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Aji Charapita Peppers – The Wild and Expensive Peruvian Chili

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The aji charapita pepper looks more like a small, wild berry than a spicy chili. However, it is actually a hot pepper with a rich history and cultural significance in Peru.

In this article, I’ll share an overview of the aji charapita pepper. You’ll learn its origin, heat level, flavor, and how to grow aji charapitas yourself. We love growing and cooking with 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 year round.

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. Various 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 2 lbs. of dried aji charapitas.

However, these exorbitant claims have been debunked, as dried aji charapitas can now be bought online for about $10/oz or about $320 for 2 lbs. (at the time of writing this). That still isn’t cheap, as high-end cayenne powder can be had for just $3.20/oz, or about 1/3rd 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 spicy recipes.


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, easily producing hundreds of peppers in a single season.

Get aji charapita seeds here

Aji charapita pepper plant in the garden
Aji Charapita plant in the ground.

The pods are tiny, but come in great numbers, making it one of the best peppers to grow in containers. 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.

The small fruits grow upright on the plant, often causing them to blush purple from sun exposure. If you can’t stand to see it go, your plants can be overwintered, and will produce year after year when kept in a warm location.


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 metering out both flavor and heat into soups, stews, and hot sauces.

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 a bit 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 usefulness of the aji charapita is endless, which is why I like to grow them every year!


How Hot Are Aji Charapita Peppers?

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.

Unripe aji charapita peppers growing on the plant
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.

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27 Comments

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

    1. 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.

  6. Grew 5 plants this year from seed, lots of peppers on each plant great taste.realy good in homemade salsa.

    1. @Dave wilson Wilson farms eastTn,

      Do you have a Charapita salsa recipe you can share?

  7. I just ordered 3 packs to grow in zone 8b in Northern California! I plan to keep them in my semi-tropical greenhouse, especially through next winter. But I just wanted to say that I appreciate you sharing your findings about this amazing plant!

    1. Sounds great, you’ll have a ton of plants if you use all those seeds! Also, envious of your greenhouse, definitely part of our long term goal 😀

  8. I have a plant that absolutely flourished this year, but now that it’s getting cold (I’m in Michigan), can this be left in place over winter outside and will it come back in the spring? I tried for 2 years to get one of these started from seed and I would like to avoid that again if possible next spring. Any thoughts?

    1. @Dennis, I overwinter all my peppers on the gulf coast and for the last 3 years the aji charapita is the only one that won’t make it through winter while the others actually still produce a little for me in winter. So my guess is this pepper is extremely cold sensitive. It’s coming indoors with me from now on.

  9. If you were to grow this indoors, such as in the kitchen, what would you recommend the final pot size be?

    1. Maybe a 1 gallon pot or so? You can always prune the plant if it gets too large, or up-size the pot if it isn’t growing large enough

  10. Do you know if these also go under the name “BB Habanero”? I bought seeds on Etsy by that name, and the plant and fruit looks exactly like the Aji charapita you show here. I plan on selling seedlings of the plant next year and would love to have more information on the plant to include for my customers.

    Love the channel by the way!

  11. I have grown these peppers the last 3 years. Plants become very bushy and tons of this little pods. Spicy too!

    Thank you for the article and I always look forward to them…

    Mike

  12. Hi,
    Did not realize that you were so close to me. I have about ten (10) Moruga scorpion seedlings from seeds I brought directly from Moruga, Trinidad. It is too late to plant them . I am willing to give them away to anyone (you) who is able to keep them over the winter. Let me know.

  13. I also grew Aji Charapita for the first time this year, from the same source. I concur they have a nice fruity taste, and mine were clearly hotter than a cayenne (perhaps due to hotter growing conditions). You get one potent burst of flavor and heat, and then it’s gone. I’m curious how they taste when dried.

    The pods are the size of a small pea. Unlike ornamental peppers with small pods, the seeds are small so you don’t notice them when eating. The downside of having small seeds is that they take longer to germinate and grow –mine got outcompeted by every other kind of pepper in my bed, and as a result were not very productive — so putting them in containers makes good sense, and they may need more sun than your average pepper.

  14. We are growing a small Aji Charapita plant from a start we purchased from a great online and for us, local grower. The plant is just starting to fruit! We are excited to dry the peppers to make a powder. We might add one or two into our pickle jars!!! Thank you for the informative article!

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