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Aji Charapita Peppers – The Wild, Expensive Peruvian Chili

The Aji Charapita pepper looks more like a wild berry than a spicy chili. However, it is indeed the latter, and has a rich history and cultural significance in Peru.

In this article, I’ll share an overview of the Aji Charapita pepper. From the origin, to heat level and flavor, to how to grow and use Charapitas yourself. We love this tiny pepper, and I think you will too!

Ripe Aji Charapita Peppers with Plant
Aji Charapita peppers and plant.

Aji Charapita Origin

The Aji Charapita has origins in Peru, specifically the Amazon rainforest regions of Loreto and Ucayli. Contrary to what most people think of pepper plants, they are primarily tropical plants that enjoy warm, humid weather.

Peru, along with Bolivia, are considered the “primary centers of diversity” for the Capsicum genus. Basically, Peru is thought to be the original birthplace of the chili pepper. Chili peppers were cultivated over 4,000 years ago in Peru!

As a result, the aji charapita has gotten the nickname ‘The Mother of All Chilis.’ It still has the appearance of a wild pepper type, but its popularity likely drove growers to cultivate and breed new types.


The Most Expensive Pepper?

Considered an essential spice in countless Peruvian households, this pepper has been known to fetch high prices by weight. It has been rumored that chefs around the world have paid up to $25,000 for about 2 lbs. of dried aji charapitas.

However, these exorbitant claims have been debunked, as dried charapitas can now be bought online for about $15/oz or about $480 for 2 lbs. (at the time of writing this). That still isn’t cheap, as high-end cayenne powder can be had for just $2.80/oz, or about 1/5th the price.

However, before you start growing your own Aji Charapita plants for profit, know that 2 lbs. of dried Charapitas is equivalent to about 20,000 individual peppers! The tiny pod size and labor-intensive cultivation is what contributes to the higher price tag.

About 65 dried aji charapita peppers on scale weighing 3 grams
About 65 dried aji charapita peppers on scale, weighing 3 grams.

Still, this plant is certainly worth growing at home for its amazing flavor, usefulness in the kitchen, and perfect heat level. The tiny berries make for a great snack, or for dialing in the perfect heat and flavor to home-cooked meals.


Growing Aji Charapita Peppers

Given the value of these peppers, it can be especially rewarding to grow your own at home. The plants are compact and bushy, producing hundreds of peppers in a single season. Get Aji Charapita seeds here.

Learn how to grow Aji Charapitas from seed here >

Aji Charapita plant in the ground.

The pods are tiny, but come in great numbers, making the Aji Charapita a perfect potted pepper plant. The plants can also be overwintered, and will produce year after year when kept away from freezing temperatures.

If you have a very sunny kitchen window, the Aji Charapita may be the perfect kitchen houseplant. I could see these being grown next to culinary herbs, kept within reach of the stovetop.

They would also be a great plant to grow in an AeroGarden!


Aji Charapita Pepper Flavor

Like many other C. chinense species peppers, the Aji Charapita has a fruity, floral flavor. They are some of the most delicious peppers you can grow! The tiny pods are perfect for perfectly metering out both flavor and heat into home cooking.

Aji Charapita peppers on plant
Closeup of Aji Charapita peppers on plant.

When eaten fresh, the peppers remind me of a habanero for flavor, but with less heat. They are juicy and fruity, with very little bitterness. The seeds are tiny, so they don’t get in the way of the flavor or texture.

When dried, Aji Charapitas become the perfect spice for seasoning. Mix some into a pot of soup or chili, or make your own spice blends or meat rubs. The versatility of the Charapita is endless, and definitely a major part of this pepper’s appeal!


Aji Charapita Scoville Heat Scale

When it comes to heat, the Aji Charapita is no slouch. Despite its small size (about the size of a pea), this pepper packs a respectable punch.

In short, the Aji Charapita comes in around 50,000 SHUs on the Scoville Scale. This is on par with the popular Cayenne pepper, but is well below the heat of a habanero.

The medium heat level paired with a smaller size is what makes the Aji Charapita so appealing. Adding just 1-2 peppers at the end of a meal adds noticeable heat and plenty of fruity, flowery flavor.


How to Use Aji Charapita Peppers

Aji Charapita peppers are used primarily as a finishing spice, added to meals just before serving. According to RareSeeds, in Peru, the fresh peppers are crushed and added to soups, meat dishes, and rice.

If you have an abundance of peppers from your plants, you can of course use them fresh, but they are also great dried. The tiny pods dehydrate quickly, and can then be ground into a powder.

Aji Charapita plant with unripe peppers.

You can also dry them whole and rehydrate for use in your dishes. Dried peppers will keep for a long time, so it is a great way to avoid letting any of your Charapitas go to waste.


I hope you enjoyed learning about the Aji Charapita, and perhaps plan to grow them yourself! This tiny pepper may just be the perfect plant for home cooks and gardeners alike.

Calvin Thumbnail

Calvin

One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

Rick

Monday 5th of September 2022

Can you use these peppers in place of habanero in a Caribbean style hots sauce? If so, how many charapita should you substitute for the habanero?

peppergeek

Tuesday 6th of September 2022

I'm not sure the ratio to use, but I'm sure the substitute would taste great

RD

Thursday 1st of September 2022

This is my second year growing aji charapita. I dry and grind to a powder and use in place of cayenne. I'm really happy I found this pepper.

J B

Friday 26th of August 2022

Grew 2 plants this year in my outdoor greenhouse zone 5 in Maine. Holy cow these plants are now huge (lare Aug)! I put 2 plants in a single black fabric pot and together they must be 4 feet across now and over 3 feet high. Every few days im picking 30 to 50 little fruits. Ive added them to salsa and on dishes. They are yellow and hot, with a flavor very similar to habanero, just a little less intense heat. Im loving this. Will try dehydrating once ive run out of fresher foods to make.

They started inside in late Feb along with my Habaneros. Were transfered out into the greenhouse at the beginning of May. I treated them exactly the same as my Habz though these guys seem to need a bit more water than the habz do.

PepeLePew

Tuesday 2nd of August 2022

I've been growing these for the last 2 years and I'm in zone 6B, Virginia. The plants are gorgeous; large and bushy with lots of yellow fruit. I started them indoors in January. I'm now beginning to think if I can transplant to a 3 gallon container in my plant room with led lights. Maybe pruning them before a frost and digging one up might work, but any experienced advice would be appreciated.

baldy

Sunday 17th of July 2022

I have seven charapita plants and they produce fruit differently. One's fruit is completely green. Another produces dark purple fruit. Another produces purple and green fruit. While another produces peppers just like your picture above. They are maturing and turn a peach color. The strange thing is only one pepper turns peach in a week. And only one tree is doing this. This is definitely strange.... Any advice

peppergeek

Monday 18th of July 2022

It could just be that the seed source was cross pollinated with another variety, or just conditional (one plant is getting more direct sunlight). The pods turn purplish from sun exposure, as the pods are above the canopy out of the shade.