peruvian jungle dishes such as juanes, which is a mixture of meat, eggs, spices, and peppers that are wrapped in bijao leaves and boiled. Aji Charapita chile peppers are also used to flavor patacones or fried plantains, and tacacho which is a roasted banana seasoned with spices and peppers and served with pork.
Aji Charapita chile peppers are native to the northern Peruvian jungles in a city named Iquitos and have been cultivated on a local scale since ancient times. Thriving in warm climates, Charapita peppers are grown predominately wild and have only recently been cultivated for commercial use. Today Aji Charapita chile peppers are available at fresh markets in Peru and dried or ground versions of the pepper can be found in specialty grocers in Central, South, and North America. Aji Charapita chile pepper seeds are also available through online seed catalogs for home garden use.