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Rocoto Peppers – The South American Manzano Pepper

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Rocoto peppers are popular hot chilies primarily found in South and Central America. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, and are known by different names in various regions. In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about these delicious and spicy peppers.

Rocoto capsicum pubescens pepper
Rocoto red pepper.

About Rocoto Peppers

NameRocoto, manzano, apple pepper, locoto, chile caballo, canarios
TypeHeirloom
SpeciesCapsicum pubescens
Heat level (Scoville)30,000-50,000 SHUs
FlavorSweet and fruity, somewhat citrusy
UsesStuffing, roasting, frying, paprika
LightFull sun or afternoon shade
Ideal temperature65-70°F (cooler than other peppers)
Plant height2-3 feet (taller in ideal conditions)
WateringEvenly moist, good drainage
SeedsSemillas la Palma, Etsy

Rocoto peppers all come from the Capsicum pubescens species. In Mexico, it is known as “chile manzano.” In Spanish, manzano means “apple tree,” and these chilies do have a resemblance to the fruit. In regions of South America it is called “locoto” or simply “rocoto.”

Interestingly, rocoto peppers are some of the oldest domesticated capsicums, with no known remaining wild variety of the species. Rocoto peppers were among the most common peppers among the Incas (Dewitt, D. & Lamson, J. (2015). The Field Guide To Peppers).

This species is not popular in the United States, but is a common cooking ingredient in South American cuisine. The hot peppers are typically used for stuffing or chopping for fresh salsa.

Fun fact: Rocoto peppers are adapted to a cooler climate than most other peppers, and can even tolerate a light frost. They are a great choice to try growing in cool, temperate climates like the Pacific Northwest or mountain regions.

Plant characteristics

The leaves and stems of rocoto pepper plants are hairy, hence the naming of the species, C. pubescens. The flowers are purple or white and purple, and the seeds are black. Black seeds are a unique trait among the 5 major domesticated pepper species.

Orange locoto rocoto plant closeup (C. pubescens) hairy leaves
Pubescent (hairy) foliage of a manzano pepper plant.

The plants can grow very large in their native climate, but in temperate climates with shorter seasons, they typically grow to 2-3′ tall. In my experience, rocoto pepper plants tend to sprawl more wide than tall, with a spider-like growth pattern.

Unlike the C. annuum species, there is not much diversity in the shape, size and color of C. pubescens fruits. There are 4 main colors of ripe rocoto peppers, red, orange, brown, and yellow. The size of the fruits can range anywhere from 1 inch wide to 3 inches or more. The fruit walls are thick, making them great for stuffing or eating fresh.


How Hot Are Rocoto Peppers?

Rocoto peppers are spicy, ranging from 30,000-50,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale. This is a very spicy pepper, especially considering the larger size of the fruits (2-3″ long on average).

Rocoto red pepper on plant

Growing Rocoto Peppers

If you happen to live in the mountains of a tropical country, you’re in luck! Rocoto peppers have adapted to this cooler, warm climate and prefer slightly cooler conditions.

However, in my climate (New England, zone 6b), rocoto peppers can struggle to perform in the heat of summer. If you live in a very hot climate, C. pubescens plants will need partial shade, or permanent shade cloth to keep cool.

Growing manzano peppers in containers is a great way to keep the plants happy, moving them to a shadier location during especially hot days. The plants also require a very long growing season, up to 120 days or longer after transplanting outside. Planting seeds a few weeks earlier than other varieties is recommended.

Rocoto Red pepper plant
Rocoto pepper plant branches tend to “wander” and sprawl.

Otherwise, their needs are similar to other hot peppers like jalapeños or cayenne’s. Give them medium fertility soil that drains well, water evenly and regularly to keep the soil damp, mulch around the base of the plants, and provide support for the wide branches.


What To Do With Rocoto Peppers

If you have a successful plant, you may end up with a few dozen fresh rocoto peppers. This should be treasured, so here are a few ideas to put them to good use:

  • Fermentation/hot sauce. One great way to get the most flavor out of your rocoto peppers is to ferment them. Remove the seeds, add 2-3% salt by weight, and blend in a food processor until lightly chunky. Then, press the mix into a jar, removing all air pockets. Cover lightly and allow to ferment in a spot out of direct sun for a few weeks. The resulting mas can be used to make hot sauce or simply used as a spicy condiment. Learn more here.
  • Fresh salsa. Make your own salsa using spicy manzano chile. The flavor pairs perfectly with traditional Mexican salsa (try our recipe here), or when added to your favorite store-bought brand. Just a few diced pieces go a long way to adding flavor and heat.
  • Stuffed. Manzano peppers have a nice large inner cavity, making them perfect for stuffing with cheese or meats. If they are large enough, slice them lengthwise and stuff each half. Try this with our stuffed jalapeño recipe.
  • Frozen. If you can’t eat them fresh or preserve them, you can easily freeze them whole for later. I like to vacuum seal peppers in small batches to use throughout our cold season.

Here in America, the only way to get fresh rocoto chilies is to grow them yourself! So I hope this article encourages you to give them a try in your garden, as they truly stand out among other peppers.

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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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