South American Chilli Powders
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Up until Christopher Columbus made his way to the New World in 1492, chillies were relatively unknown to the rest of the world. He didn’t ‘discover’ them of course—Brazil, Mexico and other parts of South America had been growing and using them long before this. Researchers have even found starch grains of Capsicum on milling stones and cooking pots recovered from house floors in southwestern Ecuador which date back to around 6,000 years ago.
Aji (pronounced ah-hee) means chilli pepper in Spanish. There are plenty of varieties of chillies in South America that we could write a whole essay on. While we won’t do that, we have put together a guide to the most popular South American Chillies and how to use them.
Aji amarillo translates as yellow chilli. This pepper is considered to be the most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking and is commonly used in a variety of soups and sauces. Its heat level ranges from medium to hot, with a Scoville heat unit of 30,000–50,000. It has a subtle and full-bodied fruitiness and imparts a great balance of flavour, aroma and heat. It can be found in different forms, including dried, fresh, ground, canned or paste. Try it in this recipe for Aji De Fideo, a one pot dish of vegetables, beef and macaroni.
Aji panca is another Peruvian chilli considered to be the second most common pepper in Peru. Grown along the coast, this is a dark red to burgundy coloured pepper with a delightful smoky, sweet and fruity taste. It only measures 1000–1500 on the Scoville scale, and has the perfect balance of heat and flavour. It’s commonly dried and minced, or made into a paste. In Peruvian cuisine, aji panca is used as a seasoning for all kinds of sauces, stews and fish-based dishes such as parihuela seafood soup.
Aji limo, also known as lemon drop pepper, is a Peruvian golden-yellow chilli with a citrusy tang. It’s native to the western slopes of the Andes and is named after Lima, Peru’s capital city. This chilli has a Scoville heat unit of 15,000–30,000, with the flavour becoming fruity when mature. Aji limo adds a bright pop of colour to salsas, hot sauces and chicken or fish dishes like ceviche. In Peruvian cooking, it’s also used as a seasoning for snacks and meals.
The rocoto chile is thought to have originated in the Andean areas of Peru and Bolivia, where it’s grown and used as an essential ingredient in various traditional dishes. Belonging to the Capsicum pubescens genus, the chilli resembles a capsicum on the outside, but looks more like a tomato on the inside. Its thick and juicy flesh can be red, orange, yellow and green, and is full of dark seeds. It’s one of the hottest chillies in the world, ranging between 30,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units. Rocoto chillies can be eaten fresh as an accompaniment to different dishes, prepared as a chilli paste or ground and used as a spice.
The Madame Jeanette originates from Suriname and is not a chilli to be taken lightly. Measuring 125,000 to 325,000 on the Scoville scale, it’s up there as one of the hottest chillies in the world. Legend has it that it’s named after a famous Brazilian prostitute, but that’s stil up for debate. The Madame Jeanette comes in yellow and red, and varies in shape more than other chillies do. It can look like an elongated bell pepper, but also thin and curved or even pumpkin shaped. The chilli has a high heat and subtle flavour, making a versatile option for cooking. It’s often used in Surinamese and Antillean cuisine, and tastes delicious in salsas, hot sauces and enchiladas.
The malagueta pepper is a well-loved chilli in Brazilian, Portuguese and Caribbean cuisine. Although not scorching like ghost peppers, it definitely has a heat with a Scoville score of 50,000 to 100,000. The malagueta pepper starts off green and turns red when mature. It’s added to all kinds of soups, stews and poultry dishes, or prepared as a burning hot condiment.
The aji charapita is well known in Peru and Brazil. This tiny chilli is closer to the size of a pea than a jalapeno and is bright yellow when mature. Despite its size, it packs a punch when it comes to heat, measuring 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. In spite of its heat, there’s still a fruitiness to it which makes it a great addition to salsas and hot sauces. Aji charapita chillies are commonly speared with a fork to release the juices before using the flavoured fork to eat with.